Rethinking the Christmas Story – Slightly
When I first came up with the idea of this article, my intention was to focus on some aspects of the Christmas story that are not necessarily biblical.
- Mary’s donkey ride to Bethlehem while in labor. (There is no indication in the Bible that she rode a donkey, and chances are good they went to Bethlehem weeks if not months before she gave birth).
- The rude innkeeper. (No innkeeper is mentioned. The word translated “inn” is actually the word for “guest room”. Since Joseph’s family lived in Bethlehem it is most likely they were actually housed in a family home – one that was probably bursting at the seams with extra guests—leaving no room in the guest room.)
- Jesus born in a stable. (This probably grew out of the statement that He was “laid in a manger.” It could be that the little family moved to a quiet place in the house for the birth, perhaps a room used to keep small animals at night. Or it could simply be they used the available manger – kind of like a dresser drawer – as a safe place to lay the newborn baby. And, to my mind, this kind of speaks for no animals present at the birth. Would you honestly put your newborn baby in a manger if in some inattentive moment a cow could start munching on the hay around him?)
- And one of my favorites, the Bible never says the angels sang. (Nope. It just says they “said.”)
But as I thought more about it, I think there’s something else about Christmas that needs to be rethought – or at least re-remembered.
A few years ago I wrote a Christmas play for my church. We had the usual scene with Mary, Joseph and the Baby in the manger. All the kids came to the manger dressed in their animal costumes to worship the Baby. (Yep, all those cliché moments that are not necessarily biblical!) The kids left. Mary and Joseph picked up the Baby and exited. Then four teens entered, dressed in white. As the choir sang, they approached the now empty manger. Grabbing the white material that covering the manger, they pulled the cloth out in four directions to form a cross.
They held their position for a few moments, then my soloist began to sing John Peterson’s incredible arrangement of John 3:16 – “God so loved the world. God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoso believeth, believeth in Him, should not perish, should not perish, but have everlasting life!”
As he sang, the teens slowly walked out of the church, one down each side aisle, the other two down the center aisle, passing the cross over the heads of the audience.
Let me tell you, it was a powerful moment. My soloist kept breaking into tears. People in the audience reached up to touch the cross as it passed. There were few dry eyes.
In that moment I think we all remembered what Christmas is really all about. The presents are nice; getting together with family is great. But we must never forget that what we really celebrate at Christmas time is that God Himself came into the world as a baby. He came so that He could redeem us and restore us to fellowship with God.
“For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:17)