Monday, January 25, 2021

741 - Checkmate ... or Prayer?

Spirituality Column #741

January 26, 2021

Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Checkmate … or Prayer?

By Bob Walters

“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! – Romans 5:10 (NIV)

Quite a scare last week.  It appeared our dear friend and Christian mentor Dr. George Bebawi was headed into home hospice. Turns out he wasn’t.

At issue, in the simplest terms, is a combination of problems (heart, kidney, etc.) where treating one exacerbates the other.  George, 82, has battled numerous serious health challenges the past several years.  He was always able to move the pieces around the board, in the tenacious care of his wife May (his “lioness”) avoiding and extending what he called Friday the looming Moment of Truth. 

This one looked like “checkmate.”

For his many friends and faithful students and those who worshiped Christ and learned about Jesus with him here in the Indianapolis area, you should know George had been on a downward health slide the past couple of months, of which I was unaware.  I hadn’t seen him since last February – pre-Covid – and spoke with him by phone as recently as early November.  I got the news about the potential “home hospice” late Thursday. 

Friday afternoon I was able to sit with George, at his bedside, along with minister Dave Faust, who – if you don’t mind a personal note – baptized me back in November 2001 not long after I had awakened to the truth of Jesus that September. 

That’s another story I’ve told many times.  But Dave, my first Bible teacher, left his post as senior minister of East 91st Street Christian Church in June 2002 to become president of Cincinnati Christian University.  Ironically, I met George just a month earlier, oddly enough at a barbeque gathering of old high school friends. An Egyptian Bible translator and renowned early church scholar who at that time was a divinity lecturer at Cambridge University, England, George was here visiting a friend of a friend.

That friend of a friend was May, whom George married two years later

George, once a Coptic priest, retired from Cambridge in early 2004 and settled into Carmel, marrying May in April.  Former E91 pastor Russ Blowers (like Dave, also my mentor) participated in the ceremony at Northview Church.  That summer Russ and I convinced both George and E91 to begin a Wednesday evening Bible study series featuring George that ran from the fall of 2004 until December 2017.  I was the coordinator / scribe / secretary / amanuensis all 13 years of the class.  I still have all George’s class handouts and my own copious notes.

Anyway, Dave and I – masked – entered George’s bedroom Friday where he was lightly sleeping stretched out on a full body recliner while May was in the next room talking with the hospice folks and arranging for a proper hospital bed.  Dave (who became close with George after returning to E91 staff in 2014) and I were there for an appropriately short hospice visit to quite possibly say our goodbyes but mainly to offer comfort and prayer.

George stirred and was in and out of consciousness as he quietly, haltingly greeted us, and did in fact recognize Dave and me despite the masks.  Dave thanked him earnestly for his enormous contributions to the faith and the faithful.  I simply told George I loved him.  Dave asked George “How is your soul?” and George said, with an enfeebled but unmistakable lilt in his voice that so many of us know so well from listening to him speak, “I am ready to go!  This is the moment of truth.”

For those who know George, what happened next – for nearly two hours – won’t be a surprise.  Dave began to read Romans 8:36 about facing death, but George said “No, read Romans 5:10!” (today’s intro verse atop the column, about being reconciled with God through the death of Jesus).  George gently chided Dave for using an NIV Bible (George, never an NIV fan, typically teaches with his own Bible translations).

George gained some steam, then went into a determined, if halting, instruction on Jesus while phasing in an out of sleep and with slurred speech.  He spoke of Augustine and the preponderance of sin in the human will and how it relates to a weakness he perceives in modern Christian teaching.  George believes – and I have heard him say it in various ways many times – that the modern church has been oversimplified into “sin and salvation and application” (as in, “sermon applications”) without proper understanding of our total humanity, reconciliation in Christ, and relationship with God. 

Yes … deep sledding.  That’s George to the end.  Only it isn’t the end.

As Dave and I and a couple other of George’s longtime friends struggled to understand George’s low, breathy speech – which with his accent, ancient theological references, and sophisticated word choice is a challenge even on a good day – George would not let us leave or interrupt him.  He was both on his death bed and on a roll.  We were there an hour and forty-five minutes, finally convincing him to let us pray (Dave is one of those awesome prayer guys) and for George to get some rest.

I kissed George on the forehead as I left, not knowing if I would see him again.

Dave said it was unlike any other hospice visit in his long ministerial career.  When had the person he was praying for ever argued with his Bible choice?

Only it wasn’t a hospice visit, and I will always believe that’s because George still wants to talk about Christ.  For a little or long while?  Nobody knows.

Most folks here in Indianapolis probably don’t realize George has taught and influenced thousands of Orthodox and Coptic Christians around the world and has regular weekly teleconferences / Zoom sessions with Christian students (of all ages) worldwide.  Put us all together and there were an awful lot of folks praying.  And while I won’t reveal the number, George has said for many years he thought he knew how long he would live … and he’s not there yet.

After visits and calls from friends and colleagues over the weekend – and massive prayer – George perked up enough that his physician and hospice care folks reversed field.  I’ve never heard of that happening before, though I’m sure it does.

George is tenacious and brilliant in sharing Christ … and it appears his body respects the fact, for now, that the mission continues. 

I rejoice that the mission – and prayer – brought him back to us.  For now.  Praise God.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that George insists “Augustine” is properly pronounced “aw-GUS-tin,” not “AW-gus-teen.”  And the deal with the NIV?  When pressed for an acceptable English version of the Bible, George occasionally relents from saying “There isn’t one” to providing a nod to the Revised Standard Version.  But this is a guy who knows the Bible in nearly a dozen languages.  And please friends, pray for May – Walters’ “favorite Phoenician” – and for the marvelous Christian sisters she has attending to her in this inspirational but challenging season.

 

Monday, January 18, 2021

740 - Let's Get to Work

Spirituality Column #740

January 19, 21

Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Let’s Get to Work

By Bob Walters

“All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” – Genesis 28:14

(Sunday was my at-bat to come up with and present the traditional service communion meditation at East 91st Street Christian Church.  Here it is.)

“It has been a joy in this new year to begin our project to read through the Bible, together, as a church.  The corresponding sermon series is up to Leviticus this week, but the reading plan wrapped up Genesis yesterday.

It has probably been 15 years since I last read the Book of Genesis start to finish.  You forget, well at least I forget, so much, and mis-remember other things.  Now it is fresh again; even things we may not think about often.

For example …

- I knew God had said it, but I couldn’t remember exactly where, that the whole world would be “blessed” through Israel.  That’s Genesis 28:14, in Jacob’s Dream at Bethel.  The whole world – all of us – would be blessed. 

- I knew Jacob had wrestled with God, and God renamed him “Israel,” which means “wrestles with God” … and there it was in Genesis 32:28, shortly before a very nervous Jacob reunited with his previously very angry brother Esau.  That context had slipped my mind.

God’s promise to Jacob … and what became the Nation of Israel in Jacob’s 12 sons and descendants … well, God’s promise that Israel would one day “bless all the earth” of course comes to fruition in Jesus Christ.  We learn throughout the Old Testament and especially in the prophets that Israel would bring forth the salvation of all mankind through this “Messiah Christ.”

Israelites thought the Messiah would come to save just them.  No, Jesus came not to make us all Israelites under the Law; Jesus came to save us all by faith, initiating God’s Kingdom on Earth.  The Cross and Resurrection unlocked the eternal door.

When we partake of the bread and the cup, and remember Jesus as He commanded us to remember Him, we join in communion with God’s Kingdom.

Neither Jesus nor the Cross nor the Gospel nor this communion are here simply to wisk us off to another sphere of salvation, free of sin and corruption and death.  Jesus came to Earth to put us to work in God’s Kingdom in a community not defined by sin … but defined by forgiveness.

And we, the forgiven people, are put to work in and for His Kingdom.

Each time we remember Jesus in communion, our joy is renewed.  If this meal is physically small, its nourishment is spiritually great.  It is a reminder that life requires nourishment, and that Jesus is our life. 

In the Old Testament the Israelites found the life of God in the Temple; for Israel, that’s where heaven met Earth … in the Temple.   Now, in our communion with Christ, we meet the life of God, and Heaven meets Earth, in Jesus Christ.

Let’s remember Jesus, and invite the Cross of Christ to put us to work.”

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) has been reading a lot of N.T. Wright this year and it bleeds through in Bob’s focus on God’s Kingdom, not just “a sinner being saved.”

Monday, January 11, 2021

739 - Call a Doctor! NOW

 Spirituality Column #739

January 12, 2021

Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Call a Doctor! NOW

By Bob Walters

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus to the Pharisees at Matthew’s home, Mark 2:17

“…there is no one righteous, not one …” Romans 3:10-18, quoting Psalms 14 and 53

The Pharisees were utterly clueless.  They shouldn’t have been, but they were.

Jesus, in Mark 2, is having dinner at the home of Matthew who has decided to follow Jesus and presumably is saying goodbye to his “tax collector and sinner” friends.  If the gathering were as wretched as we are led to believe, I wonder what the Pharisees were doing anywhere near it.  But, they saw Jesus and his disciples there and passed judgment on the awfulness of the gathering … and said so. 

Jesus agreed.  Yes, he was eating with sinners; they were sick with the sins of the world and needed the only doctor who could heal any of them.  It is Jesus’s comment about “the righteous” – which the Pharisees would have rightly believed was referring to them – that is clever, clandestine, and utterly revealing.

I read a Ray Stedman devotional recently which explained Mark 2:17 this way, “Jesus indicated strongly that when people think they have no need of help from God, they are in no position to be helped.  There is nothing to say to them.  But our Lord always put his efforts where men and women were open to help, where they were hurting so much they knew they needed help.”  The Pharisees didn’t know.

“Not knowing” we need help is what happens when we confuse our human opinions, passions, and desire for power and control with God’s own actual truth, certitude, and righteousness.  Righteousness is about Him, not us, and Jesus is not complimenting the Pharisees but rebuking them in a frightening and final way.

Something else Stedman wrote recently stuck with me: "If you don't have Jesus in your heart when you live, there is nothing in you worth saving when you die." 

There is no one righteous, not one.  To live, we need a righteous doctor in the most desperate way. Which brings me to a brief commentary on recent public events.

I’d rather not face the obvious ordeal before us as a nation, but here we are.

No amount of responsibility-ducking, blame-shifting “God is in control” is going to reverse the desperate course of self-inflicted human events to come.  What I know is that God will not change.  What I hope for – in deep personal repentance and humility – is that God’s mercy rather than His wrath will be the next thing visited upon us.

My plan is to stick close to Jesus and hope for the best.  The doctor is always in.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that if you are really mad at something in this world, when you are as convinced as he is that the shades of nefarious darkness have been pulled down in corruption, injustice, and subterfuge tight against the light of truth, read Psalms 14 and 53.  That’ll stir you up, then read Psalm 4 to calm down. Then … call on Jesus for peace. No matter what happens, God’s got it and we’ll grow.  Whether we like it or not.

 

Monday, January 4, 2021

738 - Killing the Curse

Spirituality Column #738

January 5, 2021

Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Killing the Curse

By Bob Walters

“Cursed is the ground because of you …” – Genesis 3:17

I know … and a Happy New Year to you, too.

But have you ever wondered what Adam must have thought when Almighty God Himself angrily leveled this horrible curse against him? And despite how deeply the consideration of sin relentlessly and properly occupies the thoughts, faith, guilt, actions, and prayers of Christians everywhere, I don’t think we can understand Jesus or our sin and salvation if we do not first understand this curse. 

There are some tough truths in the Bible, and this curse is perhaps chief among them.  As Christians we constantly talk about Satan, temptation, and sin, but here the plainest, most obvious scriptural truth is that the Curse – the Big C Curse, the fallenness of the world – was declared by God, not by Satan.  Why would God do that?

The Sunday school answer of course is that God’s perfection demanded it.  Humanity was created by God in His own perfect image and when humanity sinned, the perfection of paradise – at God’s command – was closed off and humanity condemned.  I sometimes wonder why God hadn’t cursed Satan long before this, and why the “woman” who sinned first (her name “Eve” isn’t declared until after the curse is leveled), always gets second billing when we discuss the “sin of Adam and Eve.”  Maybe Adam truly was at fault; shouldn’t he have been there protecting his mate from evil?

No matter.  Carefully reading any Bible passage brings to mind many questions, issues, and conjectures.  In Genesis 3 we learn that evil existed, temptation and sin happened, and sin cost Adam, Eve, and humanity their innocence going forward.  Notice though, God didn’t take away their will, their creativity, their lives, or their relationship with Him. God put them outside the Kingdom … but kept His eye on them.

Let’s fast forward now through the Old Testament, which describes the long-lasting problem of sin.  We learn about God’s character, man’s character, the Law, faith, and an ever-clarifying prophecy of hope and reconciliation one day in the form of this Messiah fellow.  But let’s remember too mankind’s condition of being cursed.  The Old Testament ended, but with no ending; the problem was revealed; the solution was not.

That was when Jesus showed up.  Do you sometimes wonder what it was, exactly, that Jesus “fixed” on the cross?  In Christ’s death I don’t see Satan, sin, and the curse wadded together; they can’t be.  Satan is still with us and humanity is still sinful.

No … what died on the cross and is forever covered in the blood of Jesus – the magnificent, world-altering, humanity-saving, hope-harkening work of Christ – was the curse of God.  For the faithful who believe Jesus is the son of God, the curse is dead.

I always had trouble with this lamb who took away my sins and defeated evil because I, for one, still sin and see evil every day.  Within ourselves and the freedom God grants to us, we can act better, love more, be kinder, share our faith, witness for Jesus, believe Jesus is Lord, and with the Spirit shine the light of Jesus into the world.

What we could never do is defeat God’s curse, so God nailed that curse to a tree.  Jesus in His death defeated it for us and invited us back into the Kingdom of God.

That is our eternal salvation, and we are now free - in Christ - to take it or leave it.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” See?
Monday, December 28, 2020

737 - Trust Me on This

Spirituality Column #737

December 29, 2020

Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Trust Me on This

By Bob Walters

“He who trusts in himself is a fool.” – Proverbs 28:26

“…the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” – Romans 9:33 (footnote to Isaiah 8:14, 28:16)

Rarely does a sermon, Bible lesson, or a daily devotional not mention some iteration, backstory, or combination of the notion of trusting in Jesus completely while not trusting in ourselves at all.

This is pervasive, standard issue, Christian advice.  With Christ living in our own individual Christian hearts, we hope Jesus will help us to shine His light of love, caring, and compassion out into the external world.  I can’t help but notice, though, that His bright light also shines into all my own internal darkness. And further, that while His holy light shining into my soul illuminates my sin and error, it doesn’t automatically fix them.

I doubt I’m alone in that observation.

Non-believers in Christ, quasi-believers in Christ, errant believers in Christ, and atheists against any notion of God have the same problem but don’t realize it.  Our human default mode – also a sure sign of our fallenness – is that we are ordained to trust ourselves first: “I believe in me.” Then, once we are rich, smart, good looking, and healthy, we feel competent to demand of God why He allows adversity and injustice: “You, God, can fix everything.  That’s what the Bible says.  So … fix it.”

In my experience, the folks who least understand the Bible and Jesus are often the quickest to blame God for their troubles, trusting Him as nothing more than a temporal Mr. Fix-It.  This isn’t a case of a broken light switch; it is a case of blindness to God’s love, truth, goodness, and ultimate mission of Jesus Christ on earth: God’s glory.

Developing the faith to outsource trust onto something we know but can’t see is a sign of a mature Christian.  Thinking that the grasp and surety of my faith are a function of my ability to put my trust “in” myself and my intellect presents a contradiction of a fairly high and eternally damaging magnitude: We think we are the light.  No. 

Christians spend all this time talking about how much they trust Jesus as their savior, and spend almost as much time worrying about whether they are really saved.  I believe this is the manifestation of the tension we feel between the light of Christ shining outwardly vs. inwardly: of His true worthiness vs. our true unworthiness. 

It’s also a telling gauge of trust: What’s harder to trust than that Jesus would save even a sinner like me?  Being Jesus’s light out into the world while dealing with, addressing, and feeling the shame of what that light makes us see within ourselves seems, at the very least, a bit of a stretch.  Yet, it is the most profound dynamic of hope:

Peace, trust, and deep faith come upon us when we realize it’s all the same light.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) figures our fallenness is all the same; it’s just easier to judge the world’s than our own.  Good tip: read the surrounding context in the Bible verses listed up top.  “Fool” and “shame” describe permanent, not temporary afflictions.  May we endeavor to be neither in the New Year.

Monday, December 21, 2020

736 - Part 2: What's Left Unsaid Is ...

Spirituality Column #736

December 22, 2020

Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Part 2: What’s Left Unsaid Is …

By Bob Walters

“The shepherds returned [to their flocks], glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” – Luke 2:20

These gleeful shepherds who had just seen the baby Jesus would have been horrified shepherds if the popular Christmas birth-of-Jesus narrative were true.

Not horrified or fearful of the angel who spoke to them, nor of seeing, well, God in a feeding trough. No, if they knew Mary and Joseph had been refused hospitality and then left alone in a stable or cave to fend for themselves in childbirth? Impossible.  Even these poor shepherds would not have let that happen, or let them stay alone in a stable.

That would not have happened anywhere at that time in that culture: not in Bethlehem, not among the rich or the poor, and certainly not to a family of “the house and lineage of David” in “the town of David.” (Luke 2:4).  In that town Joseph, basically, was a royal and would have been welcomed into any home in Bethlehem.  Likely, he had a plan to stay with family or friends … the Bible doesn’t tell us if he did or didn’t.

Let’s take a brief, issue-by-issue look at the words of Luke 2 and the birth of Jesus through the lens of Middle Eastern cultural expert Ken Bailey’s book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.  Cultural context answers (and poses) many questions.

- The Trip (v4): “Nazareth up to Bethlehem…”  That’s a 91-mile trip south though farmland but “up” into the Judean hill country, not far from Hebron where pregnant Mary had traveled 90 miles to visit Elizabeth for three months, then returned home. (Luke 1:39, 56). I notice nowhere does the Bible say Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem alone, so perhaps others from Nazareth went, too.  I’d have organized it for Mary to stay with Elizabeth and meet Joseph in Bethlehem 1. to hide her pregnancy from Nazareth and 2. to save Mary, basically, two 90-mile trips in late pregnancy.  Nobody asked me.

- Birth time? (v5): “While they were there the days were accomplished …” We mentioned this last week.  Very plainly, Jesus was not born the night they arrived.

- The “Inn” (v6): “no room for them in the inn…”  “Inn” here means an extra room in someone’s home (Greek word katalymati is a spare room, not a hotel), adjacent to or above a home’s main living area.  The “stable” would be a lower, open area on one end of the house where animals at night were kept inside for protection from thieves and the warmth for the family. A manger would have been in there; warm and well-attended. The home’s “spare room” evidently was already occupied.

- Manger (v7): – That’s an animal eating trough, either a stand or possibly a bowl dug into the floor of the main room adjacent to where the animals were kept at night.

- Birth attendants: As was custom nearly everywhere in the world, local women would have taken care of the pregnant Mary.  Men would have been cleared out of the main room of the house where the birth took place while various women attended to Mary and the newborn. Then, as was every baby of that time, Jesus would have been swaddled – v7 says “[by] Mary” and, in that circumstance, laid in the warm hay of the nearby manger because “there was no room in the inn [guest area]” of the house.

- Born at night? (v8): The Bible says the angel visited the shepherds at night, not that Jesus was born at night.  However, in v11, the angel says Jesus was “…born this day …” which could very well imply nighttime, since Jewish “days” started at sundown.

- The Shepherds 1 (v8-15): The lowliest of peasants, the shepherds were the first to be visited by the angel.  Note that it was not the Jewish leaders who were notified.

- The Shepherds 2: The shepherds (v9) were “terrified,” then the angel says “fear not.”  Why is that important? Because, as St. Jerome in the fourth century pointed out, when you are terrified you do not understand what somebody is trying to say to you.  The angel wanted the shepherds to calm down, listen to his message, and understand.  That “glory of the Lord” display (v9), I’m sure, would likely take anyone’s breath away.

- The Shepherds 3: They were first to learn, and it’s critically significant, that “a savior has been born unto you … he is Christ that Lord” (v11). “Unto you” is personal.

- The Shepherds 4: Their sign (v12) that the shepherds would find their savior in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, was also critical. Why?  Because this told the shepherds that the savior / Christ / Lord – anticipated by the whole Jewish nation – was humbly one of them. The fact they could go visit the Messiah in a common home in a common manger among common people would bring the shepherds great joy; it meant they were not separated from God by their lowly station in life.

- The Shepherds 5: That the shepherds visited Jesus and then (v17-18) “spread the word about Jesus’s birth, the angel’s visit to them, and all they had “heard and seen” is rich with meaning.  They had understood what the angel told them.  On the authority of that angel, the shepherds told “others” what Mary and Joseph likely would have been reluctant to tell them: that the baby Jesus was the Messiah.  It was only the shepherds who the Bible identifies as the initial spreaders of this news.  Even Mary “pondered [these things] in her heart” (v19).  And the fact that the shepherds had “others” to tell suggests strongly that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were not alone.

- The Shepherds 6: The shepherds returned to their flocks in the fields, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (v20). These shepherds had just been trusted with telling the truth of Jesus’s mission to fulfil God’s salvation of mankind, and whether they understood the full impact of that is hard to say.  But what we can say is that not only were they rejoicing to God; they were satisfied that the village had provided adequate and maybe even laudable care and hospitality amid this birth.  Culturally, that’s something the shepherds would have insisted on and understood,

What’s left for us to understand is to rejoice and praise God, too. What’s left unsaid is that we aren’t meant to be Jesus; we are meant to be shepherds

Say what you will, I’m pretty sure that is the true meaning of Christmas.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes a few other things: 1. Some Bibles say they went to Bethlehem to be taxed (KJV), for a census (NIV), or to be registered (ESV).  It’s all the same Greek root word “apographe.” 2. Jerusalem was also known as the City of David. 3. Nobody knows the exact date of Jesus’s birth; but everyone agrees it was not December 25, and not the year “0000.”  4. The Wise Men showed up months later (Matthew 2:1-12).  5. Everybody tries to explain the Star in terms of astronomy (like the Saturn-Jupiter confluence this week); maybe God just put it there … like the Bible says. 
Monday, December 14, 2020

735 - Part 1: What's Left Unsaid Is ...

Spirituality Column #735

December 15, 2020

Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Part 1: What’s Left Unsaid Is …

By Bob Walters

“The shepherds returned [to their flocks], glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” – Luke 2:20

I love the warm-fuzzies of the Christmas season, and especially the King James Bible’s beautiful story of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2.  Like the company of angels in Luke 2:14, we should all be “praising God in the highest” and praying for peace over all the earth.  The decorations, music, traditions, my own memories … I love it all.

I also get a real kick out of filling in all the blanks that exist within not just the Bible story of “Christmas” – a word which does not appear in the Bible – but also sorting through truth and legend of what happened in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.  God sent to us the most powerful message possible: He sent Himself.  And the message truly did reside in the medium – a humble, helpless baby whose love and obedience would change all humanity in grace and faith … forever. 

There are very few biblical specifics about the birth.  It gets half a verse in Matthew 2:1, and then half a chapter in Luke 2:4-20. Yet there is so much we think we know that isn’t so, because we don’t know that culture. We know it happened.  That’s it.

Around 200 A.D. an anonymous non-Palestinian wrote a story, in Greek, titled The Protevangelium of James about the birth of Jesus.  It is from that story, not the Bible, that we get most of what we think we know about the birth of Jesus in (or near) Bethlehem, and most of it is wrong. 

There’s the story about Mary going into labor on the journey, Joseph putting her in a cave, and Mary, a scared teenager, giving birth by herself.  That notion took hold in the traditions of the Eastern Church, and that is the story in the Protevangelim.

Or, Joseph and Mary make it to Bethlehem in the nick of time and because there was “no room in the inn” (Luke 2:7) – which when translated properly means “extra room,” not “hotel room” – Jesus was in a handy “barn.”  Um, they didn’t have “barns.”

We are also led to believe this was a hurried trip with little planning and no provisions for lodging, that Joseph and Mary showed up unannounced as strangers, and they were either purposely shunned or coldly left unattended by everyone in the town of Bethlehem as Mary went into labor upon (or shortly before) arrival.  No.

Let’s address just one very obvious biblical detail.  Luke 2:6 – again in the beautiful language of the King James, states – “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she [Mary] should be delivered…”  Jesus was born days after they got to Bethlehem, not as an emergency delivery upon arrival. 

Next week we’ll look briefly at other specifics of Joseph, Mary, the trip, their accommodations, the “inn”, the shepherds, the angels, the animals, and the culture itself.  It’s been a couple of years since I’ve mentioned Kenneth Bailey’s wonderful book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, which provides realistic cultural context to the Bible’s very brief announcement of this world-altering event.

The Bible is true and accurate, and often says more than we may realize.  Plus, what’s left unsaid is sometimes historically knowable and downright fascinating.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) and his wife Pam decorate extensively for Christmas.

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