Thanksgiving is next week and after that (yeah I know the decorations are already up among those that cannot wait) people will begin turning their eyes toward Christmas. Of course they should not be – Christmas is weeks away and Advent should be observed but reality is it isn’t. So consider this a pre-emptive post, skipping Thanksgiving, Advent, and even Christmas in order to get to my “this time of year” pet peeve – a faulty Epiphany story.
Some too clever for his own good preacher will likely tell you that the Wise Men (AKA the Magi) took years traveling across the desert to get to Bethlehem. They use the following passage as their proof.
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:10–11)
They will claim because it took years to make the trip, Bethlehem had cleared out of all those there for the census and now there was room in the house rather than some nearby barn.
This is rubbish. First it only takes a few months to go across the entire continental United States on foot or livestock. To make it across the longest routes estimated for the Wise Men would take much less time. Therefore the base premise is faulty. If that is not enough, Jesus was in the house from the very beginning. The trouble is in the US (and other parts of the Western World) the use of Inn is typically preceded by Holiday or Comfort or some other hotel chain name. BUT – this was not the case in the year of Jesus’ birth. The word translated Inn (Luke 1) is the same word as is translated Guest Room when it was time for the Passover and Jesus told the disciples to go and get the Guest Room (which was the Upper Room) prepared (Luke 22). Add to this fact that at the time of Jesus the upstairs of a house was for people and the downstairs was for animals and the story all comes together.
What does this mean to us today? Joseph brought Mary to Bethlehem where all of his relatives were going. Upon their arrival the living quarters upstairs including the guest room is already occupied. Mary and Joseph needing some privacy are put in the downstairs where the animals typically would be. Jesus is born and Wise Men arrive at the house because that is where Jesus was all along – simple.
All of that said – I still love the traditional Nativity scenes that look like little barns and have a wide assortment of them.