Tag Archives: Christmastide

One Clear Night

Edmund Sears wrote It Came Upon a Midnight Clear while a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts. The hymn reflects the Unitarian emphasis on social implications (stanzas 3 and 4) of the gospels in mid-1800s.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heav’n’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heav’nly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hov’ring wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
Oh, hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
Oh, rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hast’ning on,
By prophet seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold
When Christ shall come and all shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And saints shall meet Him in the air,
And with the angels sing.

Were you born in a barn?

When I was a young girl, my cousin reprimanded me for something I did by asking, “were you born in a barn?”  The question was an insult at best. Nonetheless, Jesus was born in a barn.

Most Christians believe that Jesus was born in a stable. At other times, pictures of his birthplace show a cave set apart from the town of Bethlehem. Very likely, these ideas about Jesus’ birth place aren’t completely accurate.

Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered that a census be taken of the entire Roman world. A part of the order required that all adult men go the place they were born. Joseph lived and worked in Nazareth when he married Mary, the mother of Jesus. But, Joseph was from the tribe of Judah; his ancestors from the area of Bethlehem. To fulfill the Emperor’s edict, Joseph had to return to Bethlehem.

  Joseph left Nazareth along with Mary and traveled to Bethlehem. Most art depicting Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem show Mary on the back of a donkey. The Bible identified that Joseph and Mary were very poor (Luke 2:24). Conceivably, Joseph couldn’t afford a donkey for his wife to ride. Mary may have walked from Nazareth, Galilee to Bethlehem, Juda

How far Mary was into her nine-month pregnancy when Joseph and Mary made this trip, isn’t identified in the Bible. Pictures show Mary in about her eighth-month of pregnancy; however, these pictures could be inaccurate. It is unlikely that Joseph would wait that late in his wife’s pregnancy to start a long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Conceivably, Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem in the 5th – 7th month of pregnancy.

 When Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, he would have gone first to his family home to stay with kinfolks. Perhaps, one or both of his parents were still alive. More than likely, one of his brothers lived in Bethlehem. Unfortunately, for Mary and Joseph there was no room for them in any home of Joseph’s kin. Possibly, several families returned to Bethlehem for the census. Relatives living in Bethlehem had no space for another couple. The Bethlehem inns were filled. Joseph and Mary couldn’t rent an inn room or even space on the inn floor.

Joseph and Mary may have stayed in a family member’s barn. In first century Judah, it was common for men to bring valued animals into the bottom floor of their home overnight to keep animals safe. This bottom floor functioned as a barn with family living space on the floor above. To understand this barn and home arrangement, think of the Middle Age crofters in Scotland.

 The bottom level of the home, the part reserved for animals, was rough, likely with a dirt floor. Its door may have been sufficient to keep the animals in the barn, but, did little to protect occupants from wind or rain. Most of these barns wouldn’t have had many, if any, divisions for individual animals such as we think of horse stables having stalls. Mary wrapped Jesus in cloths and placed him in a manger (Luke 2:7). The manger was a better place for a newborn babe than the dirty floor with animal excreta.