Tuesday, December 11, 2018
The Birthing Place
Here I sit, 5:39 p.m., in a lovely atrium, on comfortable furniture, listening to beautiful music, surrounded by lovely plants. In front of me is a store, filled with precious little outfits and balloons and stuffed animals. To my left is a mini-cafe.
I just returned from room E2, a labor and delivery room in a state-of-the-art hospital - - the Georgia hospital where more Georgia babies are born than any other. My niece has been here for 12 hours, receiving excellent care (and a good number of pharmaceuticals), as she awaits the arrival of her baby son. Another great-nephew, praise the Lord!
How different...how different from what Mary and Joseph faced. I can't even imagine.
Some believe Jesus was not born in December, but during the Jewish feast of Trumpets1, which takes place in Sept-October, depending on the Jewish lunar-based calendar. In the year 3 B.C.2 the Feast of Trumpets took place in September.
If that is truly the case, then the weather in Jerusalem/Bethlehem (they are very close together geographically) could have been uncomfortably cold, especially at night. The climate of that area is very similar to the metro Atlanta suburban areas in which many of my blog readers live. If that describes you, then just imagine a Friday night football type of climate.
We know Jesus was born at night, based on the stellar astronomical display witnessed by the shepherds. Chances are, it was a cold night.
Second, Mary and Joseph were forced to stay in ... a stable? That's what we have been commonly taught, isn't it? But, if you re-read Luke 2 (the only biblical account we have of this story), you will find no mention of a stable. Nor will you find an innkeeper, that turns the holy family away. We do find mention of a manger (3 mentions - - vs. 7, 12, 16) and an "inn" - - vs. 7.
It is interesting to note in vs. 6 that the couple had been in Bethlehem for some time before Mary went into labor. "While they were there..." (vs. 6) implies that they did not just ride into Bethlehem, after which Mary proceeded to give birth to Jesus right away. Where were they staying when they first arrived? One could deduce they were staying with relatives. It is a reasonable assumption put forward by many.3
One reason for the innkeeper confusion is the poor translation from Greek to English of the word, kataluma. Jesus used this same word (in the Greek, kataluma) to refer to a "guest room", the Upper Room of The Last Supper. These are the only two times this word is used in the New Testament. See, there is no good translation of the Greek kataluma into English. Literally, the word means "to loosen down". In a slang way, you might say this area/room was a place for visitors to "hang loose" or "let their hair down".4
So, there most certainly was no inn. There IS a bonafide Greek word for "inn", and we see it used in the story of The Good Samaritan. It is where the Samaritan took the man that had been beaten nearly to death. That word is pandocheion.
Where then does the manger come from? If the guest room was overflowing, where DID they go? Many biblical archeologists have discovered that homes of that era in the Judean hill country featured a lower level, a first floor, where the family's animals would be housed, especially in times of inclement weather. It is entirely possible that Mary and Joseph were sent to stay in the lower level of the home of one of Joseph's relatives, where they had been staying for a few days. Animals were indeed present in this basement, or first floor, if you will. And, there was a feeding trough, or manger, there as well.
Here's another bit of plausibility. According to Source 4 below, some houses' guest quarters were sort of like a campground, near a water source. There would have certainly been a place for guests' animals to be kept, in this scenario. Keep in mind, though, the biblical account does not mention animals specifically. Their presence has been assumed because of the three mentions of the manger. Of course, you know what often happens when we "assume"...
The Cave Version: A 2nd century A.D. false gospel, not included in the New Testament canon, The Protevangelium of James, contends Jesus was born in a cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem. This theory lacks credibility because the author committed so many egregious errors in the writing of the work.
So, the point is, no matter whether a guest room, a campground, a stable....
Jesus was born in less-than-comfortable set of circumstances, probably with Mary and Joseph dealing with the birth alone, except for the presence of God who most surely surrounded them.
Why God does AS He does is surely a mystery to me. Aside from fulfilling scripture (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:6) by having Jesus born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, the City of David, I'd have had Jesus born in the most elegant circumstances of the day. Wouldn't you?
Yet, He was born in a nameless place where animals were kept, with a food trough for His bassinet. The lowliest of circumstances. No high-profile birth, no elegant surroundings....
Perhaps God did things this way to convey an amazing message - - that the transcendent God condescended to come to us. Instead of coming to Earth as a regent, a pampered prince, He was born in humility, as any, ordinary human baby, and in lowlier circumstances than many. This conveys how accessible and available He is, with no high-falutin' to hinder our approach. The Lord of Lords came to us humbly, and his first bed was a manger.