Come, Let Us Adore Him
By Elder Bruce D. Porter
from a BYU devotional address on 9 December 2008
Return with me to that sacred first Christmas in Bethlehem to contemplate the birth of our Lord. He came in the quiet of the night, in the meridian of time, He who is Immanuel (see Isaiah 7:14), the Stem of Jesse (see Isaiah 11:1), the Dayspring (see Luke 1:78), the Lord Almighty (see 2 Corinthians 6:18). His birth marked the promised visitation of the Creator to the earth, the condescension of God to man (see 1 Nephi 11:16–27). As Isaiah wrote of the event, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:2).
We know from modern revelation that the foreordained King of Israel came to earth in the springtime (see D&C 20:1). Micah prophesied that He would be born in Bethlehem—“little among the thousands of Judah” (Micah 5:2). The village of His birth lay in the shadow of mighty Jerusalem, which was five miles (8 km) to the north. Jerusalem was the capital city of Judaea, seat of the temple and bastion of Roman power. Bethlehem, by contrast, was a pastoral town, homespun and agrarian. Its only claim to fame was as the birthplace of David, the ancient king of Israel through whose lineage Christ would be born; hence, the little village was commonly known as the City of David. Its Hebrew name, Beth Lechem, meant “house of bread,”2 a name that was of no particular significance until He who would be known as the Bread of Life was born.
The fields surrounding Bethlehem were home to numerous flocks of sheep, and early spring was the traditional birthing season. The shepherds would have stayed up most nights, tending their sheep beneath the crystal night sky; hence, the angels who heralded the Savior’s birth would have had no need to wake them.
The boy child who arrived that birthing season is known as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29; 1 Nephi 11:31; D&C 88:106). It is a title of deep significance, for He arrived with the lambs and would someday be “brought as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). Yet paradoxically, He was also the Good Shepherd (see John 10:11), one who cares for the lambs. Thus, these twin symbols of His life represent both those who serve and those who are served. It was only right that Christ should play both roles, for in life He “descended below all things” (D&C 88:6), and in eternity He “ascended up on high” and is in and through and “round about all things” (D&C 88:6, 41). He knew life from every side and every angle, both above and below. He who was the greatest made Himself the least—the Heavenly Shepherd who became the Lamb.
His coming was more than simply the birth of a great prophet, the advent of a promised heir to the royal throne, or even the arrival of the only perfect person who would ever walk the earth. It was the coming of the God of heaven “to walk upon his footstool and be like man, almost.”3
Jesus Christ is the Creator of the world and the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament. It was His voice that resounded on Mount Sinai, His power that upheld chosen Israel in its wanderings, and His presence that revealed to Enoch, Isaiah, and all the prophets the glory of things to come. And therein lies the greatest miracle of the Nativity: when the God and Creator of heaven and earth first revealed Himself in person to the world, He chose to do so as an infant—helpless and dependent.
An ancient Hebrew tradition held that the Messiah would be born at Passover. We know that April in the meridian of time indeed fell in the week of the Passover feast—that sacred Jewish commemoration of Israel’s salvation from the destroying angel that brought death to the firstborn sons of Egypt. Each Israelite family that sacrificed a lamb and smeared its blood on the wooden doorposts of their dwelling was spared (see Exodus 12:3–30). Thirty-three years after Christ’s Passover birth, His blood was smeared on the wooden posts of a cross to save His people from the destroying angels of death and sin.
The Passover feast may have been the reason there was no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph. The population of Jerusalem swelled by tens of thousands during Passover, forcing travelers to seek accommodations in outlying towns. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, the home of Joseph’s forefathers, to fulfill the requirements of an imperial census ordered by Caesar Augustus. The requirement of the census allowed them to make their appearance in Bethlehem anytime during the year, but they likely chose the Passover season because the Mosaic law required all males to present themselves in Jerusalem at Passover.4 Because Bethlehem was virtually next door to the Holy City, the couple from Nazareth could take care of two obligations at once.
The innkeeper has come down in history as somewhat notorious. Yet given the crowding throughout the region during Passover, we can hardly blame him for having no room to offer the couple from Nazareth. While the majority of Passover pilgrims camped out in thousands of tents pitched on the plains around Jerusalem, thousands of others sought refuge in the local inns, known as caravansaries or khans. The Bethlehem inn was no doubt overflowing, and the innkeeper’s offering of the stable was likely an act of genuine kindness.
Even had the couple found room in the inn, it would have offered only primitive accommodations. A typical khan of the period was a stone structure consisting of a series of small rooms, each with only three walls and open to public view on one side. The stable, however, was likely a walled courtyard or even a limestone cave, where animals belonging to the guests were kept.5 Whether in courtyard, cave, or other refuge, Christ’s birth among the animals did have one conspicuous advantage over the crowded interior of an inn: here at least were peace and privacy. In this sense, the offering of the stable was a blessing, allowing the most sacred birth in human history to take place in reverent solitude.