The day after Thanksgiving, you dig around your attic to pull out Grandma’s nativity set that has been in the family for generations. You put it in the same spot every year so all can see-you are celebrating Jesus’ birth. He is the reason for the season. Have you ever read the Christmas Story while sitting in front of your nativity set? If so, you may have started to tilt your head a bit. If you own the average American’s nativity set, I have to tell you, your nativity set is all wrong.
It didn’t snow on Jesus’ birthday.
While we celebrate Jesus’ birthday on December 25th, scholars place His birth any time between September and December. No matter what day Jesus was actually born on, if you Google the weather in Bethlehem, you will find that they are lucky to receive one day of snow a month during Winter. The Bible does not mention any snow at Jesus’ birth. You would think if there had been snow, it would have been a big enough deal to mention since it happens so infrequently.
There was no inn.
Some translations of Luke 2:7 state “...and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room [instead of inn] available for them.” Because Joseph was returning to his hometown, odds are he knew the people whose house he tried to stay at. It wasn’t some mean innkeeper telling him there was no room to stay; it was most likely his Uncle Barnabus who did not have enough space in his guest room. The translation “guest room” makes a lot more sense based on how Judean houses were situated. Most homes would include a guest room, and since all the aunts and uncles and cousins were in town for a census, Uncle B. ran out of space.
The stable was attached to the house.
Before you go hating on Uncle B. for throwing Joseph and a very pregnant Mary into a barn, let’s get some facts straight. A typical Judean home not only had a guest room but also a part of their house where they brought their best animals in at night to keep them from being stolen. So, while Mary may have had a manger and a water trough in her birthing vicinity, she was safe and had plenty of in-laws nearby. I bet Uncle B. even made the cow sleep outside for the night.
The angels didn’t go with the shepherds to see Jesus.
Having difficulty hanging your angel above your nativity? Your life is about to get a whole lot easier. Luke 2: 8-16 says, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.”
The shepherds ran off to see Jesus after the angels had already returned to Heaven. The only time we should see shepherds and angels together are in a field with sheep, not with Baby Jesus.
There may not have been a new star in the sky.
Not once does the Bible mention a star showing up above where Jesus was born the day the shepherds visited Mary, Joseph and Jesus. It is only when the wise men go to find Jesus around two years after His birth that Scripture mentions a star. Matthew 2:9b says, “And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.”
Did you catch that? The star MOVED and GUIDED them. Anyone else wondering if this was a real star? Many scholars believe this shining, moving blob of awesomeness was not a star at all but instead was actually the Shekinah Glory-a natural manifestation of God’s glory. Another example of the Shekinah Glory would be the pillars of cloud and fire in Exodus that led the Hebrews through the desert.
Historical context is pretty mind-blowing. Where did we even come up with all these nativity traditions? Does this mean we have to throw away Grandma’s nativity?! No, you do not need to chuck Grandma’s nativity and call heresy. Use your heirloom nativity set as a symbol for Jesus’ birth and a representation of the different parts of His beginning story in human flesh. Go through Scripture and teach your kids the differences in what they see all at once versus what happened in order of events. Your nativity still has a wonderful place in your home. Let’s just make sure we know the facts behind the porcelain.
Looking for music to encourage you this Christmas?
Check out this song from Red Letter Society!
Our mission is to cultivate a theologically sound society through empowering the local Church with Christ-centered teaching and worship. Will you partner with us?
Click here to learn more!