My family has learned to accept me as a bit off-grain. I love learning, but always take an alternate approach when one is available, and sometimes explore ideas by playing the Devil’s advocate. Christmas is no exception.
In 1988 I discovered an article by a scholar named Kenneth E. Bailey. The article was entitled “The Manger and the Inn- A Middle Eastern view of the birth story of Jesus.” The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Bailey was skilled in Arabic and literature, and spent 40 years teaching in the Middle East- Egypt, Cyprus, Israel, and Palestine, among other countries. He was the founder of the Institute for Middle Eastern New Testament Studies. He contextualized scripture and interpreted it through the lens of the Middle Eastern cultures with which he was familiar. His article enlightened me, and opened my eyes to my own cultural inaccuracies I had accepted as true only because I had heard them so many times. I learned that my Western cultural viewpoint of the Biblical account of the Christmas story was probably not correct at all, and perhaps even insulting to some Middle Eastern cultures. Maybe there was no barn at all, no feed trough, and no inn nor innkeeper, nor wise men. Instead perhaps a depth of humanity which was somehow glossed over in our worn and flawed version of the tome.
I found the article long before we used the internet, and I have kept a worn out photocopy of Dr. Bailey’s article in a file ever since. I pull it out every year around Christmas- to reflect on, share with my family, and just in time to ruin Christmas sermons of all types. The article has become part of the fabric of my family’s Christmas life, and my grown children even still request I read it every year. Dr. Bailey’s article was reprinted in 2006, and now I can share it here with you:
Dr. Bailey passed away this year, but his knowledge and research lives on. He has given me the opportunity to expand my mind and accept things beyond my limited understanding, even about something as seemingly simple as the Christmas Story. I hope you find it encouraging too.