Saturday, December 25, 2010

The REAL story of the Nativity

Today is Christmas Day, of course, when we mark the birth of the Savior of the world and Head of the Church. As such, we spend most of the previous 40 days recalling the story surrounding the birth -- the circumstances and even the political implications.

That said, let me give you the lowdown on what really happened, culled from several sources -- it may be very, very different from what you've lived with for all these years.

What's not subject to debate is the obvious -- Jesus the Messiah was born in a Bethlehem stable some 2,000 years ago to a engaged teenage girl named Mary who had never had sexual relations and that she and her fiancé Joseph had gone there to be counted in the Roman census.

Virtually everything else, however, is wrong.

For openers, she really didn't have to go, legally; however, he took her anyway because tongues were likely wagging in their hometown of Nazareth due to her "condition" -- in fact, had they been caught in the act they could have been stoned to death. And they were likely in Bethlehem for weeks or even months before the birth.

Why was there "no room in the inn"? Bad translating.

Joseph and Mary would have been taken in by at least one of his relatives and not have to have gone to a commercial inn in the first place. Homes in that part of the world consisted of two rooms -- one, where the family lived, and two, the guest room (mistranslated as "inn") -- but keep in mind that other relatives were also in town for the census.

So what about the stable? Well, it was on the first floor of the house, the humans staying on the second floor. It's very likely that Mary went downstairs to give birth because she wanted some privacy, again with all of Joseph's kin running around; the feeding trough -- er, manger -- was built into the side of the house and thus made a natural crib.

Another inaccuracy: Angels did appear to shepherds; however, they spoke, not sang, their message. Although no one knows specifically the date, it's pretty well established today that it wasn't in December -- and, by the way, it doesn't snow very often in the Middle East! (So much for "The First Noël.")

As for the Magi, they probably came from Persia. How would they have known to look for the baby Jesus? Well, remember when Israel had been taken into captivity about four centuries previously one of their choice young men was -- the prophet Daniel, who had told the story of the coming Messiah of Israel, and it was kept alive all that time amongst a pagan people. (It's interesting that the story of the Magi appears only in the Gospel according to Matthew, which was written to Jews -- implying that He would also be the Messiah of the Gentiles.)

They're not numbered, either -- three refers only to the number of gifts they brought. Nor were they present at or shortly after the birth; recall that when they arrived Jesus, Mary and Joseph were in the house where they were staying. And also remember that Herod had all the baby boys ages 2 and younger killed, which should give you a idea of just how old Jesus was when the Magi arrived.

That said, as festive as we make His birth today, recall His ministry, death and resurrection 30 years later -- and also His bodily return (not even He knows when that will be).

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