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On the Corner

by Robert Docter – 

Sometimes, in our relationship with God, we get lost in trivial inconsequentials. We start analyzing how many angels there might be on the head of a pin–or wondering about the actual construction and design of heaven–or how hot hell is. Most of the matters dividing Christendom seem based on factors other than the our relationship with God.

As I read Christmas cards and look at their illustrations, I’ve been wrestling with some matters surrounding Christ-mas trying to figure out their real importance in the chain of events unleashed that day. Most are “why” questions.

Joseph had to go up to Bethlehem to comply with the Roman census. He was not yet formally married to Mary–why did she have to go? Why did Joseph ever start out on such a perilous trip with someone he loved when she we was so far advanced in her pregnancy? Was this God’s device to get Mary and the babe to Bethlehem? Traveling on a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem couldn’t have been very comfortable or even safe. Had he and Mary received other visitations from angels directing them to take this action? If so, how come they never told anyone about it? And what route did Joseph take from Nazareth to Beth-lehem? Did he go through Samaria– not a smart move because of prejudice on both sides–or did he go the long way around as did most travelers of the day?

We know from prophecy Messiah’s filial heritage with David. We know that the Jews expected the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem of Judea when they were questioning what they thought were his Galilean roots, but did this mean God wanted his son to be born in Bethlehem to validate that expectation–or was it to establish another link with prophecy?

Why hadn’t Joseph married his betrothed yet? He certainly knew she was pregnant, and the visit of the angel had made clear the child’s heritage. Nevertheless, Mary is still listed as one “pledged” to be married to him.

Why wasn’t there any room in the inn? I know the town must have been crowded with those who had come to register for the census, but her condition clearly raised a question of special treatment. Why wasn’t Joseph more assertive? Was there an innkeeper to whom he might have pled his case? I feel certain there wasn’t any reservation system, but couldn’t he have sent some word forward to get some space out of the wind and rain and stench of a stable? Couldn’t he have gotten there a little earlier? Was the stable–the barn–the only alternative? Why did God want his Son born there? Luke states that “there was no room in the inn.” Was Bethlehem a one-inn town?

Was anyone willing to help the expectant mother through the birth process? Was there no midwife? I know the medical profession has come a long way in the last 2,100 years, but was birthing such a unitary event for everyone? Maybe the answer to that question has stirred Christianity’s desire over the ages to advance the study of medicine.

What about these shepherds? What was the timing of their arrival? Did they arrive on the night of the birth or some time afterward? Why did no other Gospel writers pick up this part of the story? And what about these three kings? Were they royalty? Weren’t they really astrologers? What was the timing of their arrival in relation to the birth itself?

See what I mean by playing the inconsequential trivia game? Once one starts, it just keeps running on and on. Notice, I didn’t get to the “basic” question. Was Jesus the Messiah–the Son of God? That’s the important question. Other inquiries are simply research topics or matters of fact whose explication might be interesting but unnecessary.

A young woman shared her testimony with me the other day about a dramatic change in her life nine years ago. She knew the day and the date. It was a very real experience. She told me she had been raised in a very religious home and had gone to church regularly all her life. She enjoyed church–the social connection, the tradition, the ritual and liturgy, all the peripherals of worship. And then, one day, she was forced to confront basics–to deal with a basic question. Did she have a relationship with religion, or with God? She realized her relationship was with religion, not God. So, she changed–established a relationship with him–and hasn’t been the same since.

There are consequences to focusing too heavily on inconsequentials in our pursuit of rational explanations that truly demand only faith.

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