Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Thoughts

For Mother/Daughter Book Club last month, we read Hope In Our Hearts by Russell M. Nelson.  One chapter, Christ the Savior Is Born, talked about Christ's birth so many years ago.  I enjoyed Elder Nelson's thoughts on this sacred event, and it brings detail to this familiar story.

Elder Nelson starts the chapter by summarizing the angel's visits to Mary and Joseph, and then says, "Mary and Joseph did not need to be taught the deep significance of the name Jesus.  The Hebrew root from which it was derived, Jehoshua, means 'Jehovah is salvation.'  So the mission of Jehovah, soon to be named Jesus, was salvation, and His supreme destiny to become the Savior of the world" (page 91).

Later, Elder Nelson quotes from Luke 2:7. "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." And then he goes on to say this, "Let's pause to ponder this verse.  We need to be aware of the culture of that time and region, and we need to learn one word from the original Greek text.  In the Greek New Testament, the root from which 'inn' was translated is kataluma.  We don't have an equivalent word in the English language.  The Greek prefix kata (or cata) means 'a bringing down.'  We see it in English words such as catabolism, catastrophe, and cataclysm.  When the prefix kata was joined with suffix luma, it meant literally 'a breaking down of a journey.'  A kataluma was a guest chamber in a lodging place.

"In those days, an inn was not like a Holiday Inn or a 'Bethlehem Marriott.'  A lodging place in that part of Asia had to provide accommodations for traveling caravans, including the people and their animals.  Caravans stayed at what was then know (and is still known) as a carvansary, or a khan.  Each is defined as a rest house in some Asian countries.

"Such a facility is typically rectangular in shape.  It is composed of a central courtyard for the animals, surrounded by walled cubicles where the people rest.  These quarters, with open doorways so that owners could watch over their animals, allowed guests to be elevated slightly above their animals.

"The Joseph Smith Translation of Luke 2:7 indicates that there was no room for them in the 'inns,' suggesting that all of the katalumas, or cubicles of the caravansary, were occupied.  In the Greek New Testament, the word kataluma appears in only two other passages (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11), translated in each instance not as 'inn' but as 'guest chamber, which fits the concept discussed here.

"As a youngster, whenever I heard the words 'no room in the inn,' I assumed that 'no vacancy' signs were posted at local motels or that the innkeepers were inhospitable or even hostile.  Such an assumption is probably way off the mark.  People of that part of the world were no doubt then, as they are now, most hospitable.  Particulary this would have been true at a season where the normal population of Jerusalem and neighboring Bethlehem would be swollen with large numbers of relatives.

"At a caravansary, animals were secured for the night in the center courtyard.  In that courtyard, there would have been donkeys and dogs, sheep, possibly camels and oxen, along with all of the animals' discharges and odors.  Because the guest chambers surrounding the courtyard were filled, Joseph possibly made the decision to care for Mary's delivery in the center courtyard of a carvansary--among the animals.  There, in that lowly circumstance, the Lamb of God was born.

"Why was reference made twice in Luke 2 to His being wrapped in swaddling clothes? (Luke 2:7, 12).  What is the meaning of those five words: 'wrapped him in swaddling clothes'?  I sense a significance beyond the use of an ordinary diaper and receiving blanket.  Instead of those five words in the English text, only one word is needed in the Greek New Testament.  That word is sparganoo, which means to envelop a newborn child with special cloth, strips of which were passed from side to side.  The cloth would probably bear unique family identification.  That procedure was especially applicable to the birth of a firstborn son" (pages 92-94).

As I contemplate the birth of the Savior of the world, I am so grateful that He choose to come to earth and to redeem us from our sins.  I love celebrating Christmas and the reminder it brings to think of Jesus and His mission.

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