I wish you all a very Merry Christmas (Feliz Navidad). Thanks to all who visit this blog and contribute to it. The network of blogs of which this is one forms a sort of blogging family. I appreciate the respect that you show to other commenters and to me. I extend greetings to the people who visit regularly but never comment including people who work for various government entities. The Christmas wishes extend to you as well. May there be peace on Earth and goodwill to all.
I wanted to tell a slightly different nativity story. The Bible itself has very little written about the birth of Jesus. It doesn’t even mention what time of year it happened. Over the years small additions to the story have been added to help flesh it out. But those were just assumptions created in later European culture. Because of this, and also because of translation issues, a number of items have become part of our “collective memory” about the nativity. For example, the assumption that Jesus was born in a stable or barn, even though the Bible never says that. In some cases, entire stories have been invented hinging on the mistranslation of a single word.
Hollywood takes the topic and runs with little drummer boys, the night that the animals talked, and a racially correct blend of wise men who arrived from the East the night that Jesus was born. (They came around two years later)
So I wrote this as an alternative nativity story. Some of the things included are my own interpolations, but in many cases, I tried to use the best historical understanding that we have. In some places, I have tried to use different words than is normal to make you pause and actually think about what is being said.
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More than two thousand years ago a young couple about to be married had an unexpected surprise. It turned out that the soon-to-be-wife was pregnant. In their small community in Galilee, this would have been quite a scandal, and in the culture, at the time the shame of having a child out of wedlock would have followed her throughout her life. For her, while it was still a surprise, she had been warned about her coming pregnancy by an angel. In a great act of faith, she accepted what the angel told her and said that she would be the Lord’s servant. For the next few months, she stayed with her cousin who also had a miraculous experience and received a promise that after many years of infertility she too would have a child. Together they rejoiced in what they had been called to do.
After several months Mary traveled back to her home and to her waiting fiance. The soon-to-be-husband and unknowing soon-to-be-new-adoptive-father found out that his soon-to-be-wife was pregnant, in a very impossible way, with what people would say was his first child. But he knew differently because he was a man of honor. After some thought, he decided to do the honorable thing, as demanded by his culture, and break off the engagement. Being a kind, though honorable man, he didn’t want to make a public display and wanted to keep everything “private”. But again God interceded. In a dream, an angel commanded him to ignore the honor-based values taught to him by his culture, and to do a more holy thing so that a greater good could be done.
Joseph may have been a man of honor, but he was also a man of faith. He accepted what God had commanded him to do and married the woman who would come to be known as the Mother of God.
In their small community, they would have been aware of the whisperings and gossip around them. Concerned with how it would affect the child he would raise, Joseph considered moving back with his family for several days’ journey to the south. Wanting to know what would be best for the child because the angel had told him the child would be a savior and ruler in Israel, even God Himself. There was a scripture known to the faithful that said the Ruler and Shepherd of Israel will be born in Bethlehem. This scripture came as an answer to his prayer to know whether he should move his new family.
Joseph took that as a sign that he was the right man to make sure the prophecy would be fulfilled. He was from Bethlehem and he had family there. Taking his young wife, and soon-to-be-mother, he set out on a journey of faith. He was a man of faith and was doing what he had been commanded by the angel. Also doing what he knew to be true from the scriptures. He knew it had to be this way.
Shortly after arriving at the house of relatives, his wife went into labor. With the women in Joseph’s extended family there to assist, Mary gave birth to the Son of God, the future Savior of not just Israel, but of the whole Earth. Despite his relative’s generous accommodations, there was not enough room in their guest room for the young couple, a new baby, and the others staying there. Mary needed rest and could not sleep if Jesus was woken up every few minutes by the others in the room. To help Jesus sleep they wrapped him tightly in some cloth and placed him, outside, in a disused stone watering trough for some animals. Not a very auspicious beginning for the King of Heaven.
Before long they heard hushed talking coming from outside and went out to find a group of shepherds had entered the fenced-in yard by the house and were reverently observing the baby lying in the manger. The shepherds told them that they were visited by a host of angels proclaiming a covenant of peace between the kingdoms of the earth and the Kingdom of God and that God would extend mercy to all people, even though they had sinned. And they instantly went looking for the Savior of the World, and just as the angel had said, they found the child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
On that night something changed. A sequence of events began that will ultimately culminate with God fulfilling the covenant he made with all humanity. The gulf of sin and alienation between all of humanity and God has been bridged. And God, through his Son, offers eternal life to all those who are faithful and willing to take upon them the name of The Son. As Christians, we have taken His name upon us and faithfully await the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, where, as promised, we will dwell in peace.
* Bethlehem became their home after Jesus’ birth and remained so for at least two years until their flight to Egypt.
* The Star. There are a few explanations. The Magi were likely astrologers and the star or conjunction of stars was seen in the correct constellation. EdB offers this video by way of explanation. I take no final, position but the argument is compelling and checks the boxes.
OR ~ In 1991, the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society (volume 32, pages 389-407) noted that Chinese astronomers had observed a long-tailed, slow-moving comet in their skies during March of 5 BC. This shi-hsing, or “star” hung in the Capricorn region for more than seventy days. This same comet would have been visible over Persia, home of the Magi, in the hours just before dawn. Due to the Earth’s orbital motion, the comet’s light would have been directly in front of the Magi during their journey, hence, they would have truly followed the star.
* From the point in time when Herod Antipas laid the foundations of his palace in Sepphoris, historical records indicate that much of the labor for the construction of the basilica and other numerous building projects came from Cana and Nazareth.