Wednesday, 21 December 2016

CHRISTmas Reflections? ......................Ruth Johnson

For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Christmas was a time to celebrate Jesus' birth because God had sent part of Himself to show His love and desire to take away the sin of the world.  But due to a growing secular society it is becoming more the pagan festival it was linked with centuries ago.

Only two disciples wrote about Jesus birth. Matthew’s account is very short and included the visit nearly two years later of the Magi, which history shows were from the East and astrologers who read the signs in the sky.  They knew when an unusually bright star appeared the king of the Jews had been born and journeyed to worship Him and bring gifts.  Luke wrote of the shepherds invited by the angels heralding Jesus birth to leave their flocks and go to Bethlehem to worship him. 

In AD 200 the first fictional novel was written about Jesus’ birth, and we in the West have too romanticized this event.  We have Mary riding on a donkey, Joseph having not had the forethought to book them a place to stay is told by an unfeeling landlord that despite it being Mary's time to give birth there is no room at the inn. And so Mary enters a cave or stable where amongst the animals she has the baby in the straw and puts Jesus in a crib like manger.

“Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” written by Kenneth E Bailey brings the facts and not the fiction on a variety of Biblical events. Paramount to the Middle Eastern is their culture of hospitality. Mary had relatives living in Bethlehem who would have made room for them. Joseph being of the house of David wouldn’t be refused hospitality when he returned to the village of his family origins.  In  Luke 2:7 where is it is written ‘no room at the inn’ the word for inn is ‘katalyma’ and the translation should read 'guest room'.  And the word 'room' as at the inn can also mean space so should read, ‘no space in the guest room’.

To back this the book describes a simple village house in Palestine that hasn’t changed much in 3,000 years.  The oblong structure has a stable at one end where a farmer brings in his animals at night as they provide heat in winter and are safe from theft.  Steps from there lead to a platform which is a family room where mangers are cut into the floor and filled with straw.  Some houses have a guest room on the roof or adjoining the house.  Luke 2:7 says, “when the time came (that doesn't sound unexpected) …she gave birth…and wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.  The manger would be a warm, safe place for a new born infant in the midst of family life.

However, maybe we should be thankful for the fiction around Jesus birth that provides us with the school nativity plays, displays in churches and the Christmas carols which contain the gospel message. Without these embellishments perhaps the truth that Jesus is the reason for this season would be entirely lost.

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