Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas' Economic and Moral Lessons

Lew Rockwell posts this gem about the reality of the Christmas story. It's truly a shame that the realities in which biblical characters lived are rarely mentioned in our church culture, whether from the pulpit, Sunday school or general reading. And sometimes sentimental legends are tacked on to the story. Rockwell, for example, rebuffs the idea of Joseph and Mary traveling from inn to inn.

I can think of a few more. I've always had the picture painted for me that Jesus was poor. Dirt poor. You know, "birds have nests and foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." An extension of this is the idea that self-inflicted poverty is some kind of Christian virtue. It's odd that we tend to think of Him as poor. After all, he received gold, frankincense and myrrh. From nobility and royalty, no less. A number of times I've heard that contrary to popular opinion shaped by our Christmas stories there would have been far more than three travelers that sought the newborn King. Ancient customs would tip us off that there would have been a delegation of dozens or maybe even hundreds. Historical realities of this nature are only slightly helpful, however, because the more important implications are ignored.

Ancient customs would also direct us to believe that royalty in search of a newborn king would have showered Him with gifts. The amount of gold and spices would have been unfathomable to the average person. In contemporary vernacular, Jesus would have been an instant millionaire. Dirty, rotten, filthy, stinking rich. Just read the chronicle books to discover how kings, like David and Solomon and their peers, treated each other. Ever wonder where that vial of perfume came from that was applied to His feet with that woman's hair? The disciples were indignant at the waste and my center margin notes tell me that it would have been worth a year's wages. That's about 40 G's today, blue-collarly speaking. My revised view of Jesus as being rich sheds new light on how I view Him and His attitudes about people around Him, and has changed how I view my own life.

Another one is Joseph's and Mary's travel to Bethlehem. I've also had a picture painted for me that they were these wonderful, righteous believers who showed their Christian virtue of obedience to the government, floating over the roads a few feet off the ground, with halos and angelic choirs singing in the background, the sun's rays beaming through the clouds. Nonsense. They were terrified people who didn't want their lives turned into a much greater hell by tyrants. I've heard that the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem was long and grueling. This is the last place I'd want to escort a pregnant woman. It was no afternoon cruise down the PCH listening to the Beach Boys. My wife is pregnant and it's enough just getting her to church and back.

God is merciful, political tyrants are not. God's general requirement for worship in the OT was to bring an offering to Jerusalem. If you lived too far away, God would set up a more convenient place. Kinda like FedEx does with their express drop-off boxes. Convenient for the ones you're dealing with. But it seems from the bible that each person was mandated to travel to the city of family origin to register. I stated above that Joseph and Mary didn't obey because it was supposedly the right thing to do, but because they probably feared for their lives. I'm fairly sure of this because only a little while later, Herod tried to murder their son, and did murder many other children.

I've often wondered that if in eternity God would show us a video history of history. If we really knew what life was like, what Paul's face looked like, how tall Noah was, etc, would we be shocked? I'm sure we would be surprised.


  1. Our pastor preached once that the "inn" was probably referring to a "guest house" or "guest rooms" in private homes and that Joseph and Mary had trouble getting accomodations with kinsmen because she was scandalously unwed and pregnant.

  2. VF, that one's new to me. I've heard the one about "inn" meaning guest house, but did guest houses have mangers?

  3. It was not unusual for families to keep livestock inside the house on the lower floor.