Old Treasures and New

Jesus said, in Matthew 13:52, that a disciple of the kingdom is one who brings our of their treasury both old and new treasures. God is eternal and has declared the end from the beginning, for him, the old and the new are all from his treasury. For us, it’s about looking at eternal truths and seeing these long-standing realities fresh and new. This might come as a shock to you, but the Word of God is not limited to the sacred page. The Word is with God, and the Word is God. Our encounter with the Word of God is God expressing himself! The Bible is absolutely God’s word–infallible in all it sets out to accomplish. Yet the Word of God is living and active; the printed page is static. The living Word will never contradict the written word, yet God still speaks to this day … and it is our charge to listen.

It seems too often that we forsake “new treasure.” We cling to the old (that is, the old perception of things), presume we know it all, and stand on tradition rather than truth. The Pharisees and Sadducees did this, and Jesus rebuked them for their rejection of His eternal, living truth. Being near Christmas time, I’ll use the example of our view of the Nativity. Every year we pull out our Nativity scene with an interpretation of the stable, the animals, the shepherds and wise men, and the baby Jesus lying in a manger. Our tradition tells us that Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. Our songs of the season paint an almost inhumane picture of the people of Bethlehem who forced a pregnant girl to give birth in the filth of an animal paddock rather than have someone temporarily step outside for the delivery. Did we ever stop to ask, What does the Bible actually say?

I know, I know: We read the story every year. But do we really listen? Do we view this ancient treasure with a new and hungry spirit? Only two of the four gospels actually describe the birth of Jesus, Matthew and Luke. Of those two, only Luke gives any details of Jesus’ actual birth. Matthew describes Joseph’s dilemma and the angel’s assurance, and then the wise men show up at the door … of the house where they were staying (Matthew 2:11, file that away for later). Luke describes their arrival in Bethlehem and the details of Jesus’ birth.

Luke’s account tells us that Caesar’s decree went out and that Joseph loaded up Mary and went to the town of his family. Since he had family in Bethlehem, wouldn’t it make sense that they would have a place to stay? Families in this time and culture usually lived all together in one house (reflect on that and Jesus’ statement in John 14:1-3). Luke 2:6 tells us that “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.” This picture of Joseph leading the donkey with Mary aboard into Bethlehem in a panic because she just started labor is all wrong. They arrived, got settled, maybe even got registered, and during that time the baby was born.

Some of our misunderstanding falls upon two words, “manger” and “inn.” A great many people hear “manger” and think “stable.” These are not the same. A stable is an animal paddock. A manger is a stone or wooden box used to feed animals. The other word, “inn,” is also perceived wrongly. We think that there was no room at the Motel 6. Ancient Bethlehem likely had no Motel 6 equivalent.  The inn they are referring to (kataluna in the Greek) is more like a guest room in someone’s house. It was often used for newly weds and travelers. Luke tells us that the baby was laid in a manger because there was no room in the guest room. In other words, the tiny little room where Mary and Joseph were staying was not large enough to accommodate the baby and family members who would be buzzing about helping with the newborn, so they moved them downstairs to the larger room (where people would unload their beasts of burden when arriving and enter the house … like a front room) and laid the baby in a feeding box. Incidentally, the type of inn that more closely resembles a Motel 6 (pandocheion) has only one reference in the New Testament, and that is in the parable of the Good Samaritan (another often misunderstood passage).

When the Magi (wise men, not kings–advisors to kings) show up, they don’t come to a stable, they come to a house where the “child” is (Matthew 2:11). No longer a baby, Jesus is visited by the Magi nearly two years later. A census was being taken of the entire Roman world. Think about that. They had no internet, no computers, no freeways and no cars. People had to travel months to their home towns and register. All this census information was taken by hand, recorded and compiled by hand, delivered by hand, compiled and recorded again by hand, and reported to Caesar and his officials. The Roman empire at the time included Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. This process would take years. It is very likely that Joseph and Mary’s pilgrimage to Bethlehem was not a quick visit so they could sign their name in the register and go back home. They very likely moved to Bethlehem, and the fact that the Magi show up in Bethlehem, two years later, and the family is still living there speaks to this. Additionally, when Herod had the children of Bethlehem slaughtered, he ordered that all those two years and younger were to be targeted because that’s what lined up with the prophecy and the Magi’s report.

Finding out that Jesus was not likely born in a stable, and not on December 25, can feel a lot like when you learned that Santa Clause doesn’t come down your chimney and bring presents (St. Nicholas, however, is as real as you and me). The truth brings freedom. We often think that great works of God are reserved for either the super-spiritual, or the pathetically lowly. However Jesus came into everyday life. His family was humble (even though Joseph was a descendant of King David), the town was humble, and though the scene isn’t as filthy and lowly as it’s been painted in our traditions, it can encourage us that God is among us in the normal, everyday, average happenings of our lives: the supernatural and the natural co-exist. Where is Jesus revealing himself in your everyday life? How is He seeking to make your “ordinary” extraordinary?

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