Christmas, Keeping the Faith

A Humble Birth With A Grand Response

Bit proud of myself. I made my own nativity scene – after many years trying to find something that, A) isn’t a ludicrously-coloured kids’ version, and B) doesn’t cost a month’s pay.

I raided the kids’ toy box for some animal figurines: a few lambs, a sheep and a donkey. A bird’s nest made the manger, a bit of creative folding of a length of bandage for baby Jesus, a hessian star – all whacked under a glass cloche (Masterchef eat your heart out!), and voila!


The idea featured in the December issue of a certain home decorating magazine. Er, the idea I copied that is…

So our modest little nativity scene (sans Mary and Joseph – still working on them!) is sitting on a side table in our lounge room. Behind it looms the Christmas tree, laden with tinsel, shiny baubles, be-glittered ornaments, twinkling lights and all manner of gaudy Christmas objects.

I love it. But the juxtaposition of my humble nativity scene with that other leafy celebration of Christmas was poignant.

For someone who would change the course of history, Jesus’ entrance was no red carpet affair. Despite claiming the title of king, his birth had less of the hallmarks of a Kate-and-William-birth, and more in common with that poor bub found dumped in a Sydney drain.

A humble beginning.

Why did God allow it to unfold in this way?

Mary was just a kid – probably as young as 13. At full-term, Mary and Joseph were expected to travel to Bethlehem for the census and, like trying to get a hotel room in Melbourne on footy grand final day, they couldn’t find anything better than a shed, an animal shelter in someone’s backyard. That’s where Jesus was born, with animals as witness, the musty smell of hay and dung mixing with Mary’s sweat and blood. His bed was a feeding trough.

Are you getting this?

A teen pregnancy come full term to travel-weary and temporarily homeless parents. An unmarried couple who were no doubt treated with contempt by those who didn’t buy Mary’s virgin conception story. An inglorious stable and some rags in place of a comfy bed, midwives and a hand-knitted layette.

Why the humble entrance?

Thing is, the birth may have been lowly, but the response was unparalleled.

A whole host of angels appeared to shepherds nearby, telling of Jesus’ birth and giving directions to his birthplace. They left saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:14)

Wise men followed a star to visit Jesus, bringing lavish gifts (Matthew 2). And King Herod was so threatened by the ‘humble’ birth of this baby that he gave orders to have all boys under the age of two in Bethlehem killed.

I don’t know anyone whose birth provoked such a grand response as this.

A whole army of angels. Extravagant gifts. The ire of a king.

I’m looking at my nativity scene again, Christmas tree glittering in the background, and thinking this: do we allow space for God to make things glorious anymore?

The Christmas story is lacking in itinerary and birth plan, but heaving with examples of God’s provision. As you read the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the Bible, you get a sense of Mary’s peace. This was no control-freak, list girl. Amidst the angels, the guiding star and the wise men, there’s a little verse that gives it away.

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

I know Christmas is hectic and there’s so much to get done. But sometimes we must rewind and just mull over the ‘why?’ of it all. Throw the list out and allow space for God. Ponder in your heart the glory of that humble birth.

First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday December 15, 2014.


  1. janet woolard says

    Dear Claire One fact of the birth of Jesus that is not preached is on the town of Bethlehem itself. Joseph had to go to his home town to register. That basically means ALL or at least some of his relatives lived there. He didn’t even try to stay with any of them, because he knew both he and Mary were dead to them. In the Jewish culture she should have been stoned for being pregnant out of wedlock. He would have been treated like a leper “unclean, unclean” for marrying such a girl. They had to cling to each other and God because they no longer had a family to go to or get help from.People these days just accept the Inn was full because of the crowds, but they should have had family they could stay with. Hence the cave that was the animal shelter.  And we aren’t even allowed to take our little dogs to church to sit on our lap, they have to stay in the car or at home!Thank you for your articles; always refreshing.Janet Woolard in Nowra

    • Thank you Janet! Good point – I hadn’t thought of the fact that Bethlehem was likely where Joseph’s family were still living. I love the way, every Christmas, the nativity story brings forth new truths that essentially point back to the great love of our Heavenly Father. Merry Christmas!

  2. Claire, you’re spot on about Jesus’ birth.  Luke 2:7 doesn’t say that the inn was full, it just says that ‘there was no room for them in the inn’.  A teen pregnancy out of wedlock was likely viewed with contempt forcing Mary to give birth in a public place and lay Jesus in the only bed available – a manger.

    May we make room for the Lord Jesus and treasure up all these things and ponder them in our hearts as Mary did.

    (It’s interesting to note that during Schoolies Week on the Gold Coast some motels put up ‘No Vacancy’ signs – not because they are full, but because they don’t want liberated school-leavers to come in and trash the place.)

    • Haha – great analogy with Schoolies Week – I don’t blame those motel owners. As I said in response to Janet’s comment – I love the way the nativity story is made new every year by the little things we unearth, often subtly woven between the lines. Merry Christmas Sid!

  3. Jude Maslin says

    Some interesting analogies Claire
    It is also true that on any week in our local hospital there is a young mother with a newborn who is homeless without the support of family.
    In the light of the nativity, it is humbling to see these tiny babies and know that their life may will be much more than we dare to imagine.

  4. janet woolard says

    I thought this link might be useful as you write about abortion. I know it is American, but I still find his information useful for praying. Thank you for all you write; I look forward to reading each article.Blessing to you and your precious family over Christmas and the Jewish Hanukkah. Janet Woolard in Nowra

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