As I write this, the temperature in Bethlehem is 54 and clear. Maybe the weather was like this a couple of thousand years ago, when Mary and Joseph had their first son. I know, I know, Jesus being born on December has no historical evidence, but even atheists agree there was a Jesus. Therefore he had to be born somewhere, so for the sake of convenience, we'll say December 25 in Bethlehem. The wise men, the star, the angels and the rest we can leave out; I just want to think of this little scene.
The song says, "The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes." I can't opine about the crying, but Jesus sure didn't do much squirming. Luke says Jesus was wrapped in swaddling, which seems historically accurate. Swaddling a baby basically means wrapping him like a cocoon with only his face sticking out. These days swaddling would probably be considered child abuse, but if DFACS arrived on the scene they'd be more concerned about the manger thing.
Okay, okay, I know, I know. There's no more reason to believe in the manger than to believe in the wise men, but everyone has at least one pet aspect of this scene they can't do without, and for me it's the manger. So sue me. Some people just can't be happy unless there's a star, and some people absolutely require an angel. Some people can't do without the camels. As far as they're concerned, the wise men are just there to give a pretext for some camels. Camels I can take or leave alone, ditto for stars and angels. But I insist on the manger, and I'm not budging.
When you imagine Jesus in a manger, forget Nativity Scenes, where there's a Jesus-sized manger that looks like the carpenter built it thinking it might need to double as baby furniture. This manger would have been the size of a trough, way too big for any baby that wasn't going to be Abraham Lincoln. Naturally Mary would have packed it with straw to keep the baby from rolling around, plus, there was the swaddling like I said.
Of course, most of the time, the baby wouldn't have been lying in a manger with Mary and Joseph (plus as many wise men, angels, shepherds, and camels as you care for) standing around admiring it; Mary would have been nursing him. Luke and the others don't mention that part, but we can be pretty sure it happened. You don't necessarily need to think Mary was a virgin; my understanding is, the Greek word may just have meant young woman. Many young women are virgins, but not all of them. If we'd seen Mary, we'd have probably thought she was a child. Joseph may have been older. He may have wondered whether the baby were his. He probably didn't wonder whether his wife were a virgin.
So that's the scene. A young woman, a girl really, nursing a baby she's too young and poor to have any business with. Her husband has his doubts. It's cold. They aren't the best parents, maybe, but they're doing the best they can with the information they have.
This is the moment God chose to turn the Great Wheel of History.
It seems to me the star and the angels and the wise men and probably even the camels were added later as window dressing. People like something big and flashy. Some people predict he'll come again, "this time in great glory." The "this time" to me sounds like he needs to make up for his disappointing entrance the first time. But maybe God's idea of glory is different than ours and doesn't require pyrotechnics or frankincense. Maybe if Jesus comes again, it'll be the same deal. Just a girl somewhere, making do, laying him in a makeshift cradle - an orange crate? a cardboard box? - somewhere outside because no one will make room for them indoors, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for example, where the current temperature is 15.