Joseph knew he at least didn’t have to worry about a place to stay. Or he didn’t think he would. He knew of a close relative who still lived in Bethlehem and would be more than willing to allow them to stay there. After all, this was the custom of the day. But Joseph was shocked when he arrived in this usually small, quaint, and slow-moving town just outside Jerusalem. It had never been more crowded and was literally bursting at it seams. He wondered if he would have trouble getting a welcome after all.
He found his relative’s house and knocked. Joseph was now filled with apprehension. His cousin opened the door. He had a haggard look on his face, but it turned into a smile when he saw Joseph. The two of them embraced. Joseph stepped aside to introduce Mary as his wife, but his cousin’s face went from a smile to a frown once he saw the evidence of her pregnancy. His cousin’s wife did the same, but then quickly recovered and invited them in. His cousin’s house was already full of people, yet room was made for Mary to lie down and recover from her long trip. After seeing everyone and talking for a while, his cousin invited Joseph to join him outside. His cousin explained that at any other time, Joseph and Mary would be welcomed in his home, but Mary’s pregnancy complicated things. Joseph nodded because he knew that as well. The guest room was already full of additional relatives (Lk 2:7). There was just no place for Mary to have her baby. Joseph knew it wasn’t only about privacy, which very few people ever had, but Mary would be considered unclean for at least a month after the baby would be born (Lv 12:1-4). Anything and anyone she touched during this time would also be unclean (Lv 15:19-23). This was just an untenable situation in such a crowded house. Joseph assured his cousin he understood and would find other arrangements before the baby would be born. His cousin asked him to hurry because it looked like it would happen any day now.
Looking for a place proved more difficult than Joseph thought. Because all the houses were so crowded, most could not bring their animals into their home at night as normal. Therefore, even the outside areas for animals were full to capacity and some people had to stay all night outside with the animals to prevent robbers from taking them or them wandering off in the middle of the night. Finding a place to have a baby proved extremely difficult. Joseph began looking outside the main town area itself. He found a shelter at Migdal Eder, the watchtower of the flock (Mi 4:8). The fields around Bethlehem was the place were the priest shepherds watched over the temple flock. There were special requirements for sheep being offered as a temple sacrifice and these shepherds took extra diligence to ensure these sheep were without blemish for sacrifice. Midgal Eder was a place where they ensured the lambs born were protected and where they inspected them. They would wrap them in cloths to help calm the animal and place them in a special manger so they could inspect the animal for any blemish. The cloths also protected the animal so it wouldn’t do any damage to itself as the shepherd inspected it.
The time of birthing sheep had recently ended, so there was no competition for using the shelter at Migdal Eder (Mi 4:8). While not ideal by our standards, I’m sure Joseph considered it pretty ideal, and he likely felt fortunate. It was a place still in Bethlehem, so relatives were close by if needed. Likely some of them helped with the baby’s delivery. It was almost abandoned that time of year, although it likely contained supplies for the shepherds and likely a donkey or two for hauling supplies. It may have had other animals for various needs: milk, carrying cargo, and maybe even food. It provided a quiet place for Mary to have her baby and would be a place to stay until her uncleanness was over. Afterward, she could be welcomed back into the crowded house. Then everyone would ooh and aah over the infant.
Once the cramping started, Joseph led Mary out to Midgal Eder on their donkey. Likely a few of the women went with him. It was now June, the time of Shavuot—a Jewish holiday which represented paradigm shifts and the inclusion of non-Israelites: Israel as a nation was born this day (Ex 19), both Rahab and Ruth, both Gentiles, were accepted into Judaism on this day (Js 5-6; Ru 1-4), now Christ, the one born for the salvation of the entire world was being born on this day. In days to come, it would be when the Holy Spirit would be given (Ac 2) and the Church, both Jew and Gentile who put their belief in what Christ did for them on the cross, was established. Yes, this was a date of many paradigm changes.
Joseph thought back on the things that Mary had told him. The angel Gabriel had appeared to her in the sixth month (Lk 1:26), just before Rosh Hashanah which occurred on the first day of the seventh month (Lv 23:23-25). He now understood this was the time of the baby’s conception by the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35). Thanks to the Jewish leaders adding Adar II to their calendar, this Shavuot was now nine months later. The baby was conceived on Rosh Hashanah when all of Israel asked God to remember his covenant with his chosen nation. Now, the baby was being born on Shavuot when God instituted paradigm changes and when Gentiles were accepted. He was now being born at Midgal Eder where the sheep born to be temple sacrifices were born—where they were wrapped in swaddling cloths and placed in the manger for inspection. Joseph looked at this one born on this Jewish holiday. Did he recognize all the symbolism God had bestowed on this special day? Did the shepherds? They were the ones who provided lambs and goats for temple sacrifice. Now, this baby was lying in their special manager wrapped in cloths they used to swaddle newborn lambs so they could inspect them for any blemishes. Did they understand the significance? Do we?
After the baby was born, Joseph wanted to get back to Nazareth, but knew he needed to wait until the baby was older and stronger. His cousin insisted he stay with them a few months until the baby and mother could travel. When the time of purification was over, Joseph took Mary to the temple in Jerusalem to offer her offering of purification (Lk 2:22-24; Lv 12:6-7). This is where they met Simon and Anna who prophesied about Jesus (Lk 2:22-38). They then returned to the house in Bethlehem where they were staying. When Jesus was about six months old, they were visited by the Magi who gave the child gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Mt 2:1-12). These men told Mary and Joseph all they had seen and heard. An angel appeared to Joseph to have him take Mary and Jesus to Egypt (Mt 2:13) so he would not get killed by Herod’s order to kill all infants two years old and younger (Mt 2:16). Once Herod died, Joseph came back to Israel with Mary and Jesus, and took them to Nazareth (Mt 2:19-23).
While this is not the usual Christmas story, it seems to align more closely with scripture and with what the Jewish holidays represented. These Jewish holidays which God instituted with Israel back in Leviticus when he first formed their nation have many purposes. A significant purpose is their prophetic significance. Jesus’ conception and birth are two of them. Isn’t it interesting how God coordinates so much, and we take so much of it for granted? The Bible is full of such wonderment if we only look. May we be more attentive to what God is doing in our lives as we embark on the coming year. Happy New Year!
When did the Magi come?
When was Christ Born?
Christ’s Birth – Alternative View?