In the past few entries, we have examined a few of the common misconceptions surrounding the Birth of Jesus Christ. These include: the number of magi (whether or not they were actually kings, and when they actually visited), what the Star of Bethlehem was and was not, whether Jesus was born in December or not, the like. This entry, let us examine a few more common misconceptions, in this month of Christmas. Now, to summarize the aforementioned: We do not know how many magi there were, but there was at least two, and there may have been several more. The misconception arises because of the fact that three gifts were presented to the child Jesus. Though arguable, most scholars agree that the magi were probably not kings, though "We Three Kings" remains a wonderful song.
By looking at Matthew 1-2, we can determine that the Magi most likely visited Jesus, Joseph and Mary when Jesus was about two years old. We know this because by then, Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived in a house, (Matthew 2:11) and Herod had asked the magi, or wise men, when the Star of Bethlehem had appeared - they told him about two years before, (Matthew 2:7, 3:16) when Christ was born. We can now clear up a few more misconceptions. What is the typical story we hear around Christmas? “About 2000 years ago, on December 25, Mary rode into Bethlehem on a donkey with Joseph, urgently needing to deliver the baby. Even though it is an emergency, all of the innkeepers turn them away, save one, who takes them to his stable. So, Jesus is delivered in a stable. After this, the angels sang to the shepherds. Then, everyone joins three kings with camels in worshiping the quiet, newborn Savior.”
What's wrong with this picture? At first glance, nothing. Let us take a closer look. Christ's birth did occur a little over 2000 years ago, yes. In a previous entry, we determined that Christ was most likely not born in December, but probably sometime in May/June, perhaps April, some claim September. It is believed to have occurred in the spring. But what about the donkey? The accounts given in Matthew 1:18-25; 2:1-12, and Luke 1:26-80; 2:1-20 do not specify how Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem. There are several other possibilities, it does not necessitate for her to have ridden on a donkey - but that is the common thought. "...urgently needing to deliver the baby..." Matthew and Luke never state this, either. Mary and Joseph could have arrived weeks before Jesus was born. Luke 2:6 states, "while they were [in Bethlehem], the days were accomplished that she would be delivered."
It is possible that Mary and Joseph arrived in town the night of her delivery, but it is a misconception that this is what the text explicitly states, for it does not. Furthermore, "Even though it was an emergency, all of the innkeepers turn them away, save one, who takes them to a stable." Actually, Matthew and Luke never mention Mary and Joseph talking to any innkeepers. They may have played a role, but even though we see the innkeepers in plays and movies as well as drawings and such, they are not mentioned in the biblical accounts. All that we read is found in Luke 2:7, "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 available for them." This very well could be referring to relatives who lived in Bethlehem - no "guest room" at their relative's home, or it may have been referring to inns. What about Jesus being born in a stable?
Or was he born in a cave? Perhaps a barn? The early Christian writings of St. Justin Martyr and the Infancy Gospel of James suggest that he was born in a cave. In Luke, we read, "She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger." A cave, a barn, and a stable are not mentioned - only a manger. All we find in Scripture is that the baby was laid in a manger because there was no room in the guest room. In fact, the only other time the Hebrew word used for guestroom is seen, it is in Mark 14:14-15, when it describes a guest room (private room) of an upper story in a house. Some scholars believe Jesus may have been born in the manger of a close relative, not in a manger of an innkeeper - though this is controversial to many who hold to the traditional account. What about the traditional song, "away in a manger... little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes..." - the biblical account never states that the baby Jesus did not cry. Thus, it is possible that it was in a cave of some form, a barn within a cave outcropping, or perhaps a "guest room" at a relative's home.
We also hear about how the angels "sang" to the shepherds, who were watching their flocks. Let's take a look at the text, "Suddenly a great company of 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.'" (Luke 2:13-15) Notice the text says, "a great company of heavenly host... praising God." Throughout the Bible, we find angels praising God, but they are not always singing. It is possible that the angels were singing, but we do not know for sure, as this is not what the text tells us explicitly. Another thing: did the magi ride camels, and where did they come from? The Bible does not answer either. It is believed that they rode on camels, and thought that they came from the way of Persia - but the text does not tell us.
In some films, pictures, and books, we see angels present at Christ's birth. But were there actually any angels present at his birth? The text does not indicate yes or no, it simply does not make mention of angels in this specific way. It is true that, due to the significance of the event, multitudes of angels were likely present - but whether or not Mary and Joseph could see them, as is portrayed in some popular media, Matthew and Luke do not tell us. What does it all add up to? Understand this: over time, man's opinions and interpretations change, but God's Word never changes. It has never changed, and there is evidence to prove this. So what do we know about the birth? The virgin Mary was told by the archangel Gabriel (who had appeared centuries before to the prophet Daniel) that she would give birth to the Messiah, Jesus. Joseph was later informed by a heavenly messenger.
After Augustus decreed a census, Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, where not long after, Jesus was born in a manger. In fields nearby, shepherds were told by an angel that the Messiah had been born in a manger in Bethlehem, (the town of David, Luke 2:11) and this was followed by a heavenly host praising God. The shepherds proceeded to visit Christ and worshiped him, and so it was that Jesus Christ was born. Around two years later, magi from the east, having seen a star over Bethlehem, they followed until reaching Jerusalem, where they conversed with King Herod and confirmed the location of his birth, and informed Herod of when the star had first appeared. The magi again saw the Star of Bethlehem and finally reached the house in which Joseph, Mary and Jesus were living in Bethlehem - because the star had stayed above the house itself.
After acknowledging the child's importance, the magi gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After this, the magi returned to their own country, and did not report back to Herod. Herod, angry at having been deceived by the magi, sent out his men to kill any male child under the age of two. But having been warned in a dream, Joseph "took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where they stayed until the death of Herod." (Matthew 2:14; which was shortly after.) At Christmas-time, we may find that we lose ourselves in all of the propaganda, all of the popular media, all of the traditions. But never lose focus on the real reason we celebrate: It is because Jesus was born, the Son of God, the Creator, and entered into His Creation. This is the Incarnation. Before closing, I would like to quote St. Paul from Philippians 2:5-8, which says the following:
"In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, though he was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he emptied himself by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross." Now, he lives, and is asking for his creation to follow him.