When my kids were little, we used to tell them a little bit of the Christmas story every night in December. Each night we would review what had already happened, and then add a piece. Sometimes I would ask them questions to see what they remembered, but sometimes they would ask me questions.
Their questions were usually harder.
One night, one of my sons asked why God let His Son be born in a stable. I said that they were in a stable because there was no room at the inn, and started to talk about making room for Christ in our own lives.
He interrupted me, saying that it was mean for God to let a baby be born in a stable when He had the power to have Jesus be born anywhere. Didn’t God love His son very much?
I don’t remember what I said that night, but it certainly changed the way I looked at the setting of the Christmas story. Because obviously the stable was not an accidental setting in a birth that had been planned from the beginning of human existence.
So why a stable?
In first century Israel, shepherds were the lowest class of people. They lived with their smelly sheep, and were themselves considered unclean. Shepherds were not allowed into palaces, or manors, or even simple inns. If Christ had been born anywhere BUT in a stable, the shepherds could not have come to see Him.
Stables in those days were not like today’s barns. They were usually small caves with low doorways. The small space and low opening helped to keep the interior warm in the cold desert nights at a minimal cost.
To enter the stable, an average person would have to bow his head. It would not have mattered if you were a lowly shepherd or a reigning monarch, you could not get into a stable without bowing.
And since the stable wasn’t overly large, you couldn’t bring much stuff into it. You might fit, but a trunk full of baggage wouldn’t.
So we have the almighty God placing His Son’s birth in the only setting where the Savior would be accessible to everybody. It was in a setting where every person who entered the presence of this newborn King would have to bow. And to reach the Child bringing the gifts of peace and salvation you would have to put down whatever else you were clinging to.
It is no longer the first century, so it is easy to overlook how important the setting of the Christmas story is.
The stable tells us that not one of us is too lowly to be welcome. This Savior came for each and every one of us, no matter how "unclean" we may think we are.
It reminds us that we are in the presence of a King, so acknowledging His Lordship over our lives is a necessary part of reaching Him.
It challenges us to put down all the stuff we are clinging to, both material and emotional, to open our hands and our hearts to receive the gifts He offers us. Gifts that are as real and life-changing today as they were on the first Christmas morning.
Christ was not born in a stable because God didn’t love His Son, He was born in stable because the Father who sent Him loved us, and was telling us how to respond to that love. In over 2000 years, that message hasn’t changed.