Summary: This Advent sermon uses the real and imagined contents of the stable, to help us think of the significance and symbolism of the place of Messiah’s birth.
“What Was In The Stable?”
Taxes, taxes, taxes… Sales tax, excise tax, federal income tax, social security tax, state income tax, inheritance tax, gasoline tax, liquor tax, cigarette tax, property tax, deed tax, license and registration fees, building permits, hotel room tax, entertainment tax, capital gains tax, and on and on. Our government is expert in obtaining as much tax money as they possibly can from all who live in the best nation on earth, the United States of America.(Yes, I am thankful for my native land: But I also hate taxes.)
In today’s Christmas passage of Scripture, we see Joseph and Mary who, like most of us, lived in their native land. Their Jewish king, King Herod, collected taxes. Joseph also had to pay a temple tax. But the real bureaucratic “bummer” was that Rome had invaded Israel and in addition to their normal taxes, the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus also collected taxes from Joseph, Mary, and all of the other residents of Israel. Caesar wanted all the tax money that he could get. To be sure that everyone was being taxed, he required everyone to return to the town of their birth to register in a census. He wanted everyone registered. He did not want to miss out on a mite or a farthing.
Thankfully,(And I know, I know, it is hard to be thankful when we talk of taxes and government paperwork…) our government collects federal and local census information by mail or by sending census takers to our doors to collect the information. They deduct the taxes from our payrolls, collect them at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, at the department store cash register, etc. They find us. Caesar made everyone return to the city of their birth. It appears that there were no exceptions.(What an inconvenience!) So, Joseph, with his virgin, but very pregnant, wife Mary, had to travel to Bethlehem to register in order to have the lousy privilege of paying yet another tax.
Now I know that all of our Christmas cards show Joseph walking and Mary riding a donkey. A very gallant and gentlemanly picture: But as I searched the New Testament Christmas accounts, I read nothing about a donkey. My guess is that they walked to Bethlehem. Certainly some of the other citizens of Israel rode donkeys, horses, camels, rode the bus, took an El Al airplane, or a taxi, or drove their cars… Surely, most walked: But since most wives were not in their ninth month of pregnancy, most made the trip quicker than Joseph and Mary. There were no 1(800) hotel reservation telephone numbers. When the young couple got to Bethlehem, all of the inns were displaying “No Vacancy” signs.
Now I know most accounts of the Nativity Story criticize the Innkeeper for not giving them the Presidential Suite. My preference is to think of him as a good businessman who did the best that he could to help those who were victims of slow walking and overbooking. He gave them the use of his stable. Historical accounts of inns make me think that Joseph and Mary got a pretty good deal. Many accounts tell us that usually everyone slept on mats, on the floor, and in the same room of the inn. Can you imagine the snoring noises and the smell? At least the holy family were in and out of the elements, probably got a reduced room rate, and best of all—had secured a place of privacy where Mary could give birth to the Messiah.