Christmas time is upon us! It is a time to celebrate Christ!
Though Christmas has a lot of other fun perks (such as caroling, buying gifts, decorating the tree, and fighting people in the parking lot of Walmart for the best deals) we know that celebrating the incarnation of God’s Son is what it is all about.
As the Christmas season winds down, I thought it would be fun to mention some things that people often assume about Jesus’ birth that the Bible doesn’t necessarily teach.
Enjoy some of these fun Christmas myths, misnomers, and misunderstandings!
First, Jesus probably wasn’t born in the winter. The Bible never gives a date as to his birth, but we know from historical records that shepherds in Israel usually started penning up their animals by November. Also, it would be strange for someone to be tending their flocks in the middle of the night in December. Most scholars think Jesus was born sometime in the spring.
The “wise men” or “magi” were not there on the night of Jesus’ birth. Yes, I said it, almost all nativity scenes get it wrong. According to the Bible the shepherds were there at his birth but the wise men came later. Wise men traveling from “the east” (probably around Persia) to Bethlehem would take a long time. Also, Herod tries to kill all the babies two years old and under. If Jesus was just born then why does he need to kill two-year-olds? Well, most scholars think the wise men came about two years after Jesus was born.
The Bible does not say there are three wise men. There might be three; there might be ten; we don’t know. We know that there are at least two because the word “magi” is plural in Greek. Many assume there were three wise men because three gifts were brought to Jesus (gold, frankincense, and myrrh). However, one person could bring more than one gift or several people could bring the same gift (five magi could each bring a bag of gold, etc.). I don’t think three is a bad guess; we just don’t know.
At the incarnation God the Son remained fully God but also became fully human. Therefore, we should assume that the baby Jesus acted like normal, human babies do (except for the fact that he didn’t have a sin nature). This means that Jesus cried when he was born just like normal babies do. The line in the carol “Silent Night” that says “the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes” would only be true for short periods of time because, as anyone who had a baby knows, babies love to cry.
The term “X-mas” does not take “Christ out of Christmas” and is not an bad expression. The Greek word for Christ is “Christos” and starts with the Greek letter “chi” which looks like an “X.” Therefore X-mas is a shortened form of the word Christmas based upon the Greek word for Christ.
In nativity scenes Mary is often portrayed as being in her mid thirties. She probably would have been in her early teens as women in Israel, 2,000 years ago, were married much earlier than they are today. The average age a Jewish woman would be married was between 13 and 16.
In Catholic theology it is held that Mary remained a virgin for the rest of her life, even after Jesus started growing up. Now, although it is absolutely true that she had never been with a man before she gave birth to Jesus, she eventually had other kids the natural way as the New Testament teaches that Jesus had younger half-brothers (Matthew 13:55).
In the carol “Here Comes Santa Claus.” There is a line that says “Santa Claus knows we’re all God’s children, that makes everything right.” This is just not true. Thought there is a sense in which we are God’s children in a generic way because he is our creator (Acts 17:28-29), the Bible is explicit that only those who follow Jesus are God’s children, adopted by his grace. Those who don’t know Jesus are said to be the children of the devil. Now there’s a cheerful fact to put into a Christmas carol!
The “star” that the magi follow to find Jesus is probably no ordinary star. In the Bible the angels are constantly referred to as stars or “heavenly hosts” (Job 38:7; Rev 1:20; etc). Some people try to figure out what constellation the “star” belonged to, but that ignores the fact that the star may be and angel and it neglects the fact that you cannot find one, specific house by looking up at a natural star in the distance.
Christmas does celebrate the birth of Jesus but is is important to remember that the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Word of God, has always existed (John 1:1-3). In the incarnation the eternal God takes on a second nature in the one person of Jesus of Nazareth. So it is correct to say that Jesus was born as long as you remember that God’s Son has always existed.
Having said that, don’t forget the miracle of Christmas. That the eternal God, Yahweh, the God of Israel, God the Son, became a man and was conceived by the very woman he created so that he might bring us salvation.
Gloria in Excelsis Deo, indeed!