Was Jesus Born in a Barn, Cave, or House?

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The question “Where was Jesus born?” is surprisingly tricky. The easy answer is, “In Bethlehem.” Yes, but where? The typical nativity scene features the holy family in a stable that looks like a barn, separate from the Inn, where there was no room. But is this accurate? Most historians and scholars say, “Not so much.”

This is a question that I’ve seen pop up more frequently on social media this year than in previous years, so I figured I’d take some time to lay out the facts and present some of the more popular theories.

What We Know
We know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was no room “in the inn,” and that he was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger.

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
Luke 2:4-7 (ESV)

Aside from these basics, there’s a lot of detail left open: Why were they turned away from “the inn?” Why was there a manger, does that mean they were in the barn with the animals? Where did people in ancient Bethlehem keep the animals? These types of questions have led to a few different theories about where Jesus was actually born, which are briefly summarized below. Continue reading

Recovering our Fear

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Advent is a season of waiting… remembering Israel’s wait for Christ to come, and the Church’s wait for his return in glory. As we wait, it is so easy to lose focus and get busied with routine joys and routine troubles while forgetting about Christ at all. This isn’t a new struggle.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor in the days leading up to World War II and was persecuted (and eventually killed at Hitler’s direct command) for his role in opposing the Nazi regime. The following quote comes from Bonhoeffer’s sermon on the first Sunday of Advent in 1935 as Hitler’s power in Germany was increasing. Keep Bonhoeffer’s context in mind as you read this excerpt from this Advent sermon based out of Revelation 14:6-13.

And the speech of the angel is so simple that anyone could understand it: “fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment is come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the springs of water.” That is the first command of the gospel. “Fear God” and you will have nothing else to fear.

Don’t fear what the next day may bring. Don’t fear other people. Don’t fear violence and power, even when it comes to you personally and can rob you of your life. Don’t fear the high and mighty in the world. Don’t fear yourself. Don’t fear your sins. All these fears will die. From all these fears you will be set free. For they are no longer there. But fear God and him alone. For he has the power over all the powers of this world. The whole world is in fear of God. He has power to give us life or to destroy us. All other powers are a mere game.

God alone is real, seriously real. Fear God seriously and “give him the glory.” He would be acknowledged as the creator, as our creator; he would be acknowledged as the reconciler, who has made peace between God and man; he would be acknowledged as redeemer, who at the end sets us free from all our sins and all our burdens. Honor him and his holy gospel, “because the hour of his judgment is come.” And this judgment is the gospel itself. The eternal gospel is the judge of all peoples.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Remembrance Sunday: Who and What is Babylon?” in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 111.

Bonhoeffer emphasizes throughout the remainder of the sermon that the gospel is the only message of salvation. Even while he states, “The eternal gospel is the judge of all peoples,” it is important to hear the rest of his message about the gospel – it is not a message of damnation, but of reconciliation with God and freedom from all fears. It is only through the gospel that men and women can live with the right kind of fear: fear of God.

However you approach the Christmas season, and much is often made about how difficult this season is for many, let this be a time to reset your fear. Do not fear death. Do not fear judgment. Do not fear all sorts of other fearful things…. fear God. For in the end, when everything else has been subject to judgment, He remains. He is victorious. This is Good News indeed.

What is Advent? (not only for Catholics)

God isn’t honored by Christians becoming “scrooges” who criticize everything about the Christmas season in an effort to “purify” Christmas. At the same time, don’t allow yourself to lose Jesus under the Christmas tree. Unfortunately, I know quite a few Christians who fall into both of those extremes. Recovering the Advent Season is our best way to be joyfully focused on God during this Christmas season.

Advent is more than a calendar with cheap chocolate leading up to December 25th. It is a season of “expectant waiting.” Does that describe your attitude today, or are you so bogged down by busyness and shopping that you don’t have time to expect anything but stress? The article below summarizes the message and meaning of Advent for the everyday Christian.

This season, create space to slow down. Watch less TV. Delete social media apps from your phone. Wake up earlier. Do what you need to do to spend time in Scripture each day, meditating on God’s work of salvation and his glorious promises to his children.

Advent Candle Continue reading

Why Did Jesus Come? For These Two Reasons…

Who knew that sweet baby boy in the manger would be the most controversial human in history? More ink has been spilled about him than anyone else who has ever lived.

It’s so easy for us to lose sight of the divisiveness of Jesus. He’s one person with whom you can’t sit on the fence: you either believe he is the Son of God and the savior of the world, or you don’t. He is either who the Bible says he is, or he’s just another misunderstood teacher who got himself in trouble by criticizing people of power.

In the midst of all the wrapping paper and Christmas presents, we can easily forget the controversial nature of Jesus’ mission. He was not born simply to provide a nice example for people to follow.

The following are the specific verses where Jesus explicitly says why he came (as well as a few other relevant verses from the New Testament). May these remind you why Christmas is worth celebrating.

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Sr Columba Guare © 2005 Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey

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