A Friendlier Christmas Story, Part 2

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virgin maryPart 1 ended with Elizabeth encouraging Mary with a prophecy from God about her baby. Even baby John leaped for joy inside Elizabeth’s womb.

Luke 1:56:  And Mary stayed with her about three months, and returned to her house.

Mary and Elizabeth had a lot of things to discuss and were both in a wonderful position to encourage one another in their miraculous pregnancies. Since the journey home would be long for Mary, it would make sense for her to stay awhile with Elizabeth and help her around the house during her last trimester. (Moms, we can relate, right?) And since she was already there, why wouldn’t Mary stay to assist with the birth, and meet this miracle baby who was announced by an angel, just like her child? I’m just guessing, but I’d sure want to stay for John’s birth!

But Mary had to deal with the inevitable—traveling home to reveal her pregnancy to Joseph.

Matthew 1:18-20, 24:  Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way: his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.

Now Joseph her husband, being righteous and yet not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.

But while he was thinking about these things, Look!, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to favorably accept Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit.”

Then Joseph, awaking from sleep, did as the angel of Yahweh commanded him and took to himself his wife.

Once again, God sent an angel—this time, to let Joseph in on what was happening. The couple married, and a few months later, Mary needed to journey to Bethlehem again, this time with her husband, and a lot of other people.

Luke 2:1, 3-5:  Now it came to pass in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the inhabited world for taxation.

And everyone went to be registered, each to his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem because he was of the house and family line of David,

to be registered along with Mary, who had been betrothed to him and was pregnant.

All my life, I saw pictures, children’s plays, and television programs showing Joseph leading Mary, great with child, on a donkey to Bethlehem. This is where we need to set aside tradition and consider Joseph’s humanity. If Caesar wanted everyone in the Roman Empire to travel to the cities of their lineage for a kingdom-wide registration, he would need to give everyone enough notice to make preparations before leaving their homes and places of business for the long journey. With all that notice, why would Joseph wait until the last minute to make his nine-month-pregnant wife travel on a donkey (or whatever means they used) for a period of one to two weeks? Common sense dictates that Joseph would lovingly bring Mary to Bethlehem before the difficult, last stages of pregnancy.

Luke 2:6  Now it came to pass, while they were there, the days were fulfilled for her to give birth.

The scripture tells us that Mary went into labor “while they were there,” not “as soon as they arrived.”

Luke 2:7  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling-cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no space for them in the guestroom.

Most Bible translations say, “there was no room for them in the inn.” The Greek word for “inn” appears only three times in the New Testament, and in the other two usages (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11), it is correctly translated as “guest room.”

We visited a centuries-old house in Taybeh, a Christian town in the West Bank. The “Parables House” was inhabited up until 1974 and is now used as a teaching exhibit for tourists to the Holy Land.

stepsAs you enter the house, you walk up a small staircase to the main room of the home (left). Over the cooking area are some tiny windows, and to the right is an opening to a bedroom (right). It could be used as a guest room while the family slept in the main room.kitchen

Bethlehem was the town of Joseph’s lineage, as well as Mary’s, so they had plenty of relatives there. However, the town was very crowded for Caesar’s registration. Since there was no space for Joseph and Mary in their relatives’ guest room (which could have been Zechariah and Elizabeth), they had to stay in one of the lower rooms (under the main level) that were normally used for keeping animals safe inside the house at night.

Lower stables for animals, on either side of front entry stairs.  

These indoor stables each had a manger to hold food for the animals. It makes sense that Mary would put something soft inside and place Jesus in the manger.

Perhaps the Bible translators of 17th-Century England saw the word “manger,” and translated the scene into their Western culture, assuming that Jesus was born in an outdoor stable.manger

Manger (right)

to be continued …

Part 3: Conclusion, and why those shepherds were so excited!

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