During Advent, every Monday, we will be featuring the 2022 Advent devotional from Gather magazine written by the Rev. Becca Ehrlich.
by Becca Ehrlich
Week 4: The best thing came in a small package
Read: Luke 2:1–20
Many of us know this story well: Mary and Joseph must travel to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, and she is about to have her baby.
Mary is on the verge of becoming a teenage mother, shamed by society because the baby was conceived before she and Joseph were married. While we know she is pregnant with God’s Son, the people back then didn’t know that. She and Joseph travel alone, even though her due date is drawing near.
They have hardly any money because they both come from poor families.
When they arrive, this tiny little town of Bethlehem is packed because of the census, and they end up having to stay in a stable, most likely with animals. We usually picture a stable like the ones depicted on many a Christmas card—a nice, cozy-looking wooden structure, where well-behaved animals gather around Mary, Joseph and an angelic-looking Jesus.
But first-century stables were usually just glorified caves, dug into the face of a rock wall, not well lit and probably cold. Any animals were likely smelly—have you ever been in a barn? There’s manure everywhere. It was not a great place to stay, let alone give birth to a baby. Health workers today would freak—talk about an unsanitary birth!
If that weren’t enough, the first people to hear about Jesus’ birth and to show up are shepherds, who are also smelly and dirty since they spend all their time outside chasing their sheep around.
Usually, they weren’t even allowed in town. Yet they were the first to see Jesus and praise God.
This is nothing like how we’d like to picture the birth of our Savior and Messiah. Left to our own devices, we might picture a beautiful house (maybe even a mansion or palace!) with a designer crib and lots of baby supplies and toys. The new parents would be surrounded by all the important people of that time—kings, queens, high priests—as well as all their loved ones, each more than ready to receive Jesus as their newest addition.
In real life, Mary and Joseph experienced the birth of Jesus in a dirty, cold, cave-stable with smelly animals, the loneliness of being without their families for this important moment, and the sudden arrival of unexpected first visitors who turned out to be disgusting shepherds—that’s how our Lord Jesus was born and came to us.
It makes me think of the TV cartoon A Charlie Brown Christmas, in which Charlie Brown brings back a very unimpressive Christmas tree. It was this small, frail tree, surrounded by fancy aluminum trees, that caught his eye. While Charlie Brown says at one point that he has no idea what Christmas is about, I like to think he picked this small, struggling tree because he truly understood the message of Advent and Christmas. Our Lord Jesus comes into this world, not in shiny, fancy, aluminum trappings, but as a tiny, frail, newborn baby, born to teenage parents who live in poverty and must stay in a cave-stable.
Jesus, our Lord and Savior, shows us that the most amazing examples of God’s power and love aren’t always flashy and big. Sometimes they come in small, seemingly powerless things, like a baby lying in a manger.
It’s often said that good things come in small packages. How fitting then, that the best thing of all, this world’s Savior, comes in the smallest of packages. You can’t get much smaller than a newborn infant!
During this last week of Advent, as you prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, remember how something so tiny and frail—something the world might think of as less, but that is actually much, much more—is the truest meaning of Christmas. We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ—a small baby who grew up to save the world from our sin. Remember: God in Christ comes to us as a human baby, ready to do anything and everything, just so that we can be close to him.
Share aloud or reflect:
1. Reread Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth. What part stands out to you the most? Why?
2. How have you seen God showing up, even in small ways, this Advent season?
Activities to try:
• Tell someone the story of a time God acted in your life in a small, unexpected way.
• Find a way this week to share God’s love with children in your community, such as donating Christmas presents, volunteering at a family shelter or babysitting for someone you know.