CHRISTMAS: the true story
I was on the bus from London and sat next to a man who had just returned from Switzerland, where he had spent a week sitting on a cushion cross-legged, staring at a wall in a Buddhist retreat
- We had a very interesting conversation.
- At one point he asked me where I got my ideas from
- I told him and he retorted, with a touch of cynicism: “So you get them from the book?”
YES, INDEED … or should do!
Because although we think that we know the Bible… when we look again very carefully we may discover that we didn’t know as much as we thought we knew about what “The Book” says!
TAKE CHRISTMAS FOR EXAMPLE … everyone knows the story
OR DO THEY?
Let me offer 10 truths about Christmas that are worth exploring…
TRUTH NUMBER 1 Nazareth was not a pleasant little market town
- It has been referred to as ‘a hotbed of corruption’
- The disciple Nathanael asked… Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
YET IN THAT DARK TOWN there were some bright lights of goodness and love: Mary, Joseph and (later) Jesus Himself
TRUTH NUMBER 2 In the Bible there is no mention of Mary riding a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem
- There is a song: ‘Little donkey, little donkey’ but it’s based on speculation rather than facts
- True, it’s hard to waddle along for 75 miles when heavily pregnant and bandits were about
- There were no road signs…or maps
- It would probably have taken a couple of days on foot
But if Mary did ride a donkey… it isn’t mentioned in the Bible
TRUTH NUMBER 3 Bethlehem was anything but silent
- We sing a song: ‘O little town of Bethlehem’
- But it must have been very crowded
- After all, the Inn was full, so there must have been a lot of people there… no Silent Night, either!
TRUTH NUMBER 4 There is no mention of a stable in the Bible
- Yet the stable is the scene of countless nativity plays and songs and poems and recitations
- Jesus was born and placed in a manger (animal feeding trough)
- So it is a reasonable assumption that the manger was located in a stable… but not as most of us imagine it
It was quite probably a basement area under a house… or even a cave in the hillside
TRUTH NUMBER 5 There is no mention of Mary looking serene
Christmas cards always show Mary wearing a blue cloak, looking radiant and completely relaxed!
- But she was a young woman a long way from home
- With a man that she might not have known all that well (Joseph)
- Her mother was not there…because her family wasn’t from Bethlehem
- The midwife might have been a maid they had brought with them…or a local woman, a complete stranger…. There weren’t any oxygen masks, background music or sterilised conditions
- If it was in a stable…there was little privacy and very smelly.
And most of all, perhaps, Mary was bound to have had a degree of confusion in her heart… After all, wasn’t this the child that the angel had told her about just nine months earlier, who would be a king whose kingdom would never end?
- And here he was, lying in an animal trough!
TRUTH NUMBER 6 Angels have no gender
- Little girls dressed in white net curtains, standing with outstretched arms and trying to look goodies… Parents with tears in their eyes… Great stuff but… highly inaccurate!
- Angels are not female or male… They are messengers of God and there is no reason why boys as well as girls should not play the part in a Nativity play
- There are thousands of angels…there was a multitude that night
- No wonder, for Jesus said (Matthew 18: 10) that every child has a personal angel
- We even meet angels when we are unaware of the fact…for God is still at work in the world…
Watch out! There’s an angel about!
TRUTH NUMBER 7
The shepherds did not come unseen and slip away silently into the night
- The Bible tells us that the shepherds repeated what the angels had said when they saw Jesus and everyone who heard it was amazed
So there were plenty of other people around when the shepherds came
The small town must have been in uproar!
TRUTH NUMBER 8
The star didn’t lead the Wise Men to a stable in Bethlehem
- We read that the Wise Men saw the star…but went to Jerusalem first!
- It was only after Jerusalem that the star went before them to where Jesus was lodging in a house, not a stable.
- Perhaps it was part of the Inn or a nearby room that Joseph had rented
- It is highly probable that the Magi went to Nazareth to find Jesus, not to Bethlehem… After all, Jesus was by now a young child… probably a year or two in age… so the idea that Mary & Joseph would have still been in Bethlehem, where they only went to be registered, is a bit preposterous!
Did anyone else see the star? Perhaps they did…but only the Magi responded and found out its significance.
TRUTH NUMBER 9
Christmas cards showing the shepherds and Wise Men together are fanciful
- The Wise Men or Magi (not kings) arrived later… almost certainly, a great deal later
- The journey must have taken them some time and they were held up by first going to Jerusalem
- They came to the house and saw a young child (presumably not new-born)
- It was only after leaving Jerusalem that the star went before them to where the family was now lodging in a house… (almost certainly back in Nazareth where Joseph & Mary lived)
- Apart from other common sense issues (see 8 above), Bethlehem is only a few miles from Jerusalem, so Herod could easily have discovered Jesus’ location if the family was still living there.
- NOTE … there is no mention in the Bible of the Magi visiting Bethlehem. We are only told that the star led them to Jesus.
TRUTH NUMBER 10 Christmas was not just a time of great joy
- Herod had all the baby boys under two years of age killed…as happened in the time of Moses
- Herod was an evil man, who thought nothing of destroying anyone whom he perceived as being a threat to him… He even had members of his own family murdered.
So we must read the Bible account carefully and make sure that we have the facts straight
Also be aware that the Bible is spiritually understood…that’s why even great scholars may have little understanding of eternal truth…
- If people are to be convinced that the Bible is anything more than an elaborate fairy story, we must be accurate and place events in their context
- We must also present Bible characters as more than cardboard cut-outs… They were real people with personalities, weaknesses and strengths
- Christmas is not a religious fairy tale… but a true account of God coming into the world, born as a member of a Jewish family in a little-know town called Bethlehem
- As we read in John 1: 14 about Jesus, “The Word”…
The Word became flesh [as Jesus] and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.