Thursday, December 13, 2012

Born in a hole in the Ground

Luke was the one who gave the most details about Jesus' birth.

LK 2:4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 

A manger is a trough for holding animal feeds. We often assume that Jesus was born in a stable because that is where a manger will be. Maybe we assume wrong?

traditional site of Mary's house

This is the traditional site of Mary's house which is beside the Basilica of the Annunciation. This was where Mary lived with her family and where the conversation with the angel Gabriel took place. Wood are scarce in Israel so many peasants live in cave-like holes in the ground. They would dig and make their homes there. A typical house will have two rooms and a common area. One room will be where the family sleep and the other room will be where the animals are kept. The common area will the kitchen, dining area and family room. The smell must be challenging especially when the humans and animals are kept indoor during the cold winter!

Bethlehem and Nazareth were tiny villages at the time of Jesus and most people will likely live in houses like this.Hence it is likely that a peasant family had taken in poor Joseph and a very pregnant Mary and allowed them to stay in the animal room (together with the animals). After birth, the baby was laid in the manger. The King of Kings, the Glory of God, the Son of Man, God incarnate was born in a dirty and smelly little hole in the ground. We complain when we move out of our comfort zones. Our comfort zones are usually brightly lit, warm, clean, and safe. Imagine God's sacrifice. Not only was God incarnate born in a hole in the ground, it is likely that he grew up in one such as these too.

another view of "Mary's house"
Orthodox are  familiar with the kontakion of the Nativity (Third Tone) by St Romanos the Melodist.
Today the Virgin giveth birth to Him Who is transcendent in essence;and the earth offereth a cave to Him Who is unapproachable.Angels with shepherds give glory;with a star the Magi do journey; for our sake a young Child is born, Who is pre-eternal God.
(HT: Nathaniel Woon and  Collins Michael Nunis)
the bricks are added to shore up the walls

Mary's neighbor

roof of the neighborhood

photo of site of the Nazareth village in the 1955 excavations (source: Franciscan cyperspot)
 The excavations reveals silos, cisterns and cave-dwellings. This is one of the few sites where these were left relatively intact.
the Baptistry is built over the site of the ancient village (source: Franciscan cyperspot)

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