The King of Stories -- The Birth of the King

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: see here for the previous entry; and see here for the first entry of the series. (It explains what I'm doing, and how, and contains the Johannine prologue.)

And Merry Christmas to all our readers around the world; for the birth of Christ is indeed good news to all the nations!

The Birth of the King

Now it came about in those days (says the Scholar) that a formal decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census should be taken of 'the inhabited lands'. [Footnote: as we would say, 'the civilized lands'; a term for the Roman Empire.] This first (or prior) registration occurred in the Syrian governorship of Kyrenius.

And all went to be registered, each to his own city.

So Joseph left Nazareth in the Galilee region, and went up into the hills of Judea, to the 'city of David', also called 'Bethlehem' ('house of bread'), because he was descended from David, to be registered with Miriam, she having been betrothed to him as wife, being squirming inside. [Footnote: the term is literally 'in-teeming'. The baby was about to be born.]

Now while they were in Bethlehem, her time was fulfilled; and she gave birth to her first-born Son; and after wrapping Him in swaddling cloths ('navel-bands'), she laid Him in a feeding trough--for no (private) place had been found for them within the off-loading ring.

[Footnote: David would have had family there, but between the registration requirements and a probable holiday season, they would have been looking for somewhere more private than some crowded houses with only a few rooms, especially given the ritual uncleanliness of birthing. The 'kataluma' or caravan-serai, is not an 'inn' in the sense we would think of, but a place where animals can put down their loads after a journey. (Of course, an inn could be named after such a place--as the Scholar hints at much later in the story...!) The feeding trough area was probably in a small cavern; later tradition imagines it might even have been the cavern King David had hidden in centuries previously, when fleeing from Saul. Of course, they would move to a family house as soon as feasibly possible.]

On this same night, a group of shepherds were standing watch over their flocks out in the nearby hills.

[Footnote: these would still well-pasturaged in late September; and particularly susceptible to thieves if this happened during a religious festival involving lots of sacrificial animals. Indeed, the shepherd flocks near Bethlehem were expressly dedicated to sacrificial use in the Jerusalem Temple; and one tradition, still preserved centuries later in rabbinic teaching, claimed that the Messiah's birth would be announced (or even seen?) from one of the nearby flock watchtowers. Later in the year, the shepherds would be less likely to be out with their herds at night.]

Now look!--a messenger from the Lord stands by them!--and the glory of the Lord shines round about them!--and they are terrified!

But the angel says to them: "Fear not!!--for behold, I am bringing to you good news, of a great joy which shall be for all the nations! For on this day (the new day having begun at the descent of the sun beneath the land) a Savior has been born to you, who is the Anointed King, the Lord, within the city of David! Now here is the sign for you to seek: you will be finding this Baby lying swaddled in a feeding trough!"

Then suddenly, a number of the heavenly armies are joining this messenger, raising their voices in praise of God, crying out:

Glory among the highest to God and on the land!
Peace among men of His delight!

After this, as the messengers were departing from them to the sky, the shepherds began saying to one another: "By all means!--let us go down into Bethlehem, and see this outpouring ('gush-effect') which has happened, and which the Lord has made known to us!"

So hurrying, they came and found both Miriam and Joseph, along with the Baby lying in the trough. And having seen this, they began proclaiming to everyone what they had heard declared about this little Boy; amazing and confusing the people who heard what they said.

But Miriam preserved all these declarations, pondering them in her heart.

And so the shepherds, praising the glory of God for everything they had seen and learned--just as had been told to them--returned (to the hills and to their flocks).

Luke 2:1-20

[Next time: Blood of Kings and Children]


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