We have talked about some facts and some possibilities and today will be no different. Today we are going to read the story in a different light I am going to challenge some of our traditions. Sometimes we make the stories so fantastic rather than people believing them they reject them as being too far out. Now there are true stories in the Bible that are far out and difficult to explain apart from a miracle and/or faith However the ones that we add to can create problems if we don’t have our facts accurate. The story of the nativity may be a bit stretched I hope to give you a more realistic understanding of ancient Israel custom but it doesn’t take away from the power of the story and I think adds more to God’s great love.
Mary had just had a visit from Gabriel telling her she would be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy…she had told Joseph and Joseph had had the dream all in a matter of a few days of conception. I believe Mary and Joseph made the decision together to save them both from as much gossip as possible, this is the decision they made
A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”
Mary after only a few days after conception left to the hill country of Judea (not far from Bethlehem)
Jesus in Mary’s womb was only a few days into development and yet John six months into development recognized Jesus
Mary stayed a few months with Elizabeth helping her to get ready for the birth and giving Joseph enough time to wrap up business in Nazareth. When Mary returns to Bethlehem the decree had already gone out from Caesar as much as six months to a year earlier. Does Joseph and Mary wait six more months until she is a full 36 weeks? What does Luke say?
Luke 2 1-7 (NIV)
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
What does the narrative say about how pregnant Mary was? We are told she was expecting a child and that while they were there she did give birth and that, as this translation accurately translates it, there was no guest room inside.
The narrative doesn’t say how far along Mary was when they travelled, we have set it in our minds that Joseph would wait until she was as uncomfortable as possible to travel the 90 miles. But the narrative doesn’t say that it is more likely that they cleared things up in Nazareth. She could been only four months pregnant. The decree went out from Caesar August in 3BC, Quirinius was governor protector of Syria at this time. The Roman government gave people 1 or two years to fulfill the decree…communication is not as it is today.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth during the winter months then left in March (john the Baptist was most likely born on March 10) as spring broke in Israel and the temperatures averaged in the mid 60’s. It would have made sense for the young family to travel in cooler weather rather than the desert heat of summer (Jesus was born six months after John as we know from scripture some time in September 2 BC) It is more likely that Mary was four or five months pregnant when the traveled.
The decree had gone out from 6 months to a year earlier so by the time the young family got to Bethlehem every guest room would have been occupied by older relatives..(Photo of standard house in Israel at this time)
How many have ever been to Israel or the middle east? Both Israelites and Arabs are famous for their hospitality. That was one of the problems I had with the modern mythology of the family being kicked to a barn or cave alone.
The average home in Israel at this time had a guest room on the roof or side of them home for special guest….this is the actual word Luke used, not inn. Luke does used the word in as he shares the story of the good Samaritan so we know he knew the word and could have used it here but instead used the word for guest room. The guest room would have gone to the most senior member of the family. Joseph and Mary would have had lots of family in Bethlehem as he was a son of David and she was a daughter of David if there was no room they could have gone up to the hills to stay with Elizabeth and Zachariah….back to the house
As you can see in this artist rendering of a typical house, there is an upper room used by the family except when guest came into town. There was a large middle room used as kitchen, family room, dining room, and bedroom. Normally on one side of the room was a stable. The most important animals were brought inside at night for two reasons first to protect them from being stolen and second to add their body heat to keep the house warm at night. Wood was at a premium so it was rarely used to heat a home.
Mary and Joseph would have delivered their baby boy surrounded by family and laying him in the feeding trough with hay in it would be one of the safest and most comfortable places for a little baby.
The other challenge to Jesus being born in a cave or stable would have been that once the shepherds saw this little baby knowing who he was would have not allowed him to stay in a stable or cave but would have invited this little family into their home.
Think about it God disrupts the whole world to get Joseph and Mary into Bethlehem and has them not have any safe place to stay, alone giving birth…The other reason Mary would have gone to see Elizabeth was it was custom for family to be around to help with the birth much like it was in this country until the mid-twentieth century.
The baby was wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger that was in the home of a relative a place where Joseph and Mary would come back to seeing an open door for business and a city where they are celebrated rather than tolerated
Let’s look quickly at the shepherds
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
The shepherds still found Jesus in a manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths it is they did not invite them to get out of the cold because they were most likely surrounded by family.
The picture of this new little family alone in a stable surrounded by animals all alone until the shepherds arrive is a beautiful picture but isn’t it more beautiful to think they are not alone but surrounded by family and friends loving on them helping Mary with the birth and everyone celebrating and the shepherds making that celebration more amazing as the report the angels announcement. How amazed as well as vindicated Mary and Joseph would have been.
Sometimes we need to see in scripture what is not there but we do know our heavenly Father is loving and caring and always takes care of his kids. Even when we walk through difficult places it is only a short season to accomplish some purpose. While this may mess with your Christmas cards and thoughts of nostalgia allow it to mess with your understanding of how caring and loving God is that he would take care of all who say “yes” to him.
But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.
We are the ones who can call God, our Daddy (what abba Father means) and we are heirs of his heritage and promises so we know he will always care for you, get you through whatever battle you may face, trials you may come across, fears you may face! He is there for you!