You have heard it all before haven't you? How Joseph and Mary, after many days traveling on a donkey, finally arrive in Bethlehem late one night. They can't find a place to stay. Being strangers in a strange town, they check out the local inn. The innkeeper tells them that he has no room available for them. So he shows them out back to a little stable -- a barn with a wall, a thatched roof and a couple of wooden poles. That very night, in that little stable, Mary gives birth to Jesus. She is surrounded only by Joseph and a few humble farm animals. She takes Jesus, wraps Him in swaddling clothes and puts him in a little wooden feed trough called a manger -- a cradle for a king.
You have heard it all before haven't you? It's a great story made popular by Christmas carols, greeting cards and Nativity scenes.
But I'm sorry to say that a lot of it just isn't true. Nowhere does the Bible say that Mary rode a donkey into Bethlehem, that Jesus was born the night they arrived, that an innkeeper showed them to a stable, or that they were even in a stable as we picture it today. These conceptions of Christmas may be tantalizing but they're not necessarily true. They may be sentimental but they're not very biblical.
So today I advocate a Real World Christmas. I want to cut through the clutter that has been imposed upon the Christmas story by popular culture, and I want to talk about what really happened that first Christmas. As Jack Webb used to say in the old Drag Net television series, today it's going to be "Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts."
Please understand; my goal is not to ruin your Christmas. My goal is to enhance your Christmas -- to help your celebration of Christmas not be a celebration of sentimentality, but a celebration of a real Savior born upon this earth. Because the more you know the true facts about how God worked that first Christmas, the more you can know who God is this Christmas.
If you want to talk about the facts, you can read them in Luke 2:1-7
: "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the Entire Roman world [This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria]. And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her Firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."
There they are: the facts! The fact is that Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem because a census required them to register their presence there. It was a journey of about 70 miles. The Bible doesn't mention a donkey because most people made the trip on foot. The fact is that they went to Bethlehem because they were ancestors of King David's. Bethlehem was their ancestral hometown. Their relatives and family were there. The fact is that Bethlehem was a tiny little village of probably less than 100 people. The fact is that when Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, Mary was expecting Jesus. But we don't know how long it was after they arrived that she gave birth to her firstborn son. The fact is that when Mary gave birth to Jesus she wrapped Him in strips of cloth. She did this not because she had forgotten to bring any baby clothes along or was too poor to afford them. This was the First Century custom of swaddling babies: the babies would be tightly wrapped around their legs, arms and torsos because it was thought that this would make their bone structure straighter as they grew. The fact is that Mary laid Jesus in a manger which was a feed trough for animals.