This is the way I tell the story of Christ’s nativity at the Crib Service/Christingle. There is no inn and no donkey – I follow Ken Bailey’s interpretation:
Today we remember the story of Jesus’ birth. We will build up the crib to tell the story, the best story in the world.
There was – there still is – a little town called Bethlehem, a few miles from the city of Jerusalem. Bethlehem was busy, because the Roman government were doing a census. They wanted to count everybody and said that everyone should go to their family homes. So lots of people had come to Bethlehem to be counted. It was time for a grand get-together. People went to stay with their relatives. They lived in simple houses: a room for the family, a room for the animals and a room for the guests. At that time of year, the animal place, the stable was empty, as it was warm enough for the animals to be outside.
What was the stable used for?
This is our stable
What would you find in the stable?
Put in the ox, ass.
Late one evening, a young couple came to the town. The man’s family came from Bethlehem, and he had gone there to be counted. They had walked a long way to get there. His wife was expecting a baby, and it was nearly time for the baby to be born. They needed somewhere to stay. And quickly. The guest rooms in the man’s relatives’ houses were full, and in any case, a busy guest room was not a good place to have a baby with everyone watching. So one relative said they could have the stable, where they could have a bit of privacy.
So the young couple – their names were Mary and Joseph – settled down in the stable area and made themselves comfortable.
Put Mary and Joseph in the stable.
And it was there that the baby was born. The women in the household helped Mary. Maybe a wise woman from the village came round. There were no doctors or nurses then, but the older women would usually help when a woman was having a baby.
There was no baby equipment either, and no baby clothes. So Joseph turned the manger into a cradle. He probably used some hay to make it soft. Maybe he covered it with cloth.
What is a manger?
Put it in the crib.
Mary wrapped the baby in cloths to keep it safe and warm. And she put him in the manger to sleep.
Put the baby in the manger.
Now, a few miles out of Bethlehem, there were shepherds looking after their sheep and goats. At night, they slept in caves in the hillside. They were outdoor men, rough and tough. They had to defend their sheep from wild animals and from sheep stealers. They probably smelt a bit, living with the animals all the time. And there wasn’t a shower in the caves, so personal hygiene was not a strong point.
They were sitting by the fire, talking and singing, when the sky became bright. They looked up and saw angels, thousands of them, dancing in the sky and singing and rejoicing. The shepherds listened to their song. The angels were praising God. They were so happy and excited! A little baby had been born in Bethlehem, a special baby, who was going to save the people.
The shepherds wanted to see. So they left their sheep on the hill and went into the town. There, in the stable, they found Mary and Joseph watching over the little baby in the manger.
The shepherds were so pleased to see the baby that they too rejoiced and praised God. And they told Mary and Joseph about how they had seen the angels in the sky. “Your baby is really special”, they told them. “The angels said he will save the people.”
Joseph said, “We are calling the baby ‘Jesus’, and that means ‘God saves’”
The crib is ready now. It will stay here all through Christmas time to remind us about the birth of Jesus. We will use it to help us to praise God like the angels did and like the shepherds did.