Wrapping up the Christmas story

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Another chapter of annual Yuletide festivities is pretty much closed. Along with the lights, ornaments, trinkets and leftover giftwrap, we mostly shelve our personal Christmas stories until next year. Baubles sit silently in boxes while memories marinate softly in our subconscious. Emotions endure and details blur. ’Til next year. 

We’ll soon enough revisit the sublime mystery of the season’s peaceful reflection and holy meaning. We’ll soon enough marshal the strength and fortitude necessary to outflank the mayhem of the season’s preparatory demands.

But that is months hence. For now, for the most part, our stories rest.

As our emotionally-charged, tradition-rich, personal and family Christmas stories go dormant, it’s as good a time as any to take an academic look at the real story of Christmas. Just as holiday memories are often leavened by emotion, many nativity facts don’t line-up with traditional Christmas hype. The truth, now, is less likely to disturb anyone’s sternly personal seasonal “feelings.”

As for the basics, we know that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Regardless, a huge swath of today’s culture downplays, disparages and is often downright hostile to the “Jesus” thing. Of course, plenty of people were hostile to the “Jesus” thing 2,000 years ago, too. Nobody imagined mankind’s salvation would emanate out of a humble peasant manger. Were Mary and Joseph really turned away at the “inn” and left alone in a stable or cave? Not likely. Ken Bailey’s fascinating book “Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes” discounts that narrative as an errant confluence of long-standing biblical mistranslation (“inn” actually means “extra room”), cultural misunderstanding (ignoring routine Middle Eastern hospitality) and spurious ancient legend (second-century folktales). Jesus likely was born in a peasant home where at night animals were stabled inside for warmth.

Even if Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem unannounced, being “of the line of David” they would be received as near-royalty in the City of David. Any pregnant woman would have been aided by local mid-wives. The shepherds being “glad at what they saw” (Luke 2:20) tells us the baby Jesus they visited was well-attended to.

And Christmas Day that we celebrate, December 25, is not the actual birthday of Jesus. Nobody knows the true date but scholarship suggests early spring of 3-4 B.C. based on known political leaders (Caesar Augustus, Herod, etc.) mentioned in the Bible. Celebrating Christ’s incarnation (John 1:14) on December 25 was a church-mandated over-write of the post-solstice Roman pagan feast of Saturnalia which celebrated the lengthening of days: in other words – fittingly – increasing light.

More light, of course, wraps up the best part of the Christmas story.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) prays that the light of Christ will shine brightly on you and yours throughout 2014.


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