So many of our Christmas traditions are based on the barest threads of details. For example, in the gospel of Luke, although we are given very complete information about the announcement of the birth of first John and then Jesus, and the details of their parents and travels, when it actually comes to the moment of the birth of Jesus, Luke covers the event in just two lines. Because of our developing fascination with the birth of Jesus, those two lines have been parsed and prodded in order to provide material for artwork, plays, sculptures, carols, movies and homilies. For example, the only thing that suggests that Mary gave birth in anything other than a normal house is the fact that she places the child Jesus in a manger / feeding trough, because there is no room in the ‘inn’ (katalumati in Greek). And although ‘inn’ is a valid way of translating this word, it is certainly not the only way, nor perhaps the best way. For example, when describing the upper room where the disciples gather for the last supper, in Luke 22:11, it is the same word that is used. Yet centuries of tradition have now placed their heavy burden upon this interpretation, even though the word could simply be translated as ‘house’. I like this simpler translation, because it still speaks of the rough and impoverished conditions of the birth of Jesus, without completely separating it from Matthew’s account (which has the parents of Jesus living in a house at the time of his birth). But it also speaks of the normalcy of the relationship that Jesus has come to have with us – a relationship of friendship and joy, grace and wonder.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8pm Vigil (8 mins)
Christmas, Mass during the night. Luke 2:1-20