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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Speculations

While we seek to learn from the Scriptures, we can't help but be influenced by other sources as well. Often, the accounts of Christ's arrival are merged together with Christmas cards, Christmas songs, and yes, even Charlie Brown Christmas specials. We end up assuming things that aren't in the text, or are even contrary to the text.

I have not conducted a scientific poll, but the following are some things that generally get tangled into the Christmas story.

    5. Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem.
I have not seen the Nativity Story, but I have been told that it shows Mary riding a donkey to Bethlehem. This concept hardly originated with the movie, but did you realize nowhere in Scripture does it suggest that Mary rode a donkey? Is it possible that she did? It's possible, but given Mary and Joseph's insignificant status (in the world's eyes), it is unlikely that she rode anything. Mary and Joseph probably made the journey together on foot.
    4. Wisemen at the Manger.
It seems that lately many people are debunking this myth. Most of our nativity scenes have at least one magi there. Actually, we have no identification that it was three men, but we certainly know they did not arrive the night of His birth. Instead, they tell Herod they saw the star and then began to travel. Matthew 2:1 says this all took place after the birth of Christ. Certainly, Herod's response (Matthew 2:16) would lead us to believe Jesus was a toddler. This would also be consistent with Matthew saying the magi entered the house to see Mary and the Child.
    3. Deaf and Mute Zacharias.
Because Zacharias lacked faith, Gabriel struck him mute as a sign that his son John would be the forerunner to Christ. In Luke 1:22, it says that when he came out of the temple, he was unable to speak to the people around him. However, at the time for John to receive his name, there was a debate over what to call him. Elizabeth was set on the name John, and the people turn to Zacharias for clarity. The text says that the people motioned to Zacharias to see what he should be named (Luke 2:62). As if it is not frustrating enough to have your voice taken away for a period of time, Zacharias had to endure a game of charades when he was probably perfectly capable of hearing the entire conversation.
    2. All the hotels were full.
This is a case of reading western society into an eastern world, and possibly a case of loose translation. First, in an eastern society, the concept of a hotel would have been an insult to the residents. They prided themselves in hospitality, and a person who needed lodging to have to find a hotel would not have been a sign of a hospitable city. Second, they are in Bethlehem because Joseph's (and Mary's) ancestors are from this town. Therefore, they would have been able to find extended family who probably lived in the region. Third, the word "kataluma" is used two other times in Scripture (Mark 14:14, Luke 22:11), each time refering to the guest room where Jesus enjoyed the Passover with His disciples. More than likely, Mary and Joseph did not knock on the Bethlehem Red Roof Inn, but rather, approached a distant family member who had an overcrowded house already with all the people that had to come to Bethlehem.

(And to really blow your mind, it is possible that Jesus wasn't born in a stable, either. The text only identifies a manger, not a stable as well. It is very possible that all the beds in their host home were taken up, so after Jesus was born, a manger was brought into the house to be His crib. How's that for destroying your traditional image of Christmas?)
    1. Quiet Baby Jesus.
Silent Night is a beautiful song to sing, but everything about that song is much more tranquil than the events that took place. Did Mary make any noise? More than likely. Since she also was a sinner there is no reason to assume that she did not feel birthpains. Do you think a host of angels are loud? I doubt a heavenly host praises the Lord in silence. Would the city have been loud? More than likely, since Christ's birth went unrecognized by most. Would Jesus have lied their quietly? Unlikely. As a baby, He would have communicated being hungry, tired, wet in all the ways that a baby does.

To assume any of these things is probably not dangerous. However, we can often build explanations off of these assumptions. In time, these assumptions begin to become fact and we construct a view that may or may not be accurate. I think this happens especially frequently with Jesus. In recent months, I have heard all kinds of speculation about Jesus...

He was silent in the manger

Addressed above.

He was a good carpenter.

Does being the Messiah require that He made great furniture?
Could He have merely been adequate at "His trade"
since that wasn't even remotely His calling?

He was atheletic.

This is built of the assumption that He would have been in good shape,
for He had to use hand tools and didn't have many of the conveniences
of today that allow for less physical activity. This is certainly true.
However, wouldn't everyone have been in good shape back then?
Would He really have had a physical edge over other men? Probably not.
Certainly, He had strength unimaginable to endure the cross,
yet atheticism may be an inaccurate way to describe it.

Life of the party.

I heard this used one day since Jesus went to a party
(the wedding feast) and because people regularly invited
Him into their home. But He was usually invited into a home
because of His teaching, not His entertainment factor. Certainly,
Jesus may have had a lot of fun with people, we have no reason
to assume He didn't. However, we can make an equal error if we
impose "fun-loving" on others as if it is one of the fruit of the Spirit.

I hope this list causes us to read the Christmas story again, this time reading what the text presents to us, and trying to keep from interjecting our own speculation. Certainly, it is fun to speculate about what Jesus was like, but it is even more glorifying to see Him as the Word describes:
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

--John 1:14

Merry Christmas and Maranatha!


  • At 9:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


  • At 10:49 AM, Blogger TheReformedThinker said…

    Your observations are excellent. Thanks for the reminder of accurately reading the text.

    One other question about Jesus the carpenter - did he ever cut a board the wrong length?

  • At 11:53 AM, Blogger Looking Upward said…

    One thing that I like to point out to my children is that (in the version we read), we find Mary, Joseph and the babe lying in a manger. A very large manger apparently...

  • At 3:59 PM, Blogger Charity said…

    The idea of Mary riding a donkey to Bethlehem is much less ludicrous than the idea of an 8-9 months pregnant woman WALKING all the way there. :-p If you had ever been pregnant, you would know that!

  • At 1:34 PM, Blogger ~d said…

    i agree with charity, but it sounds better coming from her for some reason :)


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