Christmas is my favorite time of year. In my house, the tree is up the day after Thanksgiving, the fire is going even though we now live in Orlando, the hot chocolate is flowing and, yes, the elf is making his way around our shelves. I love the Christmas season and all its sentiments, stories and traditions.
Some of these stories and traditions are so familiar to us, though, that we don’t realize what is actually biblical and where we might be adding to the story. So, I want to look at a six Christmas corrections.
Yes, Mary knew
Mary, did you know that you son would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? Did you know that he will soon deliver you?
Angel to Joseph: She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Did you know that one day he would rule the nations?
Angel to Mary: He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:31-33
We three kings of orient are (not)
Matthew records the magi, or wise men, showing up to recognize the newborn king, but we have no idea where they were from, how they knew, what religion that practiced, what social standing they had or how many there were. There were three gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh) so, many have posited that there were three men. Maybe.
What we do know is that a group of men, likely riding in on Arabian horses, not camels, came in to declare a new king. Matthew records them worshipping the Christ child, not in a barn, but in a house. Could they have been the first gentile converts to the incarnate God?
The star came after Jesus’ birth
Most nativity scenes have a star shining brightly above, but the star wasn’t a sign to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth. It was a sign to the magi much later. Again, we don’t know when the magi came, but the fact that Herod ordered all babies under 2 to be killed indicates that some time had passed.
There may have been no barn or inn
The traditions seem to indicate that the local hotel was full and the heartless innkeeper would not allow a very pregnant Mary to come inside. If that’s true, I would hate to be that innkeeper. The problem, though, is that Scripture mentions no innkeeper. It also mentions no barn. It only mentions a manger that would have likely been inside someone’s home.
A strong case can be made that Luke is simply saying that there was no place in town to stay (since this was the season of census) so they had to cram in with some of Joseph’s relatives in a house with a manger in the largest of their rooms.
Jesus did not look like your nativity probably suggests
We have nativities all around us. Nativities on ornaments, assembled on tables and even life size reenactments. Most of the nativities I see have, at its center, a light skinned, blue eyed and even blonde haired Jesus. It is hard to argue that Jesus looked anything like this being of mid-eastern origin. Jesus likely had dark skin, hair and eyes.
I challenge you to look at your nativity scenes and see how accurate they are.
Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th
The truth is that we really don’t know when Jesus was born. Most scholars would bet on the Spring because the shepherds were in the fields, but we just don’t know. So, why December 25th? There are two theories.
The most accepted theory is that the Roman pagan holiday called Saturnalia marked by green trees, lighted candles and gift exchanges was converted to what we now call Christmas. Once the Roman Empire embraced Christianity, as the theory goes, the Emperor declared it Christ’s birthday instead. Theory two is that early Christians reasoned the time of Mary’s conception and then added nine months. Who knows?
What we do know
Fortunately, the most important part of the Christmas story we do know. The God of the universe broke into our world by taking on flesh in the form of the second person of the Trinity so that we could be saved from our sin. This Christmas season, whether we have 3 wise men or 30, camels or horses, star or no star, barn or house, let’s remember the promise of the newborn king who will return to fulfill what he began so long ago.