An Unexpected Arrival

Rev Dr Melinda Cousins explores the humble and unexpected coming of God into our common home.


For our twentieth Advent 2023 devotional, Rev Dr Melinda Cousins explores the humble and unexpected coming of God into our common home.

An Unexpected Arrival


In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:1-7



Most of us have a mental picture of the nativity scene. Mine is shaped by classic Christmas card scenes, movie posters and the good old Sunday School play. When I was studying in Israel, our lecturer pointed out a large 2000-year-old animal feeding trough roughly hewn from stone at an archaeological site, saying “Look, a manger.” I was taken aback. It looked so different to the construction of wood and hay (and maybe a pillow!) I had in my mind.

While teaching in Zambia, I talked with students about the journey to Bethlehem. While I usually picture Mary and Joseph travelling alone, their imagination included a crowd of women – mothers, sisters, aunts – journeying alongside to tend to the birth, possibly a more likely picture given the culture Jesus was born into.

The details of the nativity scene in Luke 2:1-7 are actually very sparse. No donkey, no innkeeper, no animals mentioned; and of course the shepherds and Magi show up later... separately. Our mental pictures might need realigning. But what is clear is that this story is grounded in the realities of this world. God doesn’t show up in a ‘heavenly’ way, but fully immerses Himself on earth, our common home.

Luke introduces the scene with the details of a census. While that might seem odd to us, it emphasises the fact that Jesus comes within a real place, real time, and real people. God enters the world in a singularly concrete and specific way. Missiologist Leslie Newbigin coined the term “the scandal of particularity” in an attempt to capture something of just how radical this is. 

We too often think about God in abstractions, but the mystery of the gospel is that the creator of the universe is embodied in a vulnerable child, within one time and place, subject to all the mess and frailty of human existence.

That this particular child is then wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a feeding trough emphasises the humility He displays. King Jesus comes not in royal robes or on a throne, but in a life to be lived at the margins. That there is no place for Him at His birth points forward to the rejection He will face throughout His life and in His death, as He challenges the status quo and calls His followers to a radical new way.

Luke shows us a God who comes in the concrete rather than abstract, in the humble rather than the spectacular, and in the unexpected rather than the established. Who risks rejection and misunderstanding to be not just with us but one of us. And who meets you in the grounded realities of your time, place, and people.

Where are you looking for Jesus to show up in your world today? How might He surprise or even scandalise you with how he shows up?



Rev Dr Melinda Cousins is Director of Ministries for Baptist Churches SA. A pastor and teacher, she has taught Biblical Studies at Tabor in Adelaide as well as colleges in the majority world. Her PhD was on the Psalms of Ascent and she loves exploring how the biblical narrative shapes our imagination for life and community.



This devotional is the twentieth in a series of daily email devotionals for Advent 2023. This year's series reflects on the longing, hope, and beauty of God’s ‘Common Home’ being realised, revealed, and renewed through the birth of Jesus.

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Advent: Common Home