Alister McGrath: Christmas in the Cave

It’s always nice to learn something new. I was talking to some Lebanese students in London recently. They were looking forward to returning home for Christmas, and celebrating this great feast in traditional Lebanese style. In the West, we think of Christ lying in a manger in a stable. In Lebanon, I was told, Christians depict the nativity as taking place in a cave. The reasons for this are lost in the mists of time. Yet the image of Jesus being born in a cave is rich and suggestive.

As we reflect on what Christmas means for billions of Christians across the world, this image can help us unlock some of its themes, and help us understand why it is seen as being so significant….

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Christology, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Theology

5 comments on “Alister McGrath: Christmas in the Cave

  1. Mark in BR, LA says:

    Orthodox icons typically depict the Nativity taking place in a cave (or cavern) and various liturgical texts indicate this, as well:

    Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
    and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One.
    Angels with shepherds glorify Him;
    the Wise Men journey with the star,
    since for our sake the eternal God was born as a little Child!
    (Kontakion for the Nativity of Christ)

  2. Mark in BR, LA says:

    A few more observations: the cave imagery of the Nativity icon is reminiscent of the cavern of Hades in the Pascha icon, in which Christ is breaking down the doors and raising Adam and Eve from their tombs. Other iconographic links between the two feasts include the manger depicted as a tomb and the swaddling cloths as grave cloths. The One born in the cave is the Crucified One who is risen, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life. Christ is born! Glorify Him!

  3. francis says:

    From the same apocryphal gospel that transports our Beloved into his mother’s arms. Beam be out, Scotty!

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  5. billqs says:

    I believe our fascination in the West for a wooden stable and other housing structures comes from a mis-understanding of building techniques in Israel during the first century AD. It would not be odd to place your stable in a cave or cavern behind your inn, if that was what was available. Interesting insights in the article, though I think the author takes the cave metaphor too far.