Year after year as we enter the Christmas season, we recount the story of Jesus’ birth. We celebrate the wonders of God’s grace and power on full display. Recently however, I realized that many of us overlook a key aspect of the story. Here’s the Cliff Note version:
- The angel Gabriel visits the virgin Mary and reveals that she will conceive a child by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26–37). Mary is to name her son Jesus. This fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means God with us. The angel confirms, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
- Joseph, being a righteous man, plans to end his engagement to Mary when he finds out she is pregnant. But an angel tells Joseph not to divorce Mary because the child she carries is conceived of the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18–23).
- As Mary nears the time to give birth, God prompts Caesar Augustus to take a census of his kingdom (Luke 2:1–5). This requires Joseph and his betrothed wife, Mary, to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Jesus will be born in Bethlehem, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Micah 5:2.
- After a long trip with Joseph, Mary goes into labor. “She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6–7). A healthy baby boy’s earthly story begins.
- God sends an angel to appear to shepherds in nearby fields (Luke 2:8–20). God’s glory shines all around them and a choir of angels sings praises to God for His promise to those who will believe in His son. The shepherds then hurry to Bethlehem to see the Savior of the world.
The angel affirmed to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God!” Yet Mary gave birth to God incarnate in a barn because there was no room for them in the inn.
If God has the power to send angels to appear and speak with people––and if God has the power to prompt pagan rulers to fulfill His will by requiring a census at the exact time when Jesus will be born––wouldn’t God have the power to open up a room at the local Bethlehem motel? Yes. If He wanted to. So why didn’t He?
God chose not to make room for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in the inn.
Could it be that God wanted others to see, experience, and go tell about the birth of Jesus? I can imagine that as a new mother, Mary may have preferred privacy and protection in a hotel room rather than placing her precious baby in a feeding trough. And yet, God’s grand plan made Jesus available to all people from His very first hours of life.
And “Mary treasured up all of these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
Clearly God intricately orchestrated all of the details of Christ’s magnificent birth and the fulfillment of prophecy. However, until this year, I haven’t thought about God’s plan of “no vacancy” in Bethlehem before Joseph and Mary arrived. This new revelation has many lessons for us today. Here are two that God is teaching me:
- Hard blessings: As we join with Jesus, obstacles and hard circumstances turn into hard blessings. We may feel like there’s no room for us in the inn, but God asks us to remain joyful, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thes 5:16–18). Turning our focus to Jesus and trusting Him IN all circumstances allow His peace and glory to draw others in. Through our hard places others can experience God’s grace and power. Our hard places then become hard blessings. Our circumstances don’t get easier, but we receive blessing as we see others meet Jesus and encounter His love and faithfulness. What are some obstacles or hard circumstances you’re experiencing right now? How might God be able to turn them into hard blessings? How might He be inviting you to join Him in these hard blessings?
- Treasure God’s workings: Like Mary, we may not always understand the big picture of God’s will. However, we grow in our relationship with God as we treasure our interactions with Him and watch Him working in the lives of others. And we grow in our relationship with Jesus as we treasure Him as the Greatest Gift. What does it mean to treasure something in your heart? What might it look like to treasure the Christmas story and Jesus’ birth? How is God working in your life right now, and how could you treasure this?
Friends, if Christmas doesn’t feel merry and bright this year, you’re not alone. Many of us continue to struggle through hard places. I invite you to join with me in carving out some special time with Jesus this Christmas. Together let’s ponder His story and the experiences of Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and even the angels. May we gain new insight, appreciation, and encouragement from knowing that even when there’s no room for us in the inn, there’s room in God’s story. God invites us to play an integral role in His story as He expands His Kingdom on earth. To God be the glory this Holy Christmas season!