While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7 NASB)
Perhaps it’s because this isn’t the Christmas Season that I see this passage differently. In that season it’s familiar, and there seems to be an agreement about what all the elements mean, how we emphasize them, how we apply them and so on. But now, in the light of a July sun, it seems oddly different. While it’s not radically different, somethings seem less important or stark, and other things come to the foreground.
Why Room For ‘No Room In The Inn’?
For instance, now it seems that Luke adds in passing that there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the inn. It’s not prominent, like who was governor and the census which form the setting. It’s not nearly as prominent as the shepherds account. It’s actually an explanation of why Jesus is in a manger; which itself is only important for the later account of the shepherds. I don’t get the impression that it was all that significant to Luke that there was no room in the inn.
Was Mary Married?
On the other hand, in a Bible study I teach each week, we got into a discussion about whether or not Joseph married her right after she showed up pregnant from Elizabeth’s house. Well, all we had to do was read the first few verses of chapter two. There’s the detail that in Bethlehem, on the night of Jesus’ birth, Mary was not actually married to Joseph. That had to provide a very peculiar element to the story that was already full of peculiarity.
The Missing Person Report
One irony is who is missing. Even though Herod the Great is the person most often used to date Jesus’ birth, he’s completely absent from the most detailed account. The difficulty of trying to juxtapose Matthew’s account with Luke’s is an ancient one. And one element which is difficult to address is the timing described in both. Part of that difficulty lies in the timing described. There is a reason for this. Luke’s audience is more Gentile, and outside Palestine, making who was governor of Syria and Roman census events more easy to use as timing markers. While Matthew’s audience was more Palestinian Jewish, and therefore would be much more aware of the Herodian references. Even so, they don’t reconcile very easily.
Then, of course, there’s the shepherds themselves. They form an interesting element that has been gone over and over every year. Yet in July, shepherds in the fields doesn’t sound like such a bad life. And that may be a clue as the timing within the year. It may not have been winter at all. Some have brought that up, many have postulated Jesus was born around Passover or Pentecost or simply in the spring. In July though, it’s a lot easier to imagine His birth without snow.
Angelic Army Song
Then there’s the angels. Why one, like Gabriel to Zachariah, Mary, and possibly Joseph? And then why does the army of heaven show up? I get this eerie sense that they are there all along, but don’t become visible until their musical number. I just wonder what it would have looked like had we been able to perceive the spiritual realm of the angels moving about on earth during Jesus’ birth. I get the sense that it would have been a lot more crowded and active than we typically imagine.
A Shepherds Tale
What about the people who hear the shepherds tale? They hear and wonder, but Mary ‘treasures’ the account in her heart. Still, was there a train of people moving through the stable all night as people came to see what happened? I’m thinking not. The angels in the sky had to be more of something you had to be there to see rather than hear about later. The impression to see this announced event had to seem more important to ones having seen rather than those having heard about it later. A kid in a feeding trough; so what? It was the announcement by an angelic army that gave it more meaning. Is it all that amazing that few if any went to see for themselves? A kid in a manger draws a crowd now, but would it have then?
These elements may have been covered in Christmas’ past. I’m sure in the search for the elusive ‘fresh perspective on a familiar story’, many have mentioned them. But I think they are more clear in the heat of a July sun than in the cold of a December moon. Regardless of whether the peace of the angels blessing is for everyone with a dash of favor, or whether it’s only for those already favored, the account is certainly full of interesting details, and odd elements. Now for some cocoa and carols! Oh wait. It’s still a warm July, not a cold December. Well, then how about cold brew coffee and the Beach Boys? It’s just not the same.
What’s your view like through the knothole?