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Monday, December 24, 2018

The Nativity

Now there's an intersting word -- "Nativity." It is the past tense of the Latin, nāscī -- "to be born." Yes, it is connected to "native." It means "to become native," in a sense. It conveys taking that which is not native and making it native via birth. The word with a lowercase "n" simply means "birth." In its capitalized form it refers to one birth -- that of Christ.

We know a lot about Jesus's birth -- more, in fact, than is actual. We know that Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem riding a donkey even though no donkey is mentioned in Scripture. (They likely walked.) We know that there was no room for them at the local hotel ("inn") although the better translation of the word would be "guest chamber" and likely didn't refer to a hotel at all, but someone's house. Likely a relative, since Joseph and Mary were ancestors of David (Matt 1:6; Luke 3:31). In fact, they went to Bethlehem because it was their own town (Luke 2:3). You can probably forget the mean old innkeeper who stuck them in a barn. The common suggestion is that the stable was in a cave. We get the notion that He was born in a cave not from Scripture, but from 2nd century sources. We don't know that, either.

Look at any Nativity display and you will realize that we also know that it was crowded that night in the stable. There was the family, the animals, the shepherds, and the three wise men (who hopefully were wise enough to leave their camels outside). Now, we don't know how many shepherds there were. And we do know it was crowded in that manger. (How Mary and Joseph and the baby all fit in that manger (Luke 2:16) is beyond me.) But we are pushing the envelope when we include 3 wise men. We don't know how many there were -- we only know of 3 gifts listed (Matt 2:11) -- but we can be quite certain that they weren't there that night. We can surmise this from 1) the fact that they came to the house, not the stable (Matt 2:11), and 2) Herod, having been properly informed on when the baby was born from when they saw the star (Matt 2:7), ordered the deaths of all male children under the age of 2 (Matt 2:16), so it looks like the family had been living in Bethlehem for nearly two years before the wise men came.

The Nativity (that scene we know of with all those characters, right or wrong) is important not because of the specifics of who was there or how they got there. It is important because of the principles. It includes a birth in less-than-opulent conditions -- a lowly beginning (Php 2:5-7). It includes the meager worshipers (shepherds) and the glorified worshipers (wise men). It includes those who hate Him. (Herod tried to have Him killed.) All important principles. His nativity -- the lowercase "birth" version -- however, is critical. It is only this God-become-human that could bear the sins of humans. It was only as Man that He could pay the price and only as God that it was sufficient for all. It was only as Man that He could be able to bear our burdens (Heb 2:18; Heb 4:15). This nativity, this birth of the Savior, of "God with us," is the best news that all mankind could receive. And, in the end, every knee will bow and every tongue confess this Savior as Lord to the glory of God (Rom 14:11; Php 2:10-11). You and I could start that now, right?


Marshal Art said...

I recently read a piece that described a real possibility...that the "stable" was merely the ground floor of the house at which they stayed. As you suggested, it was likely the home of some relation, given it's where they were from. It was not at all uncommon to have the living quarters above the area where the animals owned by the homeowner were kept...not unlike living above one's garage. Thus, when the wise men came to the "house", it could very well have been the same place where Christ was born.

As to how long they were there, to base that on the age of baby boys put to death, Herod could simply have been taking no chances. That is, if all boys 2yrs or younger were killed, then surely the Newborn King would be killed as well, whatever His exact age. Just a thought. Don't forget...Herod was a jerk.

Merry Christmas!

Stan said...

Yes, I've heard that about the "stable" as well.

I think that a Herod that hears "He was born today" and "to be safe" goes about killing every child under the age of 2 is a bit of an overreach. Maybe "He was born a year ago", but not "this night in Bethlehem."

Marshal Art said...

"I think that a Herod that hears "He was born today" and "to be safe" goes about killing every child under the age of 2 is a bit of an overreach."

Hmm. That would depend, I guess, on whether or not "He was born today" was actually said in just that way, or if it was meant to be taken literally. As to Herod playing it safe, he ordered the murder of an unknown number of infants. I put nothing past such people.

Stan said...

I personally have no reason to defend a Nativity scene with wise men when the Scriptures don't appear to suggest or require it.