Chapter 53, part 2: The Manger (as continued from part 1)The next time Mary awoke, Joseph was by her side. "I have two questions," he said. "First, how are you?""Feeling well... I think," she said with a puzzled look. "There is so much of me these days, it's hard to say."
right, I guess that's good enough," he smiled, feeling her forehead and stroking back some wisps of hair. "Second question. Are you well enough to receive a visitor?"There was just a moment of alarm on her face as she wondered how she looked.
"You look just fine," Joseph said. Then, with a wink, he added, "Besides, it's dark in here."
"Well, all right," she laughed, "as long as you don't open the windows. Who is it?"
"I want you to guess, when you see him..."
She sat up. "You mean, it's someone I know?"
Joseph turned toward the passage that led to the chamber and motioned to someone there.
Joseph had prompted Mary's fascination, and it grew even more keen when she saw the young man who entered the chamber.
"Shalom, sir," she said. "If I were to guess, I would call you 'Shayah.' I must admit that I wish you were he."
Indeed, the young man looked like her beloved friend and rabbi, as he might have been fifty or sixty years before.
But what was more curious was the young man's response. With a wide, Shayah-like smile he said: "Good guess, dear lady. I am he! Not the Shayah you are thinking of, but close."
Joseph was getting from this interchange all the enjoyment he hoped for, and after his laughter settled some, he explained. "Mary, let me introduce you to Ishayah Ben Shapphat, grandson to our dear rabbi."
Joseph then explained that this hillside, with the brow above and the pasture below — the very land they had come here to register — were overseen by the son of old Shayah, a local rabbi and potter named Shapphat. The youngest offspring of this Shapphat and his wife, Naomi, was the man who now stood
before them. Young Shayah had come this day to the cavern stable to tend to the animals and collect eggs.
"You came just in time," Joseph said. "I was planning to eat them all for dinner."
"The eggs, you mean?" asked Shayah.
"No," Joseph smiled. "The eggs would be for Mary. I would eat the animals themselves."
"Well, that is one reason I am glad I came then," Shayah bantered. Then, more seriously, he added, "But even more important, my parents would want to know you are here. They have spoken often of your grandparents."
Joseph went to his baggage and pulled out a small scroll. He gave it to Shayah. "Your grandfather and grandmother sent this. I was to deliver it to your parents. But," he explained, smiling over at Mary, " as you can see, I have had important duties."
Young Shayah nodded, glanced at the scroll, and slid it into his sash.
"Will you see that they get it soon?" Joseph asked.
"Of course," young Shayah answered. "And I will do more than that."
Within the hour, young Shayah was back, along with his parents. And with them they had brought blankets, a vessel of water and several sacks of food.
When they had all gotten acquainted and had eaten a meal, Naomi turned to Mary and said, "Your child is expected very soon."
"Yes," Mary answered, "very soon. I have had some new sensations this day." She placed a hand upon her stomach. "Some new tightness here."
"Well then," Naomi said, "it will be any time. Shayah has agreed to stay close. He will make a place to stay at the front chamber, if that's all right with you." She looked at Joseph, who nodded gratefully.
"We will have a midwife ready to come," Shapphat said, "just as soon as Shayah brings word that you need her help."
"A midwife?" Mary asked. "Tell me about her."
"She is very good, and she already loves you," Shapphat said with a smile.
Shayah pointed at his mother. "It's her!" he announced, tilting his head to the side. "She's the best there is."
Mary turned again to Naomi, whose eyes were fixed upon Mary with a look of kindness. "You and your baby," she said, "will be fine."
Joseph's feelings were obvious from his humble words of thanks. Mary's feelings were obvious from her sudden rush of tears.
By day's end, the old manger was fully renovated, ready for its precious new occupant. It would not hold food for animals, but the Bread of Life to every human soul, here in Bethlehem, "the house of bread."
The lowering sun left the pastures east of the bluff in dusky shade. Young Shayah had taken up residence at the outer chamber. Mary was trying not to seem uncomfortable. But Joseph knew, from her constant changing of postures, that she was on a futile search for some restful position."It's no fun being a fortress, is it?" he asked.
"You are protecting Him," Joseph explained. "He isn't prepared to face the cold and heat just yet. Even he — his body at any rate — is not quite ready to walk through the bumps and noises of this world. So you are the world he lives in until the time is right."
"Yes," Mary agreed. "I must wait for him." Then with seriousness in her eyes, she added, "I will try to wait patiently."
Joseph held up a finger to suggest that there was even more. "And when he leaves the fortress, he will still need protection."
"Yes," she agreed, "all the more."
After a long silence, and after sitting up and laying back down again, Mary smiled. "The fortress, you know, can start feeling like a prison."
Joseph gave her a quizzical look.
"I mean, when he is ready to leave this fortress..."
"He will want to be liberated, right?"
"Yes," she said, "and I will too. We'll both want to be delivered. He from the fortress when it starts to feel like a prison. And me from feeling like I am a prison — a very big prison, by the way."
It was Monday, not many hours before the birth. Late in the afternoon, in another fortress, one located in Jerusalem, Herod the Great was stabbing a fig.
He did not appear to be a shepherd to mankind, such as he who would be born in Mary's line, nor a king to mankind, such as he who would inherit the rights of Joseph's line. And by no stretch could Herod be imagined to be both of these in one. Herod did seem well-suited, however, for stabbing figs.
And he was useful as a signal — a sign of the times. The reign of a non-Jewish king in Israel meant that the time had come for the real Shepherd and King to take up his throne.
"So," Herod grunted, "tell me of this Zacharias."
Crudus stood up from his chair next to the little stone desk he had been using for nearly 40 years now. Crudus had never been light on his feet. But now he was bent and very round, something like a summer squash. "Oh, the man makes claims, your Excellency," he answered. "He isn't loud about it. Quite self-assured and calm, really."
Herod set aside his fig and his small dagger for the moment. "Claims?" he said. "What claims?" "Oh, about a few things. But those few things in turn mean other things..."
"Yes, yes," the king rattled impatiently. "But what do you mean? What things?"
"Oh, ancestors, for example. Ancestors that give him authority over the priesthood, which in turn means authority over the temple, which in turn means authority over everything in the religious life of this nation. So you see how it grows bigger and bigger."
Herod was quiet a moment, his eyes motionless in concentration, his great afflicted body very still, as if conserving energy, except for the labored breathing. "Anything else?"
"To his claims? Yes..."
"What?" the king snapped.
body did move this time. Here was a reference to the future, or perhaps even the present, not merely the past. "What son? His own?"
"Yes, his own son, supposedly to become another presiding man in the priesthood," Crudus explained. He hesitated to add more.
"And another son — someone else's son — an even more important one, to whom this son of Zacharias will be a forerunner."
The king was puzzled by this, and waited for more explanation.
"Like the news bearers who run ahead of your entourage, letting people know you are coming..."
Herod focused. He appeared almost as a hungry animal, sensing in the air the scent of its prey. "And this other son, this greater one ... is who, is what?"
Crudus hated to say it. "A king of some kind, I gather. ... The one these Jews are forever waiting for..."
Herod might possibly explode any moment. At times like this, one never knew. But for the moment he was still again, absorbing, stewing, his breathing growing yet more labored, his eyes narrowed and shifting from side to side. So, Crudus went on, "So these little claims add up to something very big, your highness — that our history is about to change, that the age of a new kingdom is soon to dawn, and that already
the sons are being born to usher in that age."
There. Crudus had said it. He eased back onto his chair and leaned against the surface of his desk, the comforting, cool surface that had grown so smooth with the action of his elbows day after day over the decades.
Whatever might happen or might be said now, was not his concern. He had told the raw truth. He even wondered if there was more raw truth to his words that he himself could fathom.
Herod now took up the fig and held it before him. He seemed to be studying it carefully while he asked,
"Now, Crudus, tell me, what say you of this Zacharias and his claim of a new kingdom?"
Crudus knew this was no time for an adviser to be neutral or doubtful. So he called up all of his hatreds and channeled them to the purpose. "I think it is nonsense," he said in a hoarse and whispered growl, "evil and dangerous nonsense."
Herod still studied his fig. "Well," he said, "let us then watch this quiet priest of yours. Keep me informed."
The king's smile had disappeared now. He reached for his knife. "I would like to be involved at some point," he added as he slowly drove the knife through the soft and defenseless fruit.
Then he said more, in the eloquent, captivating way he had, the command of things that had made him renowned, not simply as King Herod, but as King Herod the Great. "What is it with these Jews? They don't seem to understand."
Crudus was careful to note the logic of this master of logic who sat up on the grand throne before him."You see, Crudus," said the king, in a mood for sharing his wisdom, "ancestors are dead people. Right? And the unborn," he laughed, "are just that — UNBORN PEOPLE! Right? And when they are born, you know what they are then..." Herod withdrew the little dagger and drove it into the fig from another angle. "The recently born are nothing but soft little squawking babies."
"Their claims! They mean nothing!" Herod declared. He proclaimed it to the air around him, the walls and
floor, and the personal assistant who sat slumped at the little desk, hearkening to every word. And no voice in that little world objected.
"The fools out there," he continued, "trust their musty old writings, their confusing prophecies, their chosen families. But I trust in the name of Caesar and the power of Rome. I have my wealth and the swords and staves of my soldiers. Ha!" he shouted, "let the whole world watch and see which who outlasts who!"And that was the very question that made old Crudus more nervous as he got older. Other kings would come, that was clear. Perhaps even the very king expected by the Jews. Who knew? Perhaps one will come along someday who will make our Herod the Great into old dust that can be blown from the pages of history with a puff, a layer covered by other layers in the rubble of history. It was a possibility, anyway, one that Crudus would not have considered possible in his younger years. Maybe it was an important possibility,
maybe not. Who could say for sure?
It was well after midnight when young Shayah came to the home of his parents, called out to his mother and said, "The girl in the cave needs you right away!"
Naomi had not slept, nor had Shapphat. Just before bedtime, they had finally gotten to the letter from old Shayah and Tova. Its contents had led them to study and pray and converse well into the night. In their hearts were new stirrings — challenging and frightening at first, then thrilling and comforting.
Young Shayah had seen his mother leave her home, day or night, to attend many births. Some of these were simple and easy. Others, complex and dangerous. Some, fatal and mournful. But he had never seen the
determination and demand for help that his mother showed as she prepared to leave the home this night. Her simple supplies and instruments were in baskets, but in double portions. And for this one, she wanted her husband and son not only to escort her there, but to remain outside in case more help was need. And she asked that they pray frequently while she worked.
Joseph stayed and waited and prayed in the middle chamber of the grotto. Shapphat and young Shayah built a little fire, to warm the air and provide some light, in the outer chamber, while they too waited and
Inside, Mary prayed in her heart and followed Naomi's suggestions. Naomi prayed in her heart and attended the birth with solemn alertness.
And while Naomi worked, she also spoke, loud enough for Joseph to hear. "You know, my young friends, for every problem the world has, God does something we would not have thought of.
We would send money or food or soldiers or even revelations. You know what he sends?"
Joseph heard this question, but did not attempt to speak an answer. And besides, he was not sure of the answer. As for Mary, she did not feel too much like answering questions of any kind during her nausea and waves of pain. But it was between those surges that Naomi had asked. And somehow Mary had an answer."I know what he does," Mary said in a weak voice. "He sends a baby."
"Yes, you sweet, wonderful girl!" Naomi exclaimed. "What a precious thing you are. Yes! A baby, that's what he sends."
Another wave of tightness and pains came. And though it seemed to Mary that it would never ease, it gradually did.
Then Naomi said, "God has to plan these things way ahead of time, doesn't he?"
Joseph heard that, and could see the point of it.
"He must send the baby ahead of time," Naomi said as another wave began, "so that when the problem arises, the right person is there to face it and help people to solve it. God must be very wise and powerful ... and very kind, to do such things."
As the contraction grew stronger for Mary, and Joseph could hear her muted whimper from the inner chamber, Naomi said even louder. "Mothers are the doorways, the veils. They bring these people from heaven into this world. They invite them here, and then, at the last, they must push them into our presence. Oh,
blessed mothers," Naomi called out, as if she were speaking to every woman who ever offered her all in childbirth. "You enter the deep valley and bring the helpers to us. Mothers must push them here, for the helpers cannot come on their own."
Another wave began. It was an intense one. Mary's whole soul was marshaled to it. That is when Naomi ever so calmly whispered: "Mary, the time of your great effort has come. Push, my precious one. Push! The time has come to bring him here, you darling little thing."
Naomi was wiping tears from her eyes, for she was now more filled with the testimony written by Shayah
and Tova than she had been when she and Shapphat had read it a few hours before.
"That is right, dear Mary. Good. Now, here we go again. ... This will be it. ... Push, yes. This time, he will come. Push! Ahh. Yes you priceless, courageous little mother! You have done it. Glory be to God. His Son is here! Welcome to the King!"
The ancient promise was kept, the gift had come.
The birth was the second greatest miracle of all time, second only to the miracle it would make possible, the miracle that would come to pass 33 years hence.
By the miracle of any mortal birth, a timeless being leaves one world and begins mortal life in this very distant and different world. But by the miracle of this Birth, an infinite Being brings with him his infinite life. And because of that, he who is a God, a King and a Shepherd comes into the mortal world able to save everyone in it, able to carry us all — in his arms, as it were — back Home.His arrival was the beginning long awaited — the beginning of the greatest life, the greatest story, the greatest mission — the beginning that makes all other lives and missions and stories possible.
And for those who were there, it was the receiving — the official, worshipful, reverent reception we all wish we could have given him.
Amid that receiving, Joseph brought to Mary a pouch containing two receiving blankets they had brought along. In these unusual blankets she would swaddle the new Son.
From the little pouch she first drew out the silky head cover she had made for Joseph. On it was embroidered the names in the royal line. Last in this genealogy, after the names of Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob and Joseph, she had added the name the angel specified: Jesus. That name signified that God is our help. And now God could be just that, as all the prophets have said.
She wrapped her little one in the head cover, with the last generations of that genealogy showing across his chest.
And then, she gently took from the pouch another cloth. Joseph helped her unwrapped it, which exposed yet another piece of fabric — a remnant only, ancient, worn, fragile, disintegrating in places, a cloth so
faded that its once brilliant stripes of color were almost indiscernible. More discernible were the spots of brown, stains from some ancient animal's blood, sprinkled there centuries ago so that the father of ancient Joseph could be convinced that his son, who still lived, was dead.
And whereas the many colors meant that the wearer would preside over many peoples — whereas the original wearer was only a figure, only a placeholder for the real king — now this token of presidency was upon him whose right it is to reign.
And for Joseph — heaven's sentry on earth, as it were — his watch, his vigil, was under way. The guardianship would go on for years, shielding and supporting the most important person in history during the crucial years of his growth and preparing. It would be a guardianship both spiritual and physical, watching out against more than one kind of enemy, supporting more than one kind of learning, fostering more than one kind of strength.
After the birth, while dawn was still two hours away, a group of shepherds sat together on a rise in the pastureland east of Bethlehem. Some slept and others kept themselves awake in conversation. The clouds of day had been swept aside, leaving the expanse above earth all alight with shimmering moon and glittering stars. One star in particular burned and danced over the east. A silvery sheen upon the fields made the scene
almost too beautiful to be real. However, because there were no clouds to hold the heat to the earth, the beauty was attended by a very real chill that penetrated deeper as night wore on.
It had been a busy night for several ewes who were with young. Four litters had already been born. In three of these, there had been at least one male. So a record was made and the red ribbons affixed to the firstborn male — the one "born to die."
The shepherds had just reconvened after making their rounds to the new litters and checking on the other
animals whose time was close.
They sat as near as they could to the fire, wrapped in their layers of clothing, head covers shrouding everything but their eyes.
There were about a dozen of these men. Some were the visitors from Samaria — Jewish converts — including Amos the small and crippled one, and little Nahbi who was invited by the boy Samuel to join in the all-night vigil. Setti, the son of Muset and Giddai, who was not a shepherd but only a friend, was also there.
Sometimes, as the heat in a fire reaches a pocket of air or a vein of resin in the wood, the flame will
suddenly flare upward. There will be a sharp crackling sound, and a flash of intense light, followed by a spray of embers in the air. So it was, or so it seemed at first, to these men during a lull in their conversation. However, there was no sound, and no spray of embers. And the light was not momentary. Rather, it stayed bright, and grew steadily brighter until it outshone any fire they had ever seen.
Setti's first thought was that another shepherd had somehow joined them without warning, and managed to stand above the ground in an unoccupied spot of their circle. He soon realized that the light was not shining upon the visitor, but from him, with a particular radiance in the man's face. This produced in Setti a sudden sense of the unearthly, an alarming awareness that he was in the presence of someone or something unknown
The others in the circle were having this same experience, of course. Their fears were removed as quickly as they had risen when the visitor said, "Fear not."
"I bring you good tidings of great joy," he said. Then came a most remarkable prediction: these tidings would eventually be declared to "all people."
All? Setti wondered. He could not doubt it, for the angel who uttered this prophecy was sent by God to say this very thing. But it was, nevertheless, unfathomable: What they were about to hear would eventually spread to every human being.
And evidently, the tidings would start with them — these common, lowly, sleep-deprived, bundled-up Jews on a chilly hillside.
Joseph and Mary, with the baby, were in the innermost chamber of the grotto. Mary was humming hymns to Jesus, who seemed to thrive on them. Joseph would have thrived on them if only he were awake. He had asked Shapphat and Naomi, with their son Shayah, to watch the front entrance for him a while, since they had insisted on staying nearby anyway.
It was less than an hour before sunrise when Mary's music was interrupted by Naomi. "Pardon me, Mary, I don't know if you wish to have visitors..."
Hearing this, Mary reached over and gently tousled Joseph's hair to awaken him.
Seeing this, Naomi smiled and started again, "You have some visitors — shepherd men. One of them is named Setti..."
"Setti," Joseph and Mary both said at the same time.
"And there is another, a very short and frail man..."
"Yes, Amos. Do you want them to visit?"
Joseph looked to Mary for her reaction. They whispered a moment and made a decision.
"Yes," Joseph announced, "by all means. But have them wait in the outer chamber, and we will join them shortly."
After a few minutes, the shepherds and Shapphat's family heard someone struggling along in the passageway, and immediately after this there came into view a man of above average height, carrying what appeared to be a slab of stone. Even the largest of the shepherds, a strapping fellow named Dan, was astonished that this man was handling something so heavy. Dan rushed forward and helped Joseph position this thing in the center of the chamber. It was a manger, and though it was centuries old, it appeared to be new.
Joseph excused himself a moment, and returned with a young woman, who carried a baby. Joseph placed a generous cushion of hay in the trough of the manger, and the little mother then placed her child there. It seemed that the manger was tailored just for this child.
"I am Joseph," said the child's guardian. "This is Mary. And here we have a little son named Jesus."
Setti came forward to greet Joseph. The two embraced. But Setti hardly looked at his friend Joseph, nor even at Mary. He could not take his eyes off that child. And so it was with the others in that chamber.
Of course, many of us are fascinated by the innocence and beauty of a little child. But there was more to this fascination, this singleness of their focus, than the usual sweetness of a baby. It was what they knew. They knew who this was.
Setti introduced his shepherd friends to the families of Joseph and Shapphat. Then, in their behalf, he reported their experience that night with the angel and with the glorious hymns sung by heavenly hosts.
"We would not think of intruding at this hour," Setti explained, "but the angel told us, 'ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.' It seemed to us a commandment, and so we hastened to obey."
"We are witnesses, you know," said the tall one named Dan. "It is our job to see the first born and testify of him."
And with this reminder, the shepherds pressed forward, not only to clearly see the child, but to get a close look at the swaddling clothes. Sure enough, they were not just any blankets, but fabrics that represented the royal and sacred place of this child in history.
Mary made sure they could see the embroidery on the new head cover, and the remnant of the old coat. The men were all subdued by these things, each one nodding his thanks to the mother for helping them with their little mission.
Amos was second to the last to stand by the manger, leaning upon his crutch. Mary wept to see this small man — who seemed to symbolize all mortals, with their great variety of frailties and heartaches — standing before the one who would someday wipe away all his tears.
While Amos remained there, looking into the eyes of his new friend and Savior, Dan came near. He towered above the manger, looking down with admiration. Then he knelt, and was now only slightly taller than Amos. "We have finally found someone greater than both of us put together, haven't we, Amos?" Dan looked up at Joseph and Mary, and said with stunning simplicity, "I have found Adonai. He is my Lord. I love him."
Setti also told of their search. "As we came from the fields, we saw the little fire you have here, and wondered if this old storage cavern might be the place. But first we came into the town. We went to the inns. All this time, even when we made inquiries, we did not — actually, we could not — speak much among ourselves.
"Looking back on the last couple of hours, there were many things we could have said to each other. But the wonder and urgency forbade us to speak. And the silence. We hardly dared break the silence."
Setti now spoke more softly, "It was everywhere, this silence." The men all nodded in agreement. "Many of the travelers are awake at night," Setti continued, "and, well, not every one remains sober at night during these high seasons." Again more nodding.
"But neither this town, nor any other we have ever known, has ever been this still.""No dogs barking," said Dan, "no children crying in the night, no men talking or laughing.""It was holy, a holy silence," said one of the others.
"And bright," said another."Oh? It was bright?" inquired Mary. "What do you mean?""The star," several whispered at once.
"Yes," Shapphat said, "we have been watching it too."Joseph looked at Mary and said, "Shall we?"She nodded and picked up the child, and they stepped to the entrance, studying the star, showing it to the Son, hoping to remember the sight."The Great Father rejoices," Mary said. "He bedecks the heavens with his signal, for all the world."The couple returned to their post in that chamber.
"My friends, " Mary said, "I know, with a perfect knowledge, that this child is not of this earth." She looked down upon the one in the manger and said: "He seems weak and tiny now. But I know what kind of a being he was in heaven. He will be like that again — huge in love and knowledge and power." Then Naomi unrolled a small scroll and announced, "I should read to you some of the words of Shayah and Tova, of Bethlehem. They wrote this:
"We testify that Mary's child is the one for whom all the faithful have waited these four thousand years. Our people have watched for him during more than a hundred generations. He is the one our Father testified of, he is the one our Father chose.
"That child you shall see in the care of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth is the one we all once testified of, the one we all once chose.
"And now it is our privilege to do these two things again. He was presented to us in heaven, and now he is presented to us on earth. It is for us to testify of him again, and in every way to choose him above all others."
Then spoke Shapphat, "The long wait is over. And now begins another wait — not such a long one this time. Some years hence, he will minister to our people."
"I would like to repeat certain words of the angel," Setti said. "Unto you is born this day ... a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."Joseph's mind seized upon those words as his eyes once again rested upon the little Son. "It is true," he said. "This one before us is just what the angel said. He is Savior. He is Messiah. And ... the Lord himself."Amos cleared his voice. "May I add a testimony?"
Several nodded. Mary gave him a radiant smile. "Please," Joseph said.
"The true lamb has come. The meaning of a million lambs. All those births, through all generations, were pointing to this one birth, this moment."Amos was silent for a moment and then added, "We have more reason to rejoice than we do to live and breathe. I shall live and breathe for him."
In the preface to this story we viewed a familiar scene. Through the next 53 chapters, we have hoped to get some better grasp of what came before that scene and what it meant. We now return to where we began:
On the east side of Bethlehem is a rocky slope descending to a small valley. Through the centuries, local people have chiseled caverns into this hillside, where their harvests could be kept dry and safe, or where fresh-born animals and their mothers might be sheltered.
In one of these grottoes, on a chilly night long ago, there huddled certain honest folk — all quiet and full of wonder. Their attention was fixed upon a long awaited little Son. He cooed up at them from a feed-box hewn of stone.
O that we had been there! We would have seen the keeping of an ancient promise. But all mankind could not fit in that little cave. Those witnesses were gathered before his manger in our behalf.
For long minutes, there was no sound but their breathing, an occasional sigh of wonder, and the soft little noises of a newborn. The smell of clean straw mingled with the sweet scent of olive oil burning in the lamps. Time stood still. The scene etched itself on the minds of its witnesses.
At last, there was a rustle of cloth as the mother took up the little one from his coarse bed. He nestled in her arms. The blush of dawn began to glow through the entrance behind the little group. Time started up again. Stunning news would soon work its way outward from the stony cave in that hillside. In time, the story would be told in every nation. It is destined to burn in every heart.
In that stony recess, a new era was under way. The greatest miracle thus far granted in earth history — the Messiah's birth — had come to pass. Because of this, a miracle even greater — the Messiah's victory — could soon take place. A long, long wait was over.
Notes for Chapter 53 ** Two thousand years after his manger — indeed, it shall be so forever after his manger — people everywhere still honor him and his light. All of us do, though generally we hardly realize it.** The land of Israel, or Palestine as it is sometimes called, is supremely important if any place ever was. Everything about the land of Israel that is not related to Him is not, in the end, terribly important. What is important is so because it pointed to Him, or prepared the way for His arrival, or serves as a means of carrying the blessings of his atonement to mankind.
The magic stroke in the history of that land — the season of its "arrival" — was the arrival of the King and Shepherd. Of his arrival, he himself had said, "I will come and seek out my sheep" (see Ezekiel 33).
** See Luke 2 for the account of his birth and the testimony born to the shepherds, and their faithful effort to go abroad and testify of what they knew.** Actually, we have no record of a single word spoken by Joseph. Surely he spoke when needed, but we are left with the impression that he was a man of action, of quiet doing.** Regarding the chronology of prenativity events — the time markers in this story arise from a few things we know and others that seem reasonable. For example:
>The sign of his death was given to the Nephites exactly 33 years after His birth. We know from the New Testament that he died at Passover. We conclude that he was born in the spring, at Passover time. This accords with the assumption some have made from D&C 20:1, that he was born in April, perhaps even on what we would call April 6.We assume that Jesus had a normal, nine-month gestation. If this is true, that gestation would have been from the first part of July to the first part of April. The marriage of Joseph and Mary was some three and a half months after gestation began. The marriage would likely have been in mid-October, around Yom Kippur. The betrothal period, having been cut short, may have begun in the previous winter or spring.We know that John was born six months before Jesus. We conclude that John was born around Yom Kippur time, in the fall. John's gestation would thus have been from the first part of January to the first part of October.
** In Luke 2:6 we read that "the days" of Mary's pregnancy were "accomplished" or completed in Bethlehem. She may not have been there long before the baby came, but on the other hand this way of describing things invites the impression that the pregnancy was not entirely full term when she arrived. She must have been there at least a day or two, and perhaps longer, in order for "the days" to be accomplished in Bethlehem.
>** From the life of Lorenzo Snow, regarding the birthplace of Jesus:"The main object of interest was the Church of the Nativity. ... As ... with many of the historic places in Jerusalem, Lorenzo was dubious. ... Despite his skepticism, there were aroused in Elder Snow 'impressions never to be forgotten' when he saw in the grotto of the Nativity the inscription, 'Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus Natus est.' Although he was a special witness of the Savior's reality and divinity, and had often felt his presence or influence, when Lorenzo visited this place and read the simple inscription, he was filled with a combined sense of awe and commitment that was never to abate during the remainder of his apostolic ministry" (Francis Gibbons, "Lorenzo Snow: Prophet of God,"
** From Harold B. Lee, regarding the birthplace of Jesus:"Presently, we were as it seemed with the shepherds at the mouth of the cave hewn out of the rock now to be found in the basement of the Church of the Nativity. There seemed to be in this place a kind of spiritual assurance that this was indeed a hallowed spot although marred by centuries of, shall I say, unhallowed embellishment. Down in the basement in the cave hewn out of the rock that seemed to us to mark a sacred place" (L. Brent Goates, "Harold B. Lee: Prophet and Seer," 271).
** The Joseph Smith translation informs us that there was no room in the "inns" (plural), rather than the "inn" (singular) — JST Luke 2:7.** Regarding ancient Jewish anticipation of the Messiah:"Above all, the Jews awaited a Messiah. The Messiah was a sweet national obsession. It was ecstasy beyond happiness, joy beyond comprehension; it was balm to a weary farmer's bones as he lay with his family waiting for sleep; it was the single last hope of the aged, the thing a child looked to a mountain of snowy clouds to see; it was the hope of Judea in chains; the Messiah was always the promise of tomorrow morning. This ... was the core of Judea at the time of Jesus. ... Every Jew understood that two great events were to precede his resurrection from the grave: the first was the coming of the Messiah; the second was the end of the world. ... These events were discussed by sages endlessly, who quoted from the words of the prophets and from the books of their people. They discussed them carefully and with unconcealed joy, and no one ever tired of hearing of them" (Jim Bishop, "The Day Christ Died," 72-73).
"If there was a weakness in the whole rich promise of a Messiah, it was the question of how to recognize him when he came. The clues were few and thin: he would be of the house of David; his birth would be unknown to his contemporaries; Israel would be assailed from outside. The house of David was now numbered in many thousands; babies were being born to the Davidites regularly. ... The pious were perplexed. ... To confound matters, false Messiahs entered Jerusalem now and then. ... The priests of the temple hooted at the false Messiah and the Pharisees baited him with questions designed to trap him, and the people demanded miracles as proof of divinity. In almost all cases the man would soon be exposed, and then Jerusalem would go back to its normal life, determined not to be seduced spiritually again. ... As the interpreter of the law, Caiaphas had the right to insist that anyone who claimed to be the Messiah be sent to him for examination. ... The Levites, priests and the Pharisees ... uniformly ... strove to prove that there was no Messiah" (Jim Bishop, "The Day Christ Died," 77).
"The Messiah will come down to earth in order to restore the State of Israel, gather in all the Exiles, rebuild the Temple; after that will come the Resurrection, then the Judgment. Now, since the Nazarene did not restore the State of Israel nor gather in the Exiles nor rebuild the Temple, the contemporary rabbis of Palestine could not think him their Messiah" (Maimonides, as summarized by Leo Rosten, "The Joys of Yinglish," 6-7).THE END