While Mary and Joesph were in Bethlehem, David's town, for the census, "the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel" (Luke 2:6-7).
True, millions of babies have been born in homes, huts, or outside. But this is not the kind of birth we'd choose. No running water. No midwife. No hot towels. Nothing sterile. A young mother struggling through the pain of her first birth with only her fiancee to help her.
Birth is messy. The umbilical cord had to be cut. The placenta disposed of. The child and the mother cleaned. With what? Water from an animal trough?
And what is this baby's first bed? A warm bassinet in a climate controlled room attended to by neonatal nurses? No. A feeding trough made of mud or clay and stained from the saliva of feeding livestock. That was the baby's crib.
Not exactly the grand entrance one might expect for the Son of God. But there they were, Mary, Joseph, and the newborn Jesus, huddled together in an animal shelter on the outskirts of Bethlehem.
If no one in the world noticed his birth, God did. And the Proud Father announced his Son's birth to a few shepherds camping in the neighborhood guarding their sheep. He sent one of his angels who appeared out of nowhere as Papa's glory lit up their campsite. They were terrified.
God's messenger said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody worldwide. A Savior has been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."
The shepherds left running and found the threesome just as the angel described. The shepherds were nobodies but they were Jesus' first visitors. "Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the shepherds were impressed."
Are we? Or has the story lost its edge? Are we impressed that God threw off his glory and humbled himself to become a human baby? Why? Why such a meager entrance? Why did he come through the back door?
"This is what the Son of Man has done. He came to serve, not be served -- and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage" (Matthew 20:26).