Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bethlehem Minus Six, and Counting ...

For reasons of time and family I’ve missed a couple of beats on this countdown. But does it really matter? My personal countdown to Christmas seems to be out of synch with most others anyway, the most authoritative being the Christmas tree stand in Bridgehampton whose sign today announced that there were seven days to Christmas. I suppose that in most ways they are correct. My stubborn calculations are founded on the Judaeo- Christian tradition that believes that a feast begins at sundown the evening before the actual date. But who am I to prevaricate?

I suppose that I am also guilty of supporting the belief that Jesus was born at night – the night of the Holy Family’s arrival at the City of David. The Gospel of Luke is unspecific, except to assert that they (Joseph and Mary) had been in Bethlehem for a while, maybe a week or two.

This idea of a late night arrival has created an entire culture in itself. Art , drama and music has echoes the romance of this scene down the ages. But our common and cultural enjoyment is not based on the scriptures but on a second century spiritual novel that goes by the name of the Gospel of James. It is there, and only there, that we read of Mary giving birth at night.

So the date of the actual birth celebration is moveable – especially if you are a Christian of the Orthodox spirituality. This column would therefore be entitled: Bethlehem Minus Nineteen.

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