Last Sunday was my first physical attendance at church in the mountains for quite a while and to celebrate I was Celebrant.
From the two celebrations set to be marked that day Br Luke had chosen the Epiphany, with Christmas falling on a Sunday this year the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus or the Epiphany of the Lord could both be celebrated last Sunday. ( Though the true date ‘set by the Church’ for the Epiphany is tomorrow. Friday 6th)
The Friday prior, at Bible study we had had a long discussion on the realities associated with a Palestinian stable opposed to the various concepts we, as people from various cultures have experienced throughout our lives.
Why speak of Nativity when it is Epiphany – because reflecting on the more realistic concept of Nativity can be an Epiphany for us.
- It wasn’t December – no shepherd, even if they were considered one of the lowest forms of life at the time, would be barmy enough to be out in the fields keeping sheep, say at least a foot deep in snow!
“5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2.5-7 NRSV
Despite what is written in the Scripture it was with the assistance of the unknown author of the Protoevangelium of James (from 16 onwards),(c 200AD )that gave rise to our concepts of the imminent birth, possibly in a cave like stable, in or near Bethlehem on or before their arrival therein.
OK so what was a “manger” in first century Palestine? or for that matter what was an Inn?
And while we are waiting for the answer have a good think about why Joseph, whose home town it was, could not find any kith or kin willing to take him in such that he had to take his betrothed to our concept of a stable for shelter?
Mary and Joseph had found shelter with relatives because verse 6 tells us that her time came due while they were there – not on the very first instant they arrived before they even attended the census but “while”. O.k so what sort of relatives allow a young mother to lay her first born son in a manger?
Kenneth E. Bailey in Jesus Through Middle eastern Eyes, Cultural Studies in the Gospels(IVP 2008) tells us this – I was going to insert my own summary here but came across someone else who has already done so.
In western thought, we equate “manger” with a feeding trough in a stable or barn. However, in a typical middle eastern home of the time, animals stayed in the house, not in a separate structure (or cave as the eastern tradition says). They stayed in a lower section of the home and mangers were stone structures on a higher level – right at feeding height. Thus, the mangers were in the main living quarters used by the family. Mary, Joseph, and the newborn Jesus were guests in a house, not outcasts in a stable.
What About the Inn?
This is where the poor translation comes in. The word translated “inn” is kataluma. It is not the word for a commercial inn. That word, which Luke uses later in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is pandocheion. Kataluma was a guest room built on above the main family room (see diagram below). In fact, this same word is used for the “upper room” that Jesus and His disciples used for the Passover on the night before His crucifixion. In the home where Jesus was born, there were other guests in the guest room. So, they stayed with the family in the main living quarters.” (paraphrases pages 28 -30 my edition)
Our text that Sunday read
The Visit of the Wise Men
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (NRSV)
An “epiphany” is a manifestation, Jesus was made manifest to lowly Jewish shepherds and now to Gentile Astrologers.
(Bailey,2008,pp 51-55) gives sufficient evidence to conclude that they had come from Southern Arabia.
For the simple sake that they came- how much difference does and did it make to know from whence they came?
Who ever they were, ethnically speaking, why had they gone to Jerusalem, just so that all might be privy to the Prophecies? Because the king’s Palace is the most likely place to find a new born king?
How many were there? Not necessarily only three, yet again, some Christian traditions have settled on three and have even named them.
In Western tradition, for instance, the three Magi were Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. These men were said to have come from Persia, India and Babylonia respectively. According to the Syrian tradition however, the names of the Magi are Larvandad, Hormisdas, and Gushnasaph. In the Armenian tradition, on the other hand, Kagba, Badadakharida, and Badadilma are the names of the Magi. 2
To name is to own, to know, to become closer in some respect to the living breathing occasion of the exchange between the Astrologers and Mary. I wonder what she did with those gifts, did she understand their meaning or was this a tag back, after the event by Luke, except our other readings for that day plainly support the bringing and giving of gifts – not to Jerusalem, but, as it turned out, to Jesus.(Isaiah 60:6)
- Gold for his Kingship
- Frankincense for his Priesthood
- Myrrh for his burial
The Nativity is the Epiphany event that was given to us because God so loved the world that he sent his only son,his eternally begotten one, born incarnate to live and die for the world. Though Jesus came to deliver his people from their sins he did so in the process of saving all peoples’ sins. From the despised shepherd, the hirelings that would leave the flock to the wolf to the great kings of the earth.
Jesus is manifest in the Jordan – next week
Bailey, K E, 2008. Jesus Through Middle eastern Eyes, Cultural Studies in the Gospels. 1st ed. Illinois: Inter- Varsity Press.
.Ancient Origins. 2017. The Mysteries of the Three Kings: Who Were They and Where Did They Come From? | Ancient Origins. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/mysteries-three-kings-who-were-they-and-where-did-they-come-003966. [Accessed 09 January 2017].
3.Durt on the Bible. 2017. Bashing Bethlehem? | Durt on the Bible. [ONLINE] Available at: https://durtonthebible.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/bashing-bethlehem/. [Accessed 09 January 2017]. – for summary of Kenneth E. Bailey pp28-30