Mary bears a son
According to Matthew, it was Joseph who chose the name of the child. Names were much more important in that culture than in ours. They were meant to point to the actual character and destiny of the child, and so a great deal of thought went into selecting the right name.
‘Jesus’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua, ‘the Lord saves’. Joshua was the heroic warrior who led the Hebrews into the Promised Land after Moses died. To the first Christians, Jesus was the prophet who would save them and lead them into a different, heavenly Promised Land.
Naming a child had an another function: it was a way of claiming a child as your own. When Joseph named Jesus, he was establishing Jesus’ Davidic lineage through his own ancestry – which makes Joseph very significant in the story of Jesus.
Mary would not have been alone when she gave birth to Jesus, as pious legend likes to picture her. Even if she was travelling and not at home, she would have been helped by a number of women, some from her own family. It was rare for a husband and wife to travel alone together, without any family members around them, and it seems most unlikely in the case of a heavily pregnant woman like Mary.
Luke’s gospel makes a point of saying that ‘there was no room for them at the inn’, so the birth probably happened in one of the storage caves hollowed out of the rock near each house. Imagine an over-crowded Palestinian peasant house: a single-roomed home with an animal stall under the same roof. Jesus was placed in one of the animals’ feeding troughs.
A question sometimes asked is: what happened to the placenta? In modern Jewish tradition, the placenta is buried as soon as possible after the birth of the child. Since the Jewish purity laws and rituals today are much the same as they were then, it is safe to assume that something similar happened at the birth of Jesus. The midwives would have taken the placenta, dug a hole outside the boundary of the village, and buried it.
No-one really knows the date that Jesus was born. The early Christian church named the shortest day of the year as his birthday: after that, each succeeding day becomes lighter and longer. The implication was that the birth of Christ brought light and life into the world.
Read the red text at end of page