Thoughts Story 61: A more traditional possibility:
BIRTH OF JESUS:
It was late March of the year 5 BC of the Gregorian calendar [mid Nisan in the year 3756 of the Hebrew calendar, and late March of the year 749 of the Roman calendar]. Winter was past, and the weather was cool but warming. The sheep were in the fields, and it was “birthing” time.
A taxation census for Judea and Syria, had been ordered by Caesar Augustus in the year 8 BC (they were ordered about every 14 years and the previous one had been in 22 BC). But thit census had been delayed in Judea because of a war with King Aretas IV of Arabia.
In 6 BC Caesar had issued a decree that there should be a “census of allegiance to Caesar” and that, at the same time, those in Canaan would also be counted for tax purposes.
Quirinius had become Proconsul of Syria and Cilicia in 11 BC (743) and this would be the first census since he had attained the office. Each male person must report to his home village sometime between October and the following September, in order to be counted.
Joseph’s ancestral home was in Bethlehem of Judea, though he had been living in Nazareth of Galilee. He was a skilled laborer and did work for the local people, but his “big” money came from his work in Sepphoris, where Herod the Great was building a city to be the capital of Galilee. Joseph had even become engaged to a local girl. Bethlehem was a nice, quiet, out-of-the-way place.
Joseph and Mary chose to go south near the middle of March for a number of reasons: Passover, the census, to visit Joseph’s family and friends, as well as to visit Zecharias and Elizabeth and their six month old baby son John. The plan was to arrive before Passover day, which would fall on March 21. With Mary’s due date still weeks away, and with the advice that a first pregnancy “usually delivered late”, Mary should be able to make the trip safely and give birth while they were in Bethlehem with Joseph’s parents.
They left Nazareth on the morning of March 11, which allowed them ten days to make the journey and still arrive in Bethlehem before Passover. However, they soon discovered that Mary would have to travel slowly. The 23 miles from Nazareth to Capernaum took much longer then expected and they needed to stay an extra day in Capernaum for Mary to recover.
They took the Jordan River Valley route from Capernaum, but had to travel the 100 miles much more slowly then expected. They could only average fifteen miles each day. Four days to Adam with a one-day rest for the Sabbath. Two days to Jericho (with a day rest in Jericho to strengthen Mary for the difficult road up to Jerusalem.) After the exhausting and VERY slow trip up from Jericho, and the trip past busy Jerusalem on Passover day, they arrived in Bethlehem, very late in the day.
However, Mary could go NO further. The trip had triggered Mary’s labor. Joseph decided to stay at the “inn” knowing that his folks would have no room for them, because of Passover, and knowing that Mary’s time was NOW! So they ended up staying in the “guest house” of the local inn which was one of the many limestone caves in which animals were often kept during winter storms. That way they would not be disturbed and would not disturb others.
Mary had been in labor for hours before their arrival at the inn. As night approached Joseph got Mary settled in the stable and he summoned a mid-wife. But Mary and Joseph delivered the baby before nightfall. Mary delivered so fast that there was not enough time for the summoned mid-wife to arrive. When the mid-wife finally did arrive, she wrapped the baby in bands of cloth, and then they used straw in the back of the ‘stable’ as a bed for Mary and the baby. Then, as the excitement subsided and the midwife left, Mary and the baby slept in the back while Joseph sat dozing near the opening. Overall, it was relatively comfortable. Yet, a good night’s sleep was not to be their fate.
This was springtime, and there were shepherds in the fields with their sheep. The shepherds would guide the sheep to the new spring grass during the day, watch over the lambing at all times, and guard the sheep at night. After they had corralled the sheep for the night they were sitting around their small campfire.
Normally they would watch the stars but tonight it was cloudy. One of the shepherds mentioned that last night he had seen the “bearded one” that had just recently appeared in the sky [this comet had appeared sometime between March 9 and April 6 near the constellation of Capricorn]. At that moment “a man” approached the shepherds. He sat down with them and told them of a birth that had just taken place in Bethlehem, which God was directing.
The shepherds were doubtful. Yet when the man stood up, and as they looked up to see his face, behind him the clouds separated and a hole appeared in the cloudy night sky. The shepherds saw a shower of meteorites [falling stars, host of heaven] and they heard the angel praising God. When the clouds again covered the sky, they noticed that the angel was gone.
The shepherds decided to go into the town of Bethlehem to prove to themselves that a baby had indeed been born and was lying in a manger. They arrived in Bethlehem before 9 pm when folks would be going to sleep. They began their search for a stable that folks were living in, but they would not tell anyone why they looked for a baby in a stable.
Joseph awoke to the sound of approaching footfalls and looked out of the cave. There he saw a shepherd. After a proper greeting, Joseph explained that his wife was asleep inside with their newborn baby son. The shepherds’ response surprised Joseph. He had turned to the dark and yelled, ‘I found them. They’re in here.’ Quickly other shepherds came forward. “He’s as cute as a new born lamb,” said one of the shepherds.
These common folk told Joseph why they had come, and that Mary and the baby were the sign that the Messiah was born at last. Joseph then told the shepherds that an angel had visited both Mary and him, and how the Lord’s Spirit was guiding this birth. The shepherds thanked the Lord for keeping his promise, and praised God for allowing such common folks to be involved. Finally, there would be peace, as the angels had sung, for those who responded to God’s call by doing what God asked. This was certainly ‘good news.’
When the shepherds left and things were quiet again, Mary gave considerable thought to what had been happening as she drifted in and out of sleep.DAB
*As much as folks have become attached to the story of Joseph and Mary’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and Jesus being born in a cave, the text does not require this understanding. It makes better sense that Mary was sent away from Nazareth during the pregnancy – because of her unmarried status.2: CELEBRATION:
Over the next 100 years, followers of Jesus should begin to change the “day” that we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Celebrate Christmas on March 21. Return December 25 to the non-believers. Let them celebrate the winter solstice and maybe call it Santa Day in western cultures. The church could continue with the Advent season in November and December, but the anticipation is for the “forerunner” whose conception was announced in December.
By returning December 25 to the non-believers, it will free up the believers to enjoy the Santa Day holiday “guilt free”, and then we could give up the futile attempt to “put Christ back in Christmas”. We could celebrate the birth of Jesus closer to the actual historical moment without the heavy commercialism of Santa Day, and allow ourselves to focus on the revelation of God in the Christ.
The symbol might be a five-point “star”, the food lamb, and we could still sing many of our favorite songs.DAB