It’s time to get the inflatable giant Snoopy dog out on your front lawn next to the manger scene. It’s also a good time to consider what the Bible actually says regarding the birth of Christ. Below are 12 things that have gotten stretched into ‘truth.’And then at the end, there are two principles that should guide us when it comes to ‘holy’ seasons.
ONE. How about Jesus being born in a stable? The Bible only reports that after his birth, Jesus was laid in a manger; nothing about where he was actually born. The only reason he was laid in a manger was there was no room for him in the ‘guest room.’ The word translated ‘inn’ in Luke 2:7 is a Greek word which can mean guest chamber, lodging place, or inn. It’s quite possible Jesus was born in the house of relatives (remember, Joseph went to Bethlehem because that’s where his family was from – Luke 2:1-5).
TWO. How about that nice donkey with the fuzzy ears? Mary may have rode one; the Bible doesn’t say how she got to Bethlehem from Nazareth (about 70 miles). The Bible simply states she came with Joseph.
THREE. What about that mean, grumpy inn keeper? Again, the Bible is silent, no inn keeper is mentioned. See number one – it’s possible Joseph and Mary stayed with relatives.
FOUR. Who was boiling water the night Mary arrived in Bethlehem? There’s no record of when exactly the couple arrived in Bethlehem; they may have arrived well before her due date (If Joseph had a lick of sense, they did!). All we’re told is, “while they were there (in Bethlehem), the days were accomplished for her to give birth” (Lk. 2:6).
FIVE. Well, we do have the date right, don’t we? Well… The Bible gives us no date or month. And December is an odd time for shepherds to be out ‘abiding in their fields.’ Spring through Autumn is when that typically happens. Some have suggested Jesus was born in late September, which would mean His conception was in December. So, by celebrating in December we may be observing His miraculous conception – the ‘Word made flesh’ (John 1:14), just not Christ’s birth!
SIX. But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes… We sing it, but we can’t be certain.
SEVEN. How About the Three Kings Who Came From ‘a far.’ Sorry, the notion of ‘three’ probably comes from the three gifts brought – gold, frankincense and myrrh. The word ‘maji’ is plural, so all we know is there were at least two, but easily could have been more.
EIGHT. But they were kings, weren’t they? Most likely not. Probably the best way to understand ‘maji’ (Matthew 2) is they were a troupe of men who specialized in astronomy, astrology and natural science (according to footnote in NAS Bible). But they did come from the east!
NINE. But they came on camels, didn’t they? We gotta have some livestock in this story! Sorry, farm boy, no cows, no camels, no donkeys are mentioned. Just stinky sheep. But if it makes you feel better, there was no drummer boy either.
TEN. Really, no drummer boy? If you were a new mother, would you want some kid serenading you and your newborn ON A DRUM? Good night, there’s not even a disposable diaper mentioned in the story – and you want a drummer boy? Go boil some water.
ELEVEN. Sorry, one more thing about the three wise guys It’s highly unlikely they showed up with the shepherds around the manger in Bethlehem. That fits nicely on a Christmas card, just not the biblical record. They most likely showed up several months, if not a couple years, after his birth (Matt 2).
TWELVE. Ok, so where do we get the word ‘Christmas?’ The word means, Christ mass. A mass is a ceremony that’s been developed over time in the history of the church, and largely practiced in Roman Catholicism and some Orthodox churches as well Episcopal. While rooted in the biblical command to observe the simple Lord’s Supper (often called the ‘eucharist’), much has been added over the years. And, over time the tradition has been brought over and been combined with observing the birth of Christ.
Believing the Bible to be our final/highest source of authority we find no command or example to set aside a certain time of the year to celebrate the birth of Christ. While it can be used for good and certainly enjoyed for the glory of God, it can also be blown out of proportion as to its ‘’sacred-ness.’ By that, I mean, professing Christians can become adamant about its being observed. They fuss and fume and lose their joy because others aren’t saying certain things, doing certain things, having certain emblems to celebrate Christmas.
Of course, observing Christmas can go the other direction to – and has. It’s been inextricably combined to consumerism, greed, gluttony, pagan legends. It’s become a global ‘holy-day,’ with the ‘holy’ largely undefined.
So here are a couple of biblical principles to guide us:
First, the Bible explicitly cautions us about those who insist we observe certain religious diets, days or festivals (Col. 2:16). Paul probably had in mind the diet, days and festivals observed under the Old Covenant. He says they’re only shadows. But the real ‘thing’ – the real substance belongs to Christ. There are no days or seasons we must observe; it is the Person and work of Jesus Christ and His second coming that defines us and is the source of our joy — every day of the year (Col. 2:8-3:11)!
Second, this does not necessarily prohibit any kind of traditions. Paul writes in Romans 14 we have the freedom to regard days or not regard them. However, according to Romans 14:1-9, individuals choose whether or not they participate in ‘religious’ days. Each believer should do so in light of the fact he will give an account to the Lord (14:5,6, 12). So there’s freedom, but responsibility.
As your pastor, I encourage families sometime in the next few weeks, to actually read the Christmas story (Matthew 1,2; Luke 1-3). And then go retrieve Snoopy from the neighbor’s tree.
Christ in you, the hope of glory!