Editorial -- By: Anonymous
JODT 20:61 (Winter 2016) p. 223
Inspired by German tradition, in 1832, Harvard University professor Charles Follen is thought to be the first American to illuminate a Christmas tree with candles. One can safely assume that Follen would be shocked to observe the elaborate decorations used nowadays. Many years have transpired since 1832, and an even greater number from AD 350 (when Pope Julius I declared the 25th of December to be celebrated as the official birthday of Jesus), and yet much more from the night skies that were brightened by an unusual star from the East, announcing the birth of the Messiah.
Both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke narrate the birth of Jesus. The typical Nativity scene, with the first appearing only 800 years ago in AD 1223, exhibits figures representing the infant Jesus, with his mother Mary, and Joseph. Other characters encircling the family include sheep and shepherds, with angels displayed near the manger, which is positioned in the midst of rustic surroundings that also accommodate farm animals. Opposite the shepherds are three wisemen with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The typical location is a cave or small stable constructed from twigs and peat moss. Scripture does assert that Mary laid Jesus “in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). The common assumption is that mangers are found in barns and stables, and the innkeeper refused the family because there was no vacancy at the inn (some kind of first century hotel), thus allowing them to stay in his backyard stable.
Luke 2:3–5 narrates the journey of Christ’s family “to the city of David which is called Bethlehem.” During the time of Jesus, people in Bethlehem built their homes to make provision for the occasional guest, with most houses being multileveled. The lower room was typically a cellar or storeroom. In locales where there are caves, such as in Bethlehem, a cavern beneath a home or in the rear of the house would be used to store food or supplies, and could also be used to feed animals and provide them shelter from the elements, predators, and thieves.
Joseph and his pregnant wife, Mary, traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem on account of the census. In the Jewish society of Jesus’ time, it would have been customary for them to lodge in the guest room of Joseph’s ancestral home (where his family originated and where it is likely that some relatives still resided), not to room in a local inn. In the Hebrew culture of the era, Joseph’s family would consist of an extended group of relatives, with a male head (patriarch) of the family. Married children and their families typically lived with or near their father and mother. Relatives from other t...
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