Situation normal when Christ was born
In some ways, the world just a few moments before the birth of Jesus in that Bethlehem stable was almost exactly the same as the world just a few moments after his birth.
The state of the stable, and the inn out in front of it, and Bethlehem, and Judea, and Rome, and the whole wide world, was pretty much the same. As they say in the military (well, sort of as they say), it was one big SNAFU. The Situation was absolutely Normal. It was All Fouled Up.
The government was pretty much like governments have always been — happiest when people are standing in long lines getting crunched by bureaucracy and about to be burdened by one more tax to keep the crunching wheels crunching.
Joseph’s probably been working his fingers to the bone trying to make a living, and now he gets to take days and weeks and maybe even months off — all of which is death to productivity and income — so the bureaucrats can fill out one more form with his and Mary’s name on it. Now he’ll have more taxes to pay and less money to pay them with.
Actually, all of this stuff with Mary had pretty well sapped him lately of much ability to concentrate and work very effectively anyway. First, he was so shocked and perplexed that he didn’t know how to feel. Then he was worried sick. And then he got the visit from the angel. Yes, that was a wonderful thing, a marvelous comfort, an amazing experience. But if you think seeing an angel, even one with good news, isn’t incredibly unsettling, it’s obviously been a day or two since you’ve seen one.
Then the tired carpenter gets to make the trip to Bethlehem with his very pregnant wife who is simply exhausted — not to mention enormous and well along toward D-day, by the time they get there. No cheap tickets left on Mideast Airlines. No tickets at all. So they get to go by donkey (which hospitals’ O.B. departments ought to keep tied out by their parking lots; they’re cheaper than I.V.s and Pitossin and are pretty much guaranteed to get things going).
Mary’s just about had it (literally), but they get to the Bethlehem Inn, and the place is overbooked. They end up stuck out in the stable, stomping around in the straw (which Joseph knows will have his allergies in full bloom before you can say Gesundheit!).
And then Mary’s birth pains are becoming very regular. Even First Century folks don’t need the New England Journal of Medicine to tell them what that means. This baby is coming! And he’s coming right here, right now, “ready or not, Joseph!” in barn straw that was the real thing, not sanitized stuff for a manger scene.
The situation in the world and in that Bethlehem stable that night was normal, the same as usual in many ways — fouled up with lots going wrong.
But with the Baby’s first cry, the world would never be the same. And God was making sure that one day, all that is wrong with this world could be made right.
Curtis Shelburne is minister at 16th and Ave. D Church of Christ in Muleshoe. He can be contacted at: