Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Misconceptions: Are We Getting the Story Right?

Christmas. It’s all about the good times right? Friends, family, candlelight church services, stockings, eggnog, shopping, mistletoe, Christmas lights…and widespread misinformation.

Yeah, Christmas definitely takes the lead in “the holiday with the most folktales and urban legends” category. In fact much of our Christmas nativity story is filled with outright unbiblical ideas!

The typical story we hear repeated is:
“On the evening of December 25th, about 2000 years ago, Mary, who is urgently needing to deliver her baby, rides into Bethlehem on a donkey. Although it’s an emergency, all the innkeepers turn them away. So she delivers baby Jesus in an outside stable. Then angels sing to the shepherds. Afterwards, the shepherds join up with three kings on camels, find the baby Jesus and worship the quiet newborn.”
What’s the problem? Well, this story might be almost entirely wrong. The events surrounding the birth have been retold so many times and in songs, in plays, books, and movies that most people have a distorted view of the true Nativity events. The only accurate record is found in the Bible, so we’ll be comparing the rampant Christmas misconceptions with the Scriptures.

Christmas Misconception #1 Jesus was Born in a Stable
Was Jesus born in a stable or in a barn? The Bible does not mention either of these places in connection with Christ’s birth, only a manger. Scripture simply reports that they laid Jesus in a manger because there was no room for him in the guest room (Luke 2:7). The Greek word used in Scripture is kataluma, and can mean guest chamber, lodging place or inn. The only other time this word was used in the New Testament, it means a furnished, large, upper story room within a private house. It’s translated guest chamber, not inn (Mark 14:14-15). There was a word for an inn (i.e. hotel) used in that day – pandocheion. Luke uses that word in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34, so he definitely didn’t mean that there was no room in the local Holiday Inn!

According to Bible archaeology experts, Jesus was probably born in the house of relatives on the bottom floor, underneath the normal living and guest quarters. This is because all of Joseph's family, perhaps with their wives and children, would have been in the same house due the census Caesar had issued (Luke 2:1-3). Your typical home during the time of Jesus’ birth was two-stories. The first level was kind of like a garage, and yes, it would be normal to have a few of your prized animals kept in there. The second floor would have been the living quarters - “the inn.” In order to give Joseph and his very pregnant wife some privacy, everyone probably decided to let Joseph and Mary stay in the first level. It was definitely a bit rough - not your ideal place give birth; but not a stable.

Does this mean we have to throw out our cheesy little Nativity scenes? Maybe; maybe not. But I do make an effort to explain to my children how it really went down. 

Other Christmas Misconceptions:
#1 Jesus was born in a Stable#2 The Innkeeper Turned Mary + Joseph Away#3 No Crying He Makes
#4 Mary, Urgently Needing to Deliver a Baby, Rides into Bethlehem on a Donkey#5 Three Kings, Riding on Donkeys, Come to See the Baby Jesus#6 Jesus was Born on December 25th

Oh come on now, don’t get your undies in a bundle! Just because we may have taken some of our Christmas traditions from pagans and get our facts wrong about the nativity doesn't mean Christmas is ruined. Just know your Christmas facts!

Merry Christmas!

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