Have you ever believed something that you thought to be true that turned out to be radically wrong? It’s frustrating and embarrassing, right? I grew up in Washington State. For the longest time I though that Washington DC was in Washington State. Why? Because the capitol building in Olympia, the state capitol, has the same dome on it as the Capitol Building in Washington DC. Pictures of Olympia showed this domed building. Same dome, same place, right? Wrong! But for more years than I care to admit I thought this was the case. I think I even took a test with a multiple choice question asking where Washington DC was in the United States, and I chose Washington State. There are similarly confusing things about Christmas; confusing pictures, leading to bad assumptions, which then become traditional truths that no one considers. Well, its time to consider.
Above is a picture I took at a place in Portland called The Grotto. Every Christmas season they do some fun things with lights that walks you through the Christmas story. At one point they have this nearly life-sized Nativity scene. My wife pointed out that the little Nativity scene we inherited somewhere along the line is this exact same scene, just smaller. Kinda funny, but I digress. There are a few things in this scene that contradict what the Bible actually says, but because it’s a traditional thing, no one really questions it.
- The Wisemen. They were not present when Jesus was born. They showed up months if not a year or two later. There were not three of them, there were three gifts. And they were not interracial like this, they were middle-eastern, either Arab or Persian in appearance. For more detail, see this summary, this video which is part two of a two-parter but focuses on the Magi. (Here is a link to part one just to be thorough.)
- The Shepherd. The old man on the left in this Nativity is a shepherd. Shepherds were young men, like the guy just behind Mary in the scene) who either inherited the job as the youngest in the family, or could get no other work. There were multiple shepherds present just after Jesus was born.
- The Angels. The angels that spoke with the shepherds are sometimes present in a Nativity scene. Interestingly enough, they did not sing. It says in Luke that “they praised God and said…” Praise doesn’t equal singing. I’m not saying they absolutely did not sing, but it doesn’t say that they did.
What is true
What did happen in Bethlehem? What are some truths that aren’t a part of the traditions yet should be?
- Bethlehem was where the sheep that were sold at the Temple for sacrifices were raised. Those shepherds in the fields who encountered the angels were tending sacrificial lambs. This is where Jesus, The Lamb of God, was born.
- Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Jesus refers to Himself as the bread of life. Mary literally had a bun in the oven.
- The stable was possibly a stone cave, not a wooden shed. If this is the case, Jesus was born in a cave, buried in a cave, and rose again from a cave. He was and is The Rock that was carved without hands.
The Good and Bad Implications
The faith of many Christians and their relationship with church is largely based on traditions. At some point in their lives, someone points out the discrepancies between these traditions and what the Bible actually says. When this person accepts these discrepancies in the same way that they accepted the traditions, without looking for the truth, they chuck the whole Bible and church and Jesus as being bogus. The fact of the matter is that the traditions and apparent discrepancies are bogus. We all need to have our own personal encounters with Jesus in our lives on a regular basis. How can we do this?
A very valuable thing to do from time to time is to check your assumptions. Is what you assumed to be true, actually true? Do some digging. Expand your understanding. Get to know God’s word better and you will get to know the God of the word better. God loves to use patterns. The points about about the lambs, the bread, and the cave, are all patterns that God has very creatively woven through the Bible for you and I to discover. When you find one for yourself it really is a thrill. Pray for the Holy Spirit to show you a pattern you’ve never seen before, and you will have a deeper love for God, guaranteed.
[reminder]What are some patterns that God has revealed to you, and what impact has it had on your life?[/reminder]