Traditions are great. They help us remember and pass on family, heritage and faith to next generations. Until they do not. When traditions morph into legends that take over to the point that the original point is obscure, then it is time to rethink, reevaluate and reform. I believe that some Christmas traditions need to be evaluated.
Growing up mom said, as did many preachers and older Christians:
“If it does not ring true,… if you are not sure … if it sounds different from what you have heard, go to The Word, His Word. What does The Bible say?”
I challenge you to check it out. Check me out. Do not blindly accept what you hear or read. Always compare to God’s Word.
Over the holidays I finally caught The Three Kings celebration performance at a local public presentation. I also viewed many manger scenes. Many churches put on a “walk through Bethlehem” or, a Christmas pageant. While many were impressive, I was stunned at what was presented as fact. In this day and age, when the Bible is readily available in most people groups’ native tongue, what does God’s Word actually give as an account for Jesus’ birth, the shepherds, and the wise men? Bottom line, The Gospels give facts. Facts matter. No words are there by accident. They are there for a reason.
Joseph and Mary WERE NOT immigrants. Joseph was returning to his homeland for a government required census. Shame on churches that used Jesus’ birth as a political statement and presented them in separate, caged stalls; as detained illegal immigrants. Joseph was obeying man’s law for God’s sake. (Romans 13) He was not an immigrant, and he certainly was not detained against his will. Nor was he separated from Mary and Jesus. Jesus’ birth as a political statement by a church? There was no tradition or legend to blame here. It was simply changing facts to suit an agenda. You do not change a character, a story line or setting to suit an agenda, regardless the author. Shame on those churches. Not hard to figure which church type in Revelations they represented.
vs 4-5 NASB “Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.”
He was placed in a manger. The manger was the feeding trough. There was no hay. There were no animals. It was most likely of a harden, clay/brick form. The shepherds were in the field with the flocks. The manger was empty. The stable was empty. That is why they could use it.
vs 6-7 ESV “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
According to Jewish historical facts the temple had shepherds for the sacrificial animals. It was springtime in Bethlehem. (Not December, but that’s okay). That is why they were in the field at night. It was warm enough. These shepherds may have been guarding the temple flock from which the sacrifices came. Temple shepherds would know what an unblemished lamb wrapped in a manger meant.
vs 11- 12 “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
When a sacrifice required an unblemished lamb, the newborn lamb was wrapped in swaddling cloth so it could not be marred or bruised. Then it was placed in the unused stable’s manger awaiting sacrifice; protected from bruising or marring. It was a sacrificial lamb. Jesus was the unblemished, sacrificial lamb. That is why He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in the manger. He was the last sacrifice ever to be needed.
Yes the song says the cattle were there. They were not. Again, that’s okay. This traditional idea does not deter from the meaning of Jesus’ birth. Spread out your nativity figures throughout the room. Make a field for shepherds and animals. Place the magi on the East side of the room. If Jesus is separate from your manger, place him in manger Christmas morn. Wrap Him in a bit of cloth. Be detailed in teaching children and grandchildren as well as visitors. Makes for a great conversation start up.
There are other unfortunate traditions but, I will end with the Magi ones. Three kings at the stable? No, the scriptures say Magi. Nowhere in the Bible does it say kings or that there were only three. May be there were a dozen traveling together. Some beliefs state there were a dozen. That they were actually kings is a tradition that seems to be linked by some to Isaiah 60 and Psalm 72 referring to kings bearing gifts. It really does not matter. It is like the three crosses on Calvary Hill. Only three crosses are shown at Easter because Jesus had a man on either side that spoke to each other. There were many more crucified that day as there were on most days.
There were three gifts so there must have only been three kings? We take tradition as fact. It simple is not in the bible. So no. Nowhere does it say three and certainly they are not named in the Bible. Somewhere along the 6th century a historian decided there were three and that was their names were . Tradition was born. The names came out of traditional, supposed Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior from Persian history. Magi were wise men. It is in the plural form so more than one. Wise men; scholars of law and historians. Advisors to kings.
Three gifts meant three kings to someone and it soon became fact, tradition, the legend. They brought three gifts. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. Again, three gifts specified for specific reasons. That should be the emphasis. The gifts had a spiritual significance as well. Gold was offered to kings on earth and frankincense was offered to deities. Myrrh was an embalming substance and symbolized death. Very specific details of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. The gifts were brought to the house where Jesus lived. Jesus was not a baby but, was still under two years old.
So, here are the facts. Magi were never present at the stable, neither should yours be in your nativity scene. I always place mine on the other side of the room, as though traveling from afar. On the East side of the room actually.
According to historical references, wise men, educators, and philosophers in the east studied history from other areas, including Hebrew scrolls. They knew of prophecies and references to the star, to the Messiah. So when the star appeared they went searching.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 So he assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the Messiah would be born.5 “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they told him, “because this is what was written by the prophet: 6 And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah: because out of you will come a leader who will shepherd My people Israel.”7 Then Herod secretly summoned the wise men and asked them the exact time the star appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you find Him, report back to me so that I too can go and worship Him.”9 After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was—the star they had seen in the east! It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure. 11 Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the male children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men.
Herod killed children up to two years of age based on when they had seen the star. The star was over Jesus birth place. Jesus was no longer in the stable, not a baby. The wise men entered into a house.
Much of what is wrong with the world’s views of Christians is because of the discrepancies that traditions have brought into the various portions of the Bible through the years. It is never too late to set the record straight. It is never unimportant to stick to the facts. It might be difficult. But, I think it is important we go back to His Word and tell the story of Christmas as it was written with all the significance and emphasis’.