Manger Scene
Bible study

'Taint necessarily so!

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"And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, since he was from the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to him in marriage and was expecting a child ..." Luke 2:3-5.

A friend of mine is so disillusioned by the commercialism of the Christmas season, that he has begun celebrating the birth of the Savior in March. “Why not?”, he says. It doesn’t contradict anything in the scriptural account. He calls his celebration, “Jesusmas”!

You may be startled by his assertion that his choice of date doesn’t contradict anything in the scripture. After all, the Christmas carol says he was born “in the deep mid-winter”, and we faithfully reserve December 25th to celebrate.

But he’s not wrong, because we seem to have given up actually reading and understanding what the scripture says about the birth of Jesus, and we instead much prefer the account of Hallmark and that handed down from generation to generation in the Sunday School Nativity Play. It is certainly not my intent to offend anyone who got his big break in show business playing “third camel”, but I suggest we can do better than that.

Let’s examine some of the facts and see what new light they can shed on that first advent.

Last Sunday I offered a substantial cash reward to any of our young people who could send me a biblical reference - I even told them that only Matthew and Luke give any detail at all about the event - for Mary riding a donkey, a bicycle or a Jeep FourRunner from Nazareth to Bethlehem. I know my money is safe, because neither of those gospels say anything about it. Mary would be the only eyewitness still alive when the gospels were written and she didn’t seem to want to talk about it!

Whether Joseph and Mary even owned a donkey is up for grabs, because it’s obvious they didn’t have two shekels to rub together! Luke explicitly tells us (Luke 2:22-40) that they had to choose the option for the poor when they went to the Temple in Jerusalem to dedicate the baby! [Forty days after the birth and celebrated on the Church calendar as Candlemas].

By the way, have you ever ridden a donkey? We all know Major Gwyn probably did on the beach growing up in the UK. But, eighty miles (the distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem using the safer coastal route) riding a donkey, as picturesque as it may seem, would be excruciating for a woman in Mary’s condition. I bet she walked. It probably took them four or five days. And you just know her back was killing her all the way!

Another thing - the Bible doesn't actually mention a stable, or a barn, or a cave - only a manger (in Luke 2:7).

We read that Mary laid Jesus in the feeding trough because there was no room to put him anywhere else. Aha! - you say, “because there was no room for them in the inn”. Nope! No inn, no innkeeper to turn them away. This confusion can be traced back to an early mistranslation of the Greek word “kataluma” which we all now know means “guest chamber”.

It’s not as if Motel Six didn’t leave the light on for them. There was no such thing as a “Hotel” or “Hostel” in those days. You either stayed with family or you borrowed or rented a room. Most “houses” had an enclosure to protect whatever livestock the family possessed and would be made available for any guests traveling with animals.

Now, as the quotation at the top says, Joseph had to go to Bethlehem, because that’s where his family home was! The rules of hospitality for family members were very strict and well known. So, it’s more than a little weird to suggest that Joseph would choose for Mary to give birth in some anonymous family’s livestock enclosure when his uncle Fred lived just down the road!

Whether no room was available because of the sheer number of relatives in town, or whether the relatives were peeved at Mary’s condition we’ll never know, but it’s most unlikely that Jesus was born in some anonymous “stable”. Much more likely is that the events happened at the house of one of Joey MacDavid's relatives. The story of the wise men from the east has them visiting the house where they were staying (look it up!)

Silent Night? Not so much! It may be a lovely carol, but the claim in “Away in a manger” that “the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes” is romantic nonsense. The only way newborns have to communicate hunger or discomfort is to cry! To suggest that Jesus somehow did not need to do so is just silly and denies his humanity.

I really do have a point in telling you all this. It is obvious that we have willingly turned Christmas from what it really was like into what we would like it to be. Our Hollywood-ized version is so much more palatable to our consciences. We’d much prefer that the scene was more like our beautiful Nativity Set from Hobby Lobby. Better that than the disgusting reality. The divine architect of our universe chose to enter our world, helpless, in poverty and without a shred of dignity.

That’s right, understand that this wasn’t forced on him by circumstances, he chose this method of entry.

Reading the gospels - you do actually read them, right? - we learn that so much of what Jesus did during his ministry emphasized his identification as one of us. Immanuel - God with us. I am so glad he did, because I can relate to a Savior like that. He is so human. He chose not to have any airs and graces. He chose to live in such a way that makes it possible for me to believe that even I can be like Him!

So, let’s be realistic.

Let's not sanitize, sterilize, anesthetize, romanticize or commercialize this marvelous event.

Let’s not get caught up substituting shepherds, angels, donkeys, stables, inns or inn-keepers, camels, wise men, stars or angelic songs (they didn’t sing, by the way - look it up!) for the real thing.

Let’s just see it for what it really was - God Himself, stripped of power, majesty, glory and dignity just so that he might draw you and me to himself. He thought I was worth it. O come let us adore Him!

I leave you with the thoughts of Paul the Apostle on this subject, writing to the Philippians (2:6-11) KJV

“[Jesus] Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

May you too confess Him and your joy be made complete in Him this Christmas.

Saturday January 23rd, 2021
Sunday December 13th, 2020