Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dear Grand: Why did God come down to earth? Why did nobody help Mary and Joseph?

Dear Friends,

This week, I am so excited to share with you the answers to five questions about the Holiest of All Nights, the blessed Christmas Story. Each grandchild in our family asked their grandfather a question about the Nativity, and their sweet Grand was willing to take the time to answer not only for them, but for all of us as well.

My father, Dr. Terry Denton, has his doctorate from Southwestern Theological Seminary, but to the kids in our family, he is just Grand, the wrestler, the joke-teller, the golfer who lets his grand kids help drive the golf cart. We love him and are grateful God uses him to bless our lives in many ways.

Today Grand answers Alexandra's question.  So far, we have learned why Jesus Christ came to earth on that Christmas night long ago and we learned about the wise men travelling from afar to visit the Christ child, the foretold Jewish king.  Let's see what Alexandra asked.

Merry Christmas!

Alexandra, age 8

Dear Grand, Why did God come down to earth? Why did nobody help Mary and Joseph?

I answered the first question in my response to Sam a couple of days ago so let’s take a closer look at your second question. Caesar Augustus had send out a decree that the entire Roman Empire was to pay a tax. Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth but were required to travel to Joseph’s ancestral home in Bethlehem to pay the tax. While they were there, it came time for Mary to give birth. The Bible says there was no room for them at the inn.

It is not clear what precisely is meant by the Greek term translated “inn”. The only other time the word is used in the New Testament it is used to describe the abode where Jesus held the Last Supper in the upper room. The word can mean inn as we think of it or just a private house as in the case of the Last Supper. In any event, there was a shortage of space no doubt due to the fact that lots of non-residents were in town for the purpose of settling accounts with Uncle Caesar.

So why were they made to stay in a barn? OK, while this idea is deeply rooted in tradition, we are probably reading a little too much into the term “manger”. A manger is a trough, stall or crib for feeding animals and in America we immediately think of a detached barn. But in the ancient world, and really in many primitive places today, animals are kept inside the homes at night on the ground floor. The family sleeps upstairs. My best guess is that Mary gave birth to Jesus on the lower floor of Joseph’s ancestral home due to overcrowding. Upon birth, Jesus was wrapped up and laid on the soft hay.

Whatever the exact circumstances, the point is that Jesus, in keeping with his lifelong humility, was born in very humble circumstances. Contrast this historical event with our tendency to become pompous and self-impressed and you will better understand C.S. Lewis’s insightful remark, “We are all little idiots.”

Love, Grand

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