It is a common saying at Christmastime that Jesus Christ was “born in a manger.” Of course, it wasn’t possible for Him to actually be born in the manger, but that’s where Mary laid Him after His birth (Luke 2:7). Although we are not sure of the exact location of where Jesus was born, we do know that it was near Bethlehem and that there was a manger, or feeding trough, there.
God promised the Savior’s virgin birth immediately after mankind’s first sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). Hundreds of years later, the prophet Micah foretold the birth of Christ in the small town of Bethlehem: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2). This prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus’ earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, were called to Bethlehem for a census of the entire Roman territory (Luke 2:1–5). While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Jesus to be born (Luke 2:6).
Because of the crowds that had come to Bethlehem, there was no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:7). While tradition says that the inn was a sort of hotel, we don’t know that for sure. In fact, the Greek word translated “inn” (kataluma) could be translated “guest room.” This fact has led some to believe that Jesus may not have been born in a stable or barn, but in a house with a lower floor serving as a nighttime shelter for the families’ animals. If that were the case, it wouldn’t be surprising to find a manger located in that area of the house. When Luke states that there was no room in the kataluma, he could mean there was no room on the upper level, which would have been full of other people sleeping.
In any case, Jesus was born at night, in some sort of keeping-place for animals. After Jesus was delivered, Mary His mother wrapped Him in cloths and laid Him in a manger (Luke 2:7). Later that same night, shepherds from nearby fields found Him just as the angels told them they would (Luke 2:10–12).
So, why was the Savior and King born in a place where animals were kept? And why was He then laid in the animals’ food trough? Surely, God’s Son deserved a high-profile birth in the most elegant of surroundings. But, instead, God’s own Son made His appearance on earth in the lowliest of circumstances. This humble birth conveys an amazing message to creation: the transcendent God condescended to come to us. Instead of coming to earth as a pampered, privileged ruler, Jesus was born in meekness, as one of us. He is approachable, accessible, available—no palace gates bar the way to Him; no ring of guards prevents our approach. The King of kings came humbly, and His first bed was a manger.