I want to set the record straight on some of the commonly believed details of the Christmas story.
Of course, it is important to do this from a strictly Biblical perspective. Many of the traditions we celebrate and the songs we sing may not be entirely accurate in regards to Christ’s birth. Truth be told, none of the things I wish to share have any bearing on the theological significance of the nativity. To be sure, some of them may well be true, we just simply don’t have enough Biblical evidence to know for certain all the details.
So, I give you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!
Did you know that the Wise Men were not at Jesus’ birth? Based on the time when they were told to go and find Jesus as directed by Herod, as well as the journey necessary for them to traverse to Mesopotamia as they followed the star, it is likely that Jesus was between one month and 2 years old when they arrived.
So, if your family nativity scene is still set up, go ahead and move the wise men on the other side of the living room! They haven’t gotten there yet. (Matthew 2:9-18) Along those same lines, we have no idea if there were three of them! In fact, there were probably many more. We simply know they brought three gifts. (Matthew 2:11)
Oh, and did you know that we have no idea whether or not Mary rode a donkey! Of course, if Joseph was any kind of real man, I’m sure he had suitable transportation for his beloved as they made their journey to Bethlehem. Indeed, she may have ridden a donkey. The Bible just doesn’t mention anything about it.
Nor does the Bible mention anything about a rude innkeeper, or even a stable! We know that there was no room for them in the inn. We also know that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a feeding trough. Tradition teaches that surely this means that Jesus was born in a barn. Maybe? But, it could have just as easily been in a cave. Or even a family member’s house that was packed because of everyone in town for the census.
First Century Bethlehem houses would often have a place on the bottom floor to house animals. It doesn’t really matter, and no doubt it was a humble birth not fit for a King. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you; the Bible doesn’t say anything about animals either! (Luke 2)
What about those angels singing to the shepherds out in the field? The Bible is clear that a heavenly host appeared to the shepherds. After they said “Fear not,” Scripture states that they were saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14) Quite honestly, they might have sung those words. But they could have been just shouting them in praise! We simply don’t know.
And the shepherds were not looking for a star as they sought to see Jesus. That was the Wise Men. The sign the shepherds were to look for was, “A baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12) The star probably didn’t appear until later! But I’ll give you a pass on your nativity scene star if you have one. It’s all part of the same story, so it’s hard to leave it out!
These are but a few things you might enjoy discussing amongst your family as you talk about the Christmas story. None of those items really matter in regards to what is most important. They don’t cloud the message of the Messiah’s birth, and many of them might have taken place just as we sing and tell the story.
So, keep singing “Away in a Manger”, “We Three Kings” and “Angels We Have Heard on High”. I know I will.
As I do, I will celebrate what I undoubtedly know to be true. I will celebrate an uncompromised truth that Emmanuel, “God with us,” was born! The Great “I AM” came to dwell among His people. The Son took on flesh, so He could save humanity from sin and its death penalty. Jesus was born of a virgin and did not inherit our sinful nature. (Matthew 1:18, 2 Cor. 5:21)
He lived the perfect life we couldn’t live, died the death we deserved, and rose again! (1 Corinthians 15:4, Romans 5:8) The greatest Christmas truth of all is that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life!” (John 14:6) He came to us when we could not reach Him! (Ephesians 2:8) This is amazing grace, and is truth to be proclaimed! He is our Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God, our Prince of Peace, our Everlasting Father! (Isaiah 9:6) Believe the truth that He came to save the world, and He will save you and come to live in you if your faith is in Him! What an indescribable gift! The life of Christ, in us. Merry Christmas!
Ashley Mofield is Senior Pastor at White House First Baptist Church.