“Mary gave birth
To her first-born son.
She wrapped him
Of swaddling cloths.
She laid him
In a manger,
Because there was
In the inn.”
καὶ ἔτεκεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς τὸν πρωτότοκον, καὶ ἐσπαργάνωσεν αὐτὸν καὶ ἀνέκλινεν αὐτὸν ἐν φάτνῃ, διότι οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τόπος ἐν τῷ καταλύματι.
Luke explained in great detail about the birth of Jesus, his clothing, and the manger, that has become the famous Christmas scene that most have come to know and love. Matthew, chapter 2:1, had no details like this in his story about the birth of Jesus, while Mark and John had no infancy narratives at all. In fact, Matthew said that the Magi visited Mary and the child in a house in chapter 2:11, not a manger. Luke reported that Mary gave birth to her first-born son (καὶ ἔτεκεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς τὸν πρωτότοκον). Did that imply that there were other children? Within the Jewish tradition, the first-born male child would be dedicated to God with special legal and family rights, as indicated in Exodus, chapter 13:2, where Yahweh got the first-born of everything, as a consecration to God. In Numbers, chapter 3:12, the Levites take the place of the first born as a dedication to God. In Deuteronomy, chapter 21:17, the first born had all the rights versus the other children. Mary wrapped the baby Jesus with bands of cloth or swaddling clothes (καὶ ἐσπαργάνωσεν αὐτὸν), as it is often called. These tight bands of cloth kept the arms and legs of the newborn from wailing away, while also keeping the child warm. Then Mary laid him in a manger (καὶ ἀνέκλινεν αὐτὸν ἐν φάτνῃ), because there was no place for them in the lodging inn (διότι οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τόπος ἐν τῷ καταλύματι). This manger (ἐν φάτνῃ) was a feeding trough for horses and cattle. Thus, Jesus was born in a place where animals would feed. He then would offer himself as the bread of life. Apparently, they were in a barn because there were no appropriate lodging places for a pregnant expecting woman. There was no indication that Joseph had other relatives in Bethlehem where they might stay. Just by coincidence, I am posting this blog on December 24, 2018, Christmas Eve.
“One seraph called to another.
Is Yahweh of hosts!
The whole earth
Is full of his glory.’
The foundation pivots
On the thresholds
Shook at the voices
Of those who called.
The house was filled
Now the seraphs cried out about the holiness of Yahweh, the Lord. The whole earth is full of his glory. This simple phrase of triple holiness became part of the introduction to the later Christian or Roman Catholic consecration at the Liturgy of the Eucharist with its famous “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.” Emphasizing the holiness of Yahweh was a major theme of the biblical writings. These voices were so strong that they shook the foundation pivots of the threshold to the Temple. On top of that, the whole Temple or house of Yahweh was filled with smoke.
A song of ascents.
“How very good it is!
How pleasant it is!
Kindred brothers live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head.
It runs down upon the beard.
It runs down on the beard of Aaron.
It runs down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon.
It falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there Yahweh has commanded his blessing,
Psalm 133 is another very short psalm in this series of pilgrimage songs on the ascent to Jerusalem. This wisdom song emphasizes the value of brothers living together in unity. This was like the holy oil that one puts on one’s head. As in the ceremony for the consecration of the Levitical priests, it runs down as on the beard of Aaron and over the collar of his robes. This good fraternal life is like the dew from the mountains of Hermon in Syria. Here the dew falls on Mount Zion. From Mount Zion, Yahweh gives his blessings of life forever. Thus this very short psalm concludes with everlasting life.
We are about to celebrate the purification,
We write to you.
Will you therefore please keep the days?
It is God who has saved all his people.
He has returned the inheritance to all,
And the consecration.
He had promised this through the law.
For we have hope in God
That he will soon have mercy on us.
He will gather us from everywhere
Under heaven into his holy place.
He has rescued us from great evils.
He has purified the place.”
Finally, this long letter ends with its purpose, an invitation to the Egyptian Jews at Alexandria to keep the 8 days of worship celebrating the renewal of the Temple in Jerusalem under Judas Maccabeus. God has saved his people. He has returned that inheritance which is kingship, priesthood, and consecration through the law. They hoped that God would have mercy on them, so that they all could gather everyone together in this holy place. God had already rescued them from many great evils and purified this place. The ideal would be to have all Jews returning to Jerusalem.
“Thus you shall do to Aaron and to his sons, just as I have commanded you. Through seven days you shall ordain them. Every day you shall offer a bull as a sin offering for atonement. Also you shall offer a sin offering for the altar, when you make atonement for it. You shall anoint it to consecrate it. Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar, and consecrate it. The altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall become holy.”
Everything takes 7 days, an important number. Every day you take a bull and sacrifice it so that the altar itself can become holy, anointed, and consecrated. Anointing is important in that is what consecrates it. Who or whatever touches the altar shall become holy like the altar.
“Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them, so that they may serve me as priests. Take one young bull and two rams without blemish, and unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers spread with oil. You shall make them of choice wheat flour. You shall put them in one basket and bring them in the basket, and bring the bull and the two rams.”
Before the consecration, you need to take an unblemished bull and two rams. You also need unleavened bread, unleavened cakes, and unleavened wafers of choice wheat flour in one basket. Then you bring in the bread basket, the bull and the two rams.
“Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Consecrate to me all the first-born. Whatever is the first to open the womb among Israelites, of human beings and of animals, is mine.’”
Yahweh gets the first-born of everything, man and beast. This is a consecration to Yahweh.