Children in the Nativity Story

Originally posted at:


by Tad de Bordenave

Christmas is nearly here. Most of your children are looking forward to stockings, maybe a pageant, and certainly toys. This article is about those children for whom all these are missing. These children are found in the Nativity narratives but are  overlooked. I will put our attention on them so we can see children outside the inn sleeping in the stable, children in the womb, and children in war zones .

1. Children outside the inn, sleeping the stable. 

We read that there was no room on the inn for the Holy Family. To be sure, part of the problem was that Bethlehem was teeming with visitors.  It is also likely that Joseph lacked the money that might have opened the door for a room. The Holy family was a family in poverty. 

Another detail of the nativity adds to the picture not just of poverty but also of insignificance. The first people to whom God revealed the birth of his Son were shepherds. They were minding their sheep–and not minding the carousing of Bethlehem. The population survey and tax applied to important people. Shepherds take care of sheep. No one expected them to register in Bethlehem. 

Mary and Joseph, surrounded by insignificance, lowered by their poverty to a level of inconsequential nobodies. Unnoticed, unseen, unimportant.

The very same words describe children in refugee camps for all their years of their childhood and schooling. The poverty of their parents moves some to sell them into slavery or prostitution. God’s other children are cold without warm clothing, sick without medicines, lonely without an auntie to hold them, fearful without an older sibling to comfort them.

Are they expendable? Are they so low and so without that for them to be eliminated would not matter? Are they so low that their existence will have no justification? Is there anywhere they can look to find some ray of hope that would reverse these verdicts? 

They are no lower than the one who left the full privileges of heaven; no lower than the Savior who was born without the warmth of a fire; no lower than the one who took up the form of a slave. 

These children found outside the inn resemble the only child who was begotten–Jesus Christ, the one born in a barn. And that is where they find their honor, their worth, their true identity, and the place where they belong—to the family that has God as their Father and Jesus Christ as their brother.

2. Children inside the womb.

The birth story begins before the birth of John the Baptist. When Mary, in early pregnancy, visited her cousin Elizabeth, John leaped in her womb. John in vitro recognized Jesus in vitro. The womb that held John held a child whom God made in his image. The womb that held Jesus held the full humanity of every human being ever conceived. Together they tell us of the miracle of who we are—created in the image of the creator of the world and redeemed to become like Jesus Christ.

Many children in their mothers’ wombs face risks, but different from risks in refugee camps. In many countries, if the gender is wrong for a family, the child in the womb is aborted. In many countries, if a family is living in poverty, the unborn child is unwelcome. If a baby’s birth might interrupt a career or be an inconvenience to the family, the unborn child is in the way. The issue is cast as a health issue for the mother. The moral question is whether someone other than the mother can determine what is done to her body. To be fair, the question ought to be addressed to both the mother and the other living member whose life and well-being would be effected.

The Psalmist affirms that we are wonderfully and fearfully made. Genesis, in the first chapter, instructs us that each person is made in the image of God and is sacred before him. In the Ascension of Jesus Christ after his resurrection we see God’s destiny of all humanity, opened for all his followers.   

3. Children living in war zones.

The Magi told Herod of the man born king of the Jews. Herod wasted no time in killing all the boys of Bethlehem, hoping to eliminate his rival. The Holy Family had retreated to Egypt to escape his death threats. On returning, once again they faced death threats from Herod’s brother, forcing them to settle in Nazareth.

Ever since then, children of other families have not escaped the evils of kings, politicians, and generals. Reports coming from war zones do not list the number of children killed, maimed, or left on the streets after a raid or a bomb. The  chapters that would follow them would cover starvation, abandonment, disfigurement, and slow death from wounds. 

COVID variants do not attack the very young—thank God!— but they are the ones left when parents die, when mothers work hours stacked upon hours, when they are sent to live with a relative. 

No, the world is not kind to children, those children without stockings and toys. But they are dear to their heavenly Father. He sees them and he loves them to the end. And he is especially eager to bless one more group of people, a group that takes us to the innkeeper.

4. The Innkeeper and all like her.

She was a woman, had to have been. A mother who immediately recognized the need of Mary, knew the equipment for a birth, held Mary’s hand, and gave her words of encouragement and joy.

We don’t know her name, which makes it easier for us to see in her all the workers, the staff, the employees, the helpers who love the children, hold them and sing to them, find them food and bandages, and shed tears when they die. They are out of sight and unnamed, but they are the ones who have washed the sheets of the beds, found food and distributed it, and pray with the parents. They are the ones who take time to play with the children when they show up not knowing what will come next.

These are the human angels who love like God loves, who honor the sanctity of his children, who sacrifice for their needs, and who hold each one dear and precious. May God make us more like them, more like him. 

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