It was the week before Christmas and the young mother decided it was time to put the manger scene out. She called her little ones together so she could tell them the story as she put each figure in place.
She started by unwrapping each piece and setting it carefully on the table, describing each character as she did so. Mary, Joseph, shepherds and their sheep, angels, kings and camels, and the Baby were soon sitting in a row. The mother had told her children the story, and was arranging the scene when her oldest, a serious little boy of six, stopped her.
"Mommy," he said. "You didn’t tell us about the stable. Why was He born in a stable?"
"I told you. There was no room at the inn," she answered.
"But you said that God planned every detail of Baby Jesus’s birthday. So why did God make His son be born in a stable? Didn’t God want Jesus to have a nice house?" the child persisted.
The mother had never given the stable a thought. It was just there. But she looked at her son’s expectant face and knew that she needed to give him an answer.
"Let’s leave everything right here on the table today. We will arrange it tomorrow, and we can talk about the stable then," she said.
That night she searched the Internet. There were more articles than she could count, but none explained why it was a stable. She began looking at pictures of what a stable would have actually looked like in Bethlehem two thousand years ago and an idea began to form.
The next morning she called her kids to the table where all the pieces of the manger scene were still sitting in a neat row. She picked up the wooden stable and set it aside.
"This is not what the stable really looked like," she said. "We are going to make a stable that matches the one where Jesus was born."
She put a large box on the table…
and cut off the front, leaving three sides and a bottom. Then she opened a bag of modelling clay and began filling the box with it.
"When Jesus was born, stables were usually built into caves in the hills around a village," she said. "It would have cost too much to build a whole building just for animals. The caves kept the animals safe and dry and warm, and they didn’t cost anything. The people built the stalls and pens for their cows and sheep, and added straw and mangers for food. The opening was always small to keep the heat inside so the animals could stay warm. The stables were outside the town so the animal smells would not bother their neighbors."
As she spoke, she kept molding the clay until she had a hollow cave with a small round opening in the front.
She took the figures of Mary, Joseph, the donkey and the Baby Jesus and placed them in the stable.
"Inside the stable, the straw was kept clean so the animals would not get sick. And there were lots of extra blankets and hay so the animals would have soft beds and would not get cold. So the Baby Jesus was safe and warm and comfortable in His stable bed."
Then she picked up the shepherds and placed them inside the stable.
"The shepherds in Bethlehem were very poor. There was no such thing as showers back then, so the shepherds sometimes didn’t smell very good after being outside with their smelly sheep all day. So shepherds were not allowed into inns because the other people didn’t like to smell them. Because Jesus was born in a stable, the shepherds could come to visit Him. If Jesus had been in an inn, they would not have been welcome. They could only come to see Him and wish Him Happy Birthday in a stable."
Then she picked up the kings.
"The kings could visit Jesus anywhere," she said. "But look at the opening of the stable. It’s very low. A cow or a sheep or a donkey could easily walk through it, but a grown man would have to bow his head to get in. So if the kings wanted to see the Baby Jesus, they had to bow down. And since Jesus was really the King of the whole world, everyone SHOULD bow. The stable door made that happen."
She looked directly at her son, who was watching intently.
"You were right, honey," she said. "God did pick a stable on purpose. It kept His Son safe and warm. It was a place where everyone was welcome. And to get in to see Jesus, everyone had to bow before Him. It was the perfect place."