googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Popular Misconceptions about the Nativity

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Popular Misconceptions about the Nativity

I confess that I own a nativity scene. Every Christmas, it is really the only decoration I really look forward to setting up. I think I might enjoy the nativity more than the tree – though perhaps it’s simply because decorating the tree involves a lot more work. But even though I enjoy setting out my nativity, I know that it’s not a very accurate depiction of The Nativity. In fact, many people’s conception about the nativity is simply not accurate. In this post, I’d like to bring up a few of the more enduring misconceptions surrounding the nativity.

Let’s start with the trip to Bethlehem. The Christmas card image of Joseph walking through the desert at night, leading Mary as she rides on a donkey isn’t mentioned anywhere in Scripture. Since the purpose of the journey was a census, all of Joseph’s and Mary’s family should have traveled with them to Bethlehem. They would have been with Mary when she delivered Jesus. Where are they in the nativities? Did neither Mary nor Joseph have any living relatives (parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, or sisters) that would have made the trip with them? All of these family members would have been of the house of David (Luke 2:4) just as Mary and Joseph were and so would have been required to travel to Bethlehem.

The young couple did not necessarily arrive in Bethlehem the very night Jesus was born as is often depicted in film. The Bible merely says that she delivered Jesus “while they were there” (Luke 2:6). However, the Bible does say that Jesus was laid into a manger (Luke 2:7) which strongly suggests Joseph and Mary were staying with the animals when He was born. It would be reasonable to assume they could not have been in the town very long or they probably would have found more suitable lodgings after a while.

The shepherds were told of Jesus’ birth by the angel (Luke 2:10). The angel had given the shepherds a sign to identify Jesus – He would be the baby lying in a manger (Luke 2:12). So the shepherds went into town to find a baby lying in a manger. The Bible doesn’t mention a star pointing the shepherds the way to Jesus. Certainly a star pointing out the place where He lay would have made Him a lot easier to find Yet Luke 2 doesn’t mention a star at all. I don’t believe there was any star in the sky (see my previous discussion on the Star of Bethlehem).

Concerning the wise men, the most enduring notion is that there were three wise men. Nowhere does the Bible tell us how many wise men there were. IT’S NOT THERE. The idea that there were three perhaps stems from the fact that three different gifts are mentioned: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (see my discussion of the wise men).

But furthermore, there is a great misconception about when the wise men appeared to worship Jesus. Think about this for a moment: Luke 2:21-23 tells us that Jesus was circumcised when He was eight days old. Later, Mary took Him to the temple in Jerusalem after the “days of her purification.” According to the Law of Moses, the purification for women after bearing a male child was forty days. So, according to Luke, Mary took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after delivering Him. However, Matthew 2:12-14 says that after the wise men departed, the Angel of the Lord warned Joseph to flee to Egypt and Joseph immediately (when he rose) fled that night to Egypt with Jesus and Mary. Now how can these two accounts possibly be reconciled if the wise men visited Jesus the night of His birth?

The simple fact is that the wise men did not arrive to worship Jesus until much later after His birth – perhaps as long as two years after His birth. Matthew tells us that Herod ordered all children under two years old to be murdered according to the time the wise men told him the star had appeared to them (Matthew 2:16). Also, there is the much overlooked mention that the wise men entered a “house” (Matthew 2:11) – not a stable or some such place. Certainly, the wise men were not next to the shepherds by the manger adoring the Savior. And while we’re at it, the Bible doesn’t mention anything about how the wise men traveled – nary is a camel mentioned.

Many of our cherished images of that blessed night are inaccurate. But I am no Scrooge. I know the event happened even if we are a little fuzzy on the details. I think the few facts we do know are sufficient – namely this:

… the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

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