And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:7
When I was twelve or thirteen years old, my family took a vacation to Florida. We drove the whole way with a pop-up camper.
Two memories stand out.
We got a flat tire on the camper in the middle of a torrential rain storm. We pulled off to the side of the road and had to dig into the packed-up camper to get the spare out.
I was tasked with helping my father. (I had more success than Ralphie did helping his father change a flat tire in A Christmas Story.) We got the tire changed and were once again on our way.
Another memory was checking to see if the temperature was ok to go swimming at the motel we would stop at each evening. My dad would have us put the back of our hand on the window. If it was warm to the touch that meant that the temperature was warm enough for swimming.
In the middle 1970’s, most of the motels along the interstate only had outdoor pools. Our vacation was in the spring of the year, so it would only be warm enough in the more southern states at that time.
As we traveled and I kept touching the window, my dad was on the lookout – late in the afternoon – for a motel that had its “Vacancy” sign lit up.
It was always disheartening to see a motel with a pool that had a “No Vacancy” sign.
Mary and Joseph, upon their arrival in Bethlehem, might have felt the same way!
Bethlehem was just a little village about seven miles south of Jerusalem. Normally home to between 300-1000 people, its population swelled because of the mandatory Roman census. So much so that Mary and Joseph could not find a place to stay. All they saw were “No Vacancy” signs.
As Mary was about to give birth, Joseph found a place that was warm and sheltered for her. It was warm because it was full of animals!
And so Jesus is born. And placed in a manger to sleep while Mary rests from her labor.
Jesus was Mary’s firstborn. This means something special in Hebrew culture. The firstborn were to be set apart for God, as it says in Exodus 13:2
“Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”
Not only is Jesus Mary’s firstborn, but also God the Father’s firstborn. In church language he is called “Only Begotten.” So in a double way, Jesus is God’s! He would carry about God’s will and purpose – the salvation of all people!
Notice that it also says that Mary wrapped Jesus in “swaddling cloths”. This was done to all babies of that time. They would rub the babies with salt and, possibly, olive oil, and then they would be tightly wrapped up – to keep them warm but also to help with the healing of muscles and ligaments that had been stretched in the birthing process.
Babies born in American hospitals (and others, I would assume) are also wrapped the same way for the same reasons (less the salt and olive oil, though).
This account tells me that Jesus was born just like every other human being. He was human in every way that I am and you are. Except in one major way: Jesus did not have original sin and did not commit any sin during his life (or ever).
Like us and not like us, in order to save us from our sins!
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