Thursday, December 22, 2011

Did You Know? - Christmas 2011 (Pt-3)

How well do you know the Christmas story? Here are some lesser-known facts (& some conjecture) about what happened all those years ago...

The Magi’s Visit to Jesus

14. The Magi must have been shocked to arrive in the capital city of Palestine and discover that no one there – not even the Jewish Priests or Scribes had any idea that their own future king (it’s likely the Magi realized he was the Messiah) had just been born. They were probably even more surprised to have been ushered out the front door with no escort and no more information than an ancient prophecy (which they probably already knew about that He was to be born in Bethlehem. They would have traveled to Jerusalem first even if they had known the prophecy in order to consult with the King to explain the reason for their incursion and to see permission to see the Child.

15. The traditional picture of the Magi’s arrival on the night of Jesus’ birth with the shepherds is purely fiction. Their arrival was probably between one and two years after Jesus’ birth. We know this from:

a. The logistics of how long such a journey would have taken to plan, fit out, and begin along with actual travel time.

b. When the Magi arrive, Jesus is referred to as a “young child” (not the word that would have been used for a newborn or even an infant.)

c. Mary and Joseph were then living in a “house” rather than the initial emergency arrangement in the stable. Whether they owned the house or were renting or staying with someone is unknown. But it is reasonably clear that Joseph had chosen to settle in Bethlehem for some time rather than returning to Nazareth.

d. When Herod realized the Magi had “duped” him, he ordered all the children under 2 years of age to be slaughtered. He knew the exact time of Jesus’ birth from the Magi. Though it’s likely he may have added some "age" to the order to be certain, Jesus was probably at least several months old – perhaps more than a year - by that time.

16. The Magi would have faced a nearly impossible task standing there outside the door to the palace in Jerusalem, in finding a young child whom they know no more about than the time and general location of His birth (now many months earlier). With no additional help offered by the king or even the Jewish leadership than the name of the city, they were entirely on their own in a strange land with strange culture and customs, seeking a single child without even knowing his name. They must have felt utterly lost, frustrated, and defeated – likely pleading to God for help.

17. It is this situation that makes the reappearance of the Star that much more miraculous, essential to the story, and that much more breathtaking to the Magi. The Bible records “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.” In the typically understated language of the Bible, it’s difficult to overstate the magnitude of what this verse conveys about the reaction of the Magi.

18. The next verse of the text simply skips forward to “and when they had come into the house”. A verse earlier we are told that “The star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.” But the simplicity of the narrative belies the great drama that must have occurred as the star was revealed, and the entire caravan packed up and moved out of Jerusalem toward a tiny village a few miles away and then arrived at the front door of a humble carpenter, his wife, and their young son. If Jerusalem was troubled at their arrival, how must the inhabitants of the undefended village of Bethlehem felt? And how much more, Mary and Joseph? (More about the star later)

19. While purely conjectural, it’s certainly possible that Joseph had chosen not to return to Nazareth for several reasons. First, it would have been at least a little while before both Mary and the Baby were well enough to travel. If the birth had been difficult, it would have been even longer – we don’t know. Given the rumors and probable public opinion associated with Mary’s pregnancy before their marriage, it’s not at all unlikely that they simply had no desire to return to Nazareth at all. Since we know Joseph was born in Bethlehem (this is why he returned there for the census), it’s likely he had family there and some level of familiarity with the location. He would likely have brought whatever tools and other valuables they owned with them (there were no security systems for a house left vacant for months), he could have set up shop nearly anywhere. They may only have stayed in Nazareth as long as they did due to the proximity of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. It seems likely that the rest of Mary’s family may also have been in or around Nazareth too.

For a more in-depth study, see my full study in the file titled "The Christmas Story" at:

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