Separating human myth from Bible fact

Jesus was almost certainly not born on December 25.  Shepherds watched over their flocks in the open fields, a la Luke 2:8, during the spring and summer, not the winter.  To keep such an arrangement during the cold of winter would be cruel to the sheep, let alone the shepherds.

       The angels did not proclaim the arrival of Jesus as the advent of a time of “peace on earth” — at least, not “peace” in the conventional sense.  (Since we have had anything but “peace on earth” in the last 2,000 years, that knowledge should not be surprising.)  Yes, the Christ would be “Prince of peace,” according to Isaiah 9:6; however, that peace was between man and God, not man and man.  And even that peace was conditional; only those “with whom He is pleased” (as Luke 2:14, properly translated, attributes to the angels) would be given peace, and even they were promised an increase of conflict, not a decrease, with unbelievers (Matthew 10:34).

The “wise men,” or magi, did not visit Jesus at the time of His birth.  That is when they left for Palestine.  Herod wanted “the exact time the star appeared” (Matthew 2:7) so he could determine how old the Christ Child likely was; consequently, after realizing he had been tricked by the magi, he ordered the death of all Bethlehem male children two years old and younger (Matthew 2:16).  And there is no indication that there were precisely three of them, nor that they were “kings from orient.”

The stable scene itself is questionable.  In the highly hospitable culture of First Century Judah, Joseph would not have returned to his ancestral home only to stay in a public waystation.  The “inn” (kataluma) in Luke 2:7 is better rendered “guest chamber.”  It is the same word used for the “upper room” where Jesus met with His disciples before His betrayal (Mark 14:14).  It is quite different from the “inn” (pandocheion) of the Good Samaritan parable (Luke 10:34). 

The manger (phatne) in which the infant Jesus lay was a common feature of the ground floor in Jewish dwellings of the day.  Livestock were housed out of the elements at night, and then untied from the “stall” (again, phatne) and led out to water (Luke 13:15).  The likely scenario is that Joseph and Mary arrived at an already-filled house (not surprising, considering the entire clan was gathering there because of the census) and were forced to stay downstairs with the animals.

Jesus was not the child of refugees.  He was not unwelcome.  He was not homeless.  He was not rejected even before He was born.  He was, simply put, poor — and perhaps not even remarkably poor by the standards of His culture.

So, “What’s the harm?”, you may ask.  Is the traditional story of Jesus’ birth so bad?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  Surely confessing the virgin birth of Jesus, even with some of the details muddied, is the important thing.  Still, myths are dangerous.  Any sacrifice of God’s truth for man’s tradition is a bad trade.  If we set a precedent for believing what makes us “feel good” rather than listening to God tell His own story, we begin down a road from which U-turns are difficult and rare.

If the so-called holiday season causes us to reflect on the incredible blessing brought to us that wondrous night long ago, well and good.  But let us give thanks for what actually happened, rather than what we have been told over the years — and then let us learn the lessons God is actually trying to teach us, rather than whatever self-serving spin is being applied by our friends and neighbors.  

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