Born in Bethlehem?

Where was Jesus born? Most likely Nazareth, possibly some other Galilean or Judean village, maybe even Bethlehem. We really don’t know. Jesus is referred to in all four Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles as Jesus of Nazareth. Aside from the second chapters of Matthew and Luke, nothing in the New Testament would suggest that Jesus was born anywhere but Nazareth. . . and in those two chapters Matthew and Luke contradict each other. According to Matthew, Jesus was born in Joseph and Mary’s home in Bethlehem and eventually moved with them to Nazareth to escape potential trouble. According to Luke, Joseph and a pregnant Mary traveled to Bethlehem from their home in Nazareth because of a census ordered by the Roman authorities. . . but that census occurred 10 to 12 years after Jesus would already have been born! If Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Luke’s account, despite all its familiarity, seems even less plausible than Matthew’s.

So should we put away our crèches and carols? Not at all! The Gospels are not biographies of Jesus but rather theological reflections on his life, death, and resurrection. Among other roles and titles, the synoptic Gospels see Jesus as, the son of David, the messiah, the anointed one; and Bethlehem was David’s hometown. Both Matthew and Luke are trying to show that Jesus fulfills the hopes and expectations for a Davidic messiah. In having him be born homeless, Luke is also highlighting the savior who came to proclaim good news first of all to the poor. In the end, what difference does it make where Jesus was born? Once we know why Luke tells the story as he did, we can appreciate it even more when we hear it proclaimed on Christmas Eve.

Peace and every blessing at Christmas,

Fr. Loren Connell, OFM Detroit, Mich.