This morning I am continuing my mini-series separating Christmas fact from Christmas myth. Today, I want us to look at the Scriptures retelling of the Christmas story to get a few facts straight that some traditional telling of the Christmas story misrepresented.
Please understand, I mean for this to be entertaining, educational and fun. By no means am I trying to attack our dearly loved traditions behind this wonderful season of Christmas. However, with that said, there are some aspects in the retelling of the Christmas story that are merely tradition but have been mistaken as Biblical depiction.
Pictures of the Nativity show Mary riding a donkey while Joseph leads them. This is speculation as there is no mention of how they traveled in the Biblical accounts. It is more likely that she traveled in a wagon that was possibly led by a donkey. Think about it — a woman who’s nine months preggers bouncing up and down on a mule for 60 miles? She probably would have ridden Joseph to Bethlehem before trying that.
Luke 2:6 indicates that she gave birth “while they were there.” The idea that they rode into town and she gave birth that night was a fictional addition, no doubt for dramatic effect.
In most explanations of the birth night, Joseph went from hotel to motel asking the innkeepers for a room. However, in the Bible there is no innkeeper character or recorded dialogue.
It is not likely that the “wise men” or “magi” were “three kings”; this idea came from the carol. In fact, the only book of the Bible that mentions them, Matthew, simply tells us that there was more than one because Matthew calls them “wise men.” Although the account does not mention the number of people “they” or “the Magi” refers to, the three gifts they presented have led to the widespread assumption that there were three men.
Speaking of the wise men, the Nativity scenes you see this time of year typically shows three wise men visiting the baby Jesus at the manger. However, Matthew 2:11 gives us a clue that the wise men arrived at a house to see the “young child” Jesus. Matthew 2:16 hints that up to two years could have passed.
Although the story tellers may have added a few “fictional facts” (is that an oxymoron?) to the story, Matthew and Luke paint the most beautiful Christmas story of all. They were inspired through the Holy Spirit to share with us today the amazing story of the birth of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, and how God became Emmanuel (“God with us”).
I want to encourage you during this holiday season to read again for the first time the Christmas story spoken by the very breath of God Himself (2 Timothy 3:16). You will find it in Matthew 1:18-2:23 and in Luke chapter 2.
Jesus’ birth date
For many Christ-followers, Christmas Day, Dec. 25, is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
But is Dec. 25 the actual day that the virgin Mary give birth to the Christ Child? Some say “yes” and other declare “no.”
The fact is that the Bible does not tell us exactly what date Jesus was born. And just like bellybuttons, throughout the years everyone has had an opinion as to the date of the birth of Christ.
Speculation as to the time of Jesus’ birth dates back to the third century, when Hyppolytus (ca. 170-236) claimed that Jesus was born on Dec. 25. The earliest mention of some sort of observance on that date is in the Philoclian Calendar, representing Roman practice, of the year 336. Later, John Chrysostom favored the same date of birth. Cyril of Jerusalem (348-386) had access to the original Roman birth census, which also documented that Jesus was born on the 25th of December.
The date eventually became the officially recognized date for Christmas in part because it coincided with pagan festivals celebrating Saturnalia and the winter solstice. The church thereby offered people a Christian alternative to the pagan festivities, and eventually reinterpreted many of their symbols and actions in ways acceptable to Christian faith and practice.
Dec. 25 has become more and more acceptable as the birth date of Jesus. However, some argue that the birth occurred in some other season, such as in the fall. Followers of this theory claim that the Judean winters were too cold for shepherds to be watching their flocks by night. History proves otherwise, however, and we have historical evidence that unblemished lambs for the Temple sacrifice were in fact kept in the fields near Bethlehem during the winter months.
Throughout these articles we’ve been talking about fact vs. myth and the fact is that He was born, that He came into the world to atone for our sins, that He was resurrected to eternal life, and that He’s alive today. This is what we should celebrate, as we are told in the Old Testament in such passages as Zechariah 2:10: “‘Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,’ declares the LORD.” Further, the angel that announced the birth to the shepherds brought “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Surely here is the cause for celebration every day, not just once a year on Dec. 25.
Chad Eric Donley is an assistant pastor at the Ham Lane Church of Christ