Two thousand years ago an unwed girl became pregnant. She would have been terrified for several reasons. She was part of a society that would have brutally murdered her for the crime of being an unwed mother, so she was relying entirely on the protection of the man she would marry. And few if any people would have believed her persistent claim about a virginal conception. Come on, would you believe a girl who said, “I’m pregnant, but I swear, we didn’t do anything”?
Fast-forward several months. The young mother lay on a bed of straw, perhaps staring up into the face of a sympathetic cow as the waves of pain hit her, coming closer and closer together as her baby boy neared the moment of His birth. She was probably a teenager, giving birth for the first time. She wouldn’t have had her mother with her—her mother was in Nazareth. She wouldn’t have had a woman to hold her hand and help her breathe through the contractions. She would have been with her husband (she was now married—see Matthew 1:24), in a strange town where they obviously knew no one who could support them. If they had known just one family, they would not have been relegated to the barn outside an inn.
We all know the story of the birth of Jesus, but I think we seldom appreciate the shock value. We are too used to the well worn plots. We have cleaned up the narrative, adding halos, scentless animals, and entirely skipping the physical act of giving birth. We call it “the Nativity.” We create little replicas of a small, clean stable with a donkey, two sheep, and maybe a cow. Mary leans gracefully over the manger that is propped up to display the perfectly clean Infant, complete with halo. She feels no pain. She has lost no blood. She does not have an expanded waist from her very recent pregnancy, nor is there any sign of hormonal fluctuations that might cause her to be emotional. Joseph is not shaken. The Baby is not cold or hungry. The night might be cold, but the stable is cozy and the shepherds are certainly not rough outdoorsmen. They are slender and artistic with an appreciation for social niceties.
Was He good enough?
Regardless of 2,000 years worth of tidying up, the birth of Jesus was a rather shocking event. The Messiah did not come as the people expected Him to come. He was supposed to be a King, for goodness’ sake! The prophesies all pointed to that fact (Isaiah 9:6, 7), and the ancient Judeans knew their Scripture. As a King, He was also supposed to lead the armies of Israel and defeat the savage Romans, freeing the nation from the occupying force. Kings were wealthy. They were privileged. They were charismatic and well protected. They were surrounded by people willing to die to protect them. The Messiah was supposed to come as a King, and everyone was awaiting the Hero who would lead them to victory.
Jesus was the opposite of these expectations. He was poor. His adoptive father, Joseph, was a carpenter. He built houses. As He grew up, Jesus would have been taught how to work with His hands. His hometown would have known about His questionable paternity, and He would have been labeled as “the One whose mother wasn’t married when He was conceived.” There’s a word for that—a word they would have batted around in conversation. You know what it is, so I won’t use it here. Villages have long memories, especially when it comes to juicy stories!
While God could have chosen a properly married woman with a track record of terrific child rearing, He chose an unwed teenager with a story too crazy to be believed. While He could have chosen a woman of regal breeding and royal blood, instead He chose a poor teenager from the wrong side of the tracks. In today’s terms, she would have been like one of the shockingly young mothers on a bus, her belly bulging against her waitress’s uniform, her eyes tired and sad.
At the other end of His life, Jesus was executed as a criminal, naked, and nailed to wooden planks where everyone could walk by and witness His miserable end. Jesus was nothing like Judea expected. The Messiah was supposed to be Someone magnificent, not this ordinary Man with questionable paternity! The Messiah was supposed to be a King, not a wandering Rabbi with a strange ability to heal! The Messiah was supposed to overthrow the Romans, not be executed by them! Jesus simply didn’t fit these expectations! In today’s terms, He was just another Guy on death row, shuffling up for His turn at the electric chair as newspaper reporters and a few family members looked on through the bulletproof window. Just another “innocent” criminal getting His due.
Are we good enough?
Some people don’t go to church because they don’t think they’re cleaned up enough. Their jeans just aren’t going to cut it, and the only dress clothes they own don’t quite fit anymore. They look at their lives and think they just wouldn’t fit in with a squeaky clean crowd like that. They smell of cigarette smoke, their heads are pounding from a night out where they’d had one too many. No, churches aren’t for the likes of them!
Church is for the “church crowd.” It’s for homemakers, not single moms trying to make ends meet on two part-time jobs. It’s for teetotalers, virgins, and people who are in bed by nine. It’s for the families with two children and white picket fences, not for the twice divorced dads whose kids resent them for too many missed birthdays.
Churches aren’t for the likes of us, are they?
Jesus didn’t come the way anyone expected, and He didn’t come for the people anyone expected. He didn’t come just for the picture-perfect families. He came for dysfunctional, messed-up families who can’t get through a Thanksgiving dinner without a fight. He came for addicts, alcoholics, the abused, and the frustrated. He came for kids who think about suicide and for moms who just can’t take the pressure anymore. He came for gamblers; people who are depressed; those who hop from bed to bed, from partner to partner, trying to fill the empty hole in their hearts.
He came for the “upper crust” who feel isolated by the expectations placed on them. He came for the ones who tried to follow all the rules but found out that they still felt empty. He came for the gay, the uptight, the rigid, the lonely, and the confused.
He was born in a barn and His ministry was in the gutter. He hung out with questionable company. He rubbed shoulders with the dirty and infectious. He made the religious leaders nervous by His acceptance of anyone who believed in Him, and they muttered and complained the way we so often do when we see people who make us uncomfortable (Luke 15:2).
Were the prophets wrong?
But what of the prophesies? Were they wrong? Was Jesus really the Messiah? What about the King who was prophesied to come?
Jesus did not come as the earthly Monarch everyone expected, but that didn’t change who He was! He was the One who created us. He gave us our talents, our personalities, our looks, and our families. He put us together on purpose. He spent time thinking about exactly the right mix that would make us uniquely us. He existed before time began. He spoke the universe into existence. He didn’t need to be swathed in jewels in order to be a King. He didn’t need a pitiful little planet’s recognition in order to be royal. He didn’t require our worship to make Him worthy of it. He was who He was.
And you are who you are. You might have been born to parents with problems. If you are like the rest of us, you have skeletons in your closet, issues you try to hide from general view, past mistakes you blush to think of. You probably have dreams deferred, regrets, and embarrassments. You might be a little dusty, knocked around, and stepped on. But that doesn’t change who you are. You are the one He was born to save.
A teenage mother gave birth to a baby next to livestock and soiled hay. It had to happen that way. He was destined to come that way. Why? Because 2,000 years later, He wanted you to know that appearances can be deceiving.
The Scriptures prophesied the coming of a Messiah King, and one day soon He will return to this earth as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). This time when He comes, He won’t be lowering himself into the gutter, onto our level; He’ll be pulling us up out of the gutter, and bringing us to be with Him in heaven. The prophecies will all be complete, and so will we! Tears dried, bruises healed, hearts mended.
In spite of appearances 2,000 years ago, Jesus truly was born to be a King! Our King! Your King!