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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fourth Week in Advent - the Birth

Fourth Week in Advent: The Birth

Luke 2:1, Census: What if… the names are almost right?
It’s rare for us to find complete records of any period of history, and likewise rare to find completely accurate records. The Bible’s account of the census sounds likely and plausible; the names sound right even if we can’t verify them completely yet. One day we may.

Luke 2:4, Bethlehem: What if… it wasn’t a stable?
Bethlehem was originally the home town of the Benjaminites, but the tribe of Benjamin shrinks during the Old Testament. Bethlehem of Judah, where David was born, could be the original Bethlehem absorbed into the larger lands of Judah, or a nearby town in Judah with the same name. (Jesus is born of David’s line, from the tribe of Judah.)

Traditionally, it would be very offensive for relatives not to provide accommodation to visitors. It’s likely that houses had stables on the lower level for animals, so perhaps Jesus was born in the stable area of a crowded house. It could still have been a cave outside the town, as some traditions say; it might have been a place where gravecloths were stored as others have suggested. Or it might just have been someone’s basement. Again, we shouldn’t let tradition get in the way of reading the Bible.

Luke 2:8, Shepherds: What if… there really were shepherds around Bethlehem?
There were. They were social outcasts. Jesus came to the world’s rejected and welcomed them.

Matthew 2:1&11, Wise Men: What if… they weren’t really 3 kings?
The Bible says they were wise men, and mentions three gifts, not three men. They may have been Babylonians, studying records left behind since the time of Daniel. They probably weren’t Jewish though, since they were studying the stars. And though the Bible seems to forbid astrology, Jesus welcomed them too.

Matthew 2:3, 2:16, Herod: What if… Jesus really was a threat to him?
Herod’s kingship was never peaceful. He wasn’t of David’s line. Chosen by the Romans rather than by God, it was important for him to avoid any danger of the citizens rallying behind someone else.

Bethlehem was small, so it wouldn’t have been hard to find all the two-year-old boys. The mention of the age suggests that Jesus was a toddler by the time the wise men visited. Probably Joseph and Mary had settled to live in Bethlehem for a while.

Matthew 2:22-23, Luke 1:26, Nazareth: What if… Joseph and Mary didn’t live there at the start?
Luke places Mary in Nazareth at the start of the narrative, whereas Matthew has Joseph move her there on their return from Egypt in order to stay safely away from King Herod. Maybe they’d settled in Bethlehem before escaping to Egypt, or maybe they lived somewhere else initially. Apparent discrepancies are a) soluble, and b) usually a sign that the account is true rather than invented.

Luke 3:23…, Matthew 1:1…, Ancestors: What if… the lists aren’t quite complete?
It’s interesting to count the generations listed in the genealogies. Some are missing. Numbers are symbolic. Genetics matters less than inheritance. And some very interesting women do get mentioned.

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