Bethlehem: Of Infancy Narratives and What Christmas Means To Me
My guide once told me when we were in Tzippori (Zepphori) that Jesus couldn’t have been born in Bethlehem. He believed that Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth and to travel to Bethlehem just to give birth was not only illogical but impossible. He further postulated that Jesus’ birthplace could be just anywhere in Nazareth.
I was shattered upon hearing his words. I am no longer a child but to hear this from someone I already trusted was a big blow to my childhood. What about Bethlehem? I silently hissed.
In the end, he argued based on Luke’s words (2:4) that Mary and Joseph were residents of Nazareth. And Matthew explained that due to the Roman Census (2:4-5), Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem. And since no room in the inn, Jesus was born in a manger (2:6-7). The sequence of events had made my guide very skeptical. And this prompted him to make such bold statements.
In contrast to Luke’s letters, Joseph and Mary had lived in Bethlehem and not Nazareth according to the evangelist Matthew. The differences between two evangelists continued with the presence of shepherds according to Luke and the three wise men according to Matthew.
All these differences and similarities were further discussed in Joseph Ratzinger’s latest book, Infancy Narratives. In his book, Pope Benedict was just like any Christian out there, seeking for answers and truth. He believed that neither Evangelist was too concerned with the chronological events but more on spiritual meaning at which Jesus Christ’s birth had on us – new beginning, birth, renewal of faith. The only conclusive thought he shared was his doubts about the exact period as everything couldn’t have happened at Herod’s time. Whether it was really December 25th, that according to him is still word in waiting.
As Christmas is fast approaching, I wrote this as a transient memory of my wonderful time in Bethlehem. Located on the West Bank, approx 8 miles from Jerusalem, Bethlehem is currently under the jurisdiction of the Palestine government. Pilgrims wanting to visit Bethlehem need to cross the border, as indicated by a long and tall wall. My Israel guide left us just we as we were nearing the border and we were welcomed by a Palestinian guide asoon as we entered the gate. This has been one of the so many guiding rules for years.
Bethlehem as mentioned earlier has been the birthplace of Jesus Christ for almost two millennia. It was first mentioned in the Bible where Rachel died (Gen 35:19). Interestingly, Bethlehem was also the presumed birthplace of Kind David. Queen Helena, mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine came to Jerusalem to secure all these holy places and built a church over the site. The manger was “a cave close to the village” as described by St Justin Martyr. A silver star marked the very site where Jesus was born. At present, the Church of Nativity is under control by the Greek Orthodox Church, The Roman Catholic and the Armenian Orthodox.
As a whole, I liked what Pope Benedict wrote in his book and I would like to quote him. This paragraph below is, I believed, the cornerstone of what faith is and should be.
“Again and again, Jesus’ words exceed our rational powers. Again and again, they surpass our capacity to understand. The temptation to reduce them, to bend them to our own criteria, is understandable. Yet good exegesis requires of us the humility to leave intact this loftiness that so often overtaxes us, not to reduce Jesus’ sayings by asking to what extent we can take him at his word. He takes us completely at our word. Believing means submitting to this loftiness and slowly growing into it.”
I am a sinner and doesn’t even come close to being a person capable of reviewing Pope Benedict’s book. But am a believer of Christmas. Whether I was fooled or not on the true nature of Christ’s birth, it doesn’t really matter. What matters most is this gift from above to have seen and traveled the world, to be able to see so many pilgrimage sites of different religious organizations for free. Call it faith, luck or what have you but so many things are happening in our lives beyond our understanding.
“He takes us completely at our word” It would take time before we could fully comprehend God’s word and that is just normal. We only have to submit ourselves and slowly grow into it. This is the magic of Christmas for me.
Infancy Narratives: Similarities and Differences http://kspark.kaist.ac.kr/Jesus/Birth%20Narratives.files/sim-dif.htm
Infancy Narratives: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict)