My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

We all remember the Nativity story by heart. Joseph and Mary travel by donkey to Bethlehem to be counted in the census that the Emperor commanded in order to lay out the tax burden for the coming years. But why Bethlehem? Again the narrative puts a simple case, that it was the hometown of Joseph’s family. Joseph came from the “house and lineage of David” the beloved ancient king of the Jews, and Bethlehem was the family’s village.

This, of course, fulfills the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures regarding the Jewish Messiah, that he was to be a descendant of David and that he was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea. So far so good. Indeed, it gets better because the name Bethlehem is an amalgam of two Hebrew words – Beth which means “house” and lehem which can be translated two ways: “bread” and “battle”, however the sense of “battle” which is used here in the Hebrew is not the usual warfare of humans but of a spiritual war, God’s war, if you will.

So Jesus who is the Bread of Life and has come to slay our sins and do battle with the Evil One was born at a place whose name reflects these vital characteristics. While we may be unaware of such underlying meanings, they would not have been lost upon His earliest Jewish followers. And knowing them deepens our appreciation of the Gospels as well. The deeper we dive into the Scriptures the more we are rewarded with new insights.

Our popular narrative runs into trouble, however, when we continue to peel away the meaning of the original text and understand it in terms of ancient Jewish society. Again, the story as recounted in some translations and regaled in countless Christmas carols is that Jesus was born in a stable as Mary and Joseph were turned away from the inn. But think about it. Joseph went to Bethlehem precisely because it was his family’s village. While we know little of Joseph’s personal story prior to becoming betrothed to Mary (and even after that), we can put a worst case scenario that he was from a distant part of the clan and didn’t personally know his Bethlehem-based relatives. Even in that case, and there is no reason to state that to be the case, he was still kin. Being kin was a very, very big deal. He would not have gone to some inn like a modern Motel 6 and looked for a room. He would have gone and sought out the homes of his relatives, regardless how distant they might be. The innkeeper was not some callous businessperson like the character in Les Miserables but would have been a relative, and relatives do not turn away kin.

So how could it be that Jesus was born in a stable if there was family and the Israelite culture dictated that family was to be cared for? Again, let’s go back to the text. The Greek word in the text is kataluma, which was translated, incorrectly as “inn”. Why? Because kataluma means “private upper room”. The same word is used to denote the room of the Last Supper in another Gospel. It would be the upper room in a family house used for guests and distant members of the family to use whereas if it was an inn used by passing strangers the word would be pandocheion. How can we say that the translation of “inn” is not correct? In cases such as this it is important to put the text in the proper cultural context in order to make some sense. The key fact is that Joseph was family and family sought out family wherever possible. The “innkeeper” was most likely family who may not have been able to offer accommodations with the family of the house because of crowding, but offered the upper room in his house where other relatives and guests would stay.

But what the narrative’s and the text’s noting about the animals all around? The manger? Are they not true? They are, but not as commonly thought. The custom was to put the animals, which were very valuable commodities, on the roof of the building. There they would be protected from thieves and would be warmed as heat from the house would rise to the roof. Childbirth as any mother, midwife or obstetrician can attest is a very messy business and Mary would have been brought to the straw when her time came so as to make her comfortable and to keep the messiness of childbirth out of the house. There she would, as the other women of the family when their time would come, give birth and would also use the straw as a soft place to lay her newborn down. Thus it wasn’t in a cave or a stable that was distant from human civilization but actually on top of that family house where the King of Kings was born and spent his first days.

Thus by careful analysis of the text we get a better, more complete, understanding of what was going on. Jesus was not abandoned but rather his family and the creatures of the Earth surrounded him as he came into the world. This may overturn some of the mythologies around our conceptions of Christmas, for example the chance that there was snow is rather remote. (I checked Accuweather and the lowest winter temperatures range from 45 to 75 degrees-there are rare dustings of snow but even they are mostly in the outlying hillside. Sorry Christmas card artists and carol composers.) Nevertheless, it places both the incarnate Jesus and the Christ of Glory in a proper context for us.

I wish you the happiest of Christmas wishes. Christ is born! Glorify him!



Under the Mercy,

Father James +

 

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Service Times

Sundays

7:30 a.m. Morning Prayer
8:00 a.m. Low Mass
9:00 a.m. Adult Christian Education*
10:00 a.m. Solemn Mass
11:30 a.m. Coffee Hour

* during the academic year

Weekdays

Low Mass
Wednesday 10 a.m. *
Friday 7 a.m.
Saturday 9 a.m.

* followed by coffee hour

 

Location and Parking

209 Ashmont Street
Dorchester MA 02124
(617) 436-6370

Map

All Saints is located in the south Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, just off Peabody Square, at 209 Ashmont St. and is a very short walk from the Ashmont T station on the Red Line. (Click icon for map.)

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The five principal levels of our buildings are handicap accessible, served by a five-stop elevator. Handicap access into both buildings is by a walkway and ADA-compliant ramp from the parking lot to the Ashmont Street door of the church.  There are handicap accessible bathrooms on four levels of the church and parish house.

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There is a private parking lot for 47 cars and on-street parking on both Ashmont Street and on the other streets surrounding the church.

Four of these spaces are reserved for Zipcars.

Parish of All Saints, Ashmont

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Our emphasis at the Parish of All Saints is on sacramental worship (the Mass or Holy Eucharist) celebrated in a traditional Anglo-Catholic style, with strong orthodox teaching and preaching, supportive pastoral care, a caring parish family, and responsibility to our community and the greater world.

 
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