There was a show out a number of years ago called "Mythbusters" where they would examine popular sayings and things done in movies to see if they were true or just a myth. Over the years, the story of Christ's birth has become conflated and exaggerated with things twisted and added to it in our songs and popular portrayals. So much so that we can sometimes find it hard to separate the biblical facts from popular fiction. And the last thing we should want is to get an incorrect view in our heads of what took place that first Christmas night. I want to look with you at a number of the most common assumptions which have been made regarding our Savior's arrival in light of what Scripture teaches. If you would like, you could call this, "Mythbusters: Christmas Edition." Let's put some of these elements of the Christmas story to the test of God's Word.
No Room in the Inn? How many times have you heard about the cold-hearted inn-keeper who could not, or would not, find any room for Jesus? He is pictured at the doorway shaking his head "no" and pointing Mary and Joseph away from there. And the countless sermons which have been preached about how we should not be like Him but instead to make room in our hearts for Jesus? However, the only problem with this is that there probably wasn't an inn-keeper. Because it wasn't an inn they were turned away from. The Greek word used for this place in Luke 2:7 is not the one typically for an inn but a guest room in someone's home. (In the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34 where Jesus speaks of the Samaritan taking the man ambushed and beaten by the robbers to an inn, a different word is used in the Greek. This same word though is found in Luke 22:11 regarding Jesus instructing His disciples to ask for the guest room of the man's house for holding the Passover meal.) It was common during a census in that day where one would have to travel back to their hometown for relatives in the area to host them in their homes. More likely, this was the home of one of Joseph's relatives who unfortunately had all of their guest rooms filled up by others who needed a place to stay while in for the census. The best that they could do was to have them stay in the cave next to the house with all of the animals.
Here's another myth to bust by the way. The idea that the birth occurred in a stable. It was typical back then for the animals to be housed in a cave next to a person's home. Don't think of Jesus' first earthly accommodations being a nice size modern day barn with a roof and door. Picture a dark, damp, smelly cave instead. Even more of a humble scene of our Lord's entering into this world.
The Little Lord Jesus No Crying He Makes? We sing every Christmas of Jesus' birth which took place "away in a manger" where there was "no crib for a bed" and about how "the little Lord Jesus no crying He makes." I highly doubt this was the case. Usually, a newborn baby isn't that quiet. You can expect him or her to cry. I remember at first thinking that something must be wrong when our oldest son was born because he didn’t really cry shortly after the birth. However, later on in the day, I started to wonder if something was wrong because he seemed not to ever stop crying! The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus became like us in every way with the sole exception of not sinning (2:17; 4:15). Jesus wasn't born without crying but without sinning. The Son of God became a teeny tiny baby and grew and developed just like we all have but obediently in every area of His life (Luke 1:80; 2:40). And that growth and development would include crying, especially shortly after birth. Let's be careful not to minimize Jesus' humanity in focusing on His divinity. (There weren't any "radiant beams from His holy face" either. He would have resembled any other baby at the time.)
Hark! the Herald Angels SAY? Another Christmas Carol we love to sing, and my personal favorite I might add, is "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing." This is probably the most theologically deep and accurate older hymn of our Lord's birth. The writer, Charles Wesley, really did his homework! But when you read Luke's Gospel concerning the angels appearing to the shepherds that first Christmas night, you don't find it telling us that this multitude of angels were SINGING "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased" but SAYING it (2:13). While it is certainly a possibility that these angels were indeed singing these words, Luke doesn't explicitly say that. We don't know for sure. Praising and singing do go together but the Bible shows us that there are more ways of praising God than just singing to Him. That is one among a number of them. Of course, "Hark! the herald angels say" doesn't rhyme as well with "glory to the newborn king." (Please know that I am not trying to ruin or pick on any of your favorite Christmas Carols. I only want to be biblical and bust any of the myths which may be communicated in them, passed on down through the generations. Don't worry! I will still join you in singing this one loudly this month.)
While we're on the angels, isn't it interesting that in just about every Christmas play and pageant, they are portrayed by girls instead of boys? Yet, every angel we ever encounter in the pages of Scripture has male pronouns. And the only ones we have the names of are masculine ones; Gabriel and Michael. Maybe women just appear to be more angelic than men do. (I won't go any further with that!) And don't get me started with the little cute cherubs and their tiny exposed bottoms. I don't have any idea where they came from but I know it wasn't from Scripture!
The Mysterious Wise Men. Perhaps the group associated with the Christmas story who takes the cake for the most myths developed about them would be the magi or wise men. Much of this is due to the beloved Christmas Carol, "We Three Kings of Orient Are." First off, we are not sure that there were only three of them. There may have been many more. The text of Matthew 2 doesn't specify any specific number. Just that they were magi plural and brought three gifts. It is hard to imagine that just three of them would have caused as much of a stir as described. And I have no clue where the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar came from to call them but it's not from Scripture. For that matter, nothing is said about them being kings either. The word "magi" means "great or powerful ones" and often alluded to those with a high status or influence. These ones probably were astrologers who studied the stars and tried to interpret the future by them. That's why they take such a special notice to this unique star that showed up which others may have just passed over in their causally gazing into the night sky. They made it their practice to examine the stars. The group would not have had crowns on their heads but their eyes on the sky. "We unspecified number of astrologers of Orient are" would be quite a mouthful to sing though.
And when it comes to their arrival, just about every single manger scene gets it wrong. The magi would not have been there at the same time as the shepherds. In fact, they would not have been at the manger at all. Matthew doesn't say that they came to the cave to find the baby or infant but "into the HOUSE" where "they saw the CHILD" (2:11). It probably was a good year or a year and a half before the magi arrived to meet Jesus. We know that it had been close to two years from when they first noticed the star and talked to King Herod about it to when the king realized that they weren't coming back. Hence, why he ordered all the male children two years old and under to be slaughtered (v. 16). So, Jesus would have been one or one and a half at the time of their visit and well out of the manger.
The Truth of Christmas. We could also talk about how Mary did indeed know her baby boy would save our sons and daughters, that He came to make us new, and that He would ultimately deliver her because the angel told her so and due to her knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures which prophesied such. And that there was no little boy who showed up that night playing "pa rum pum pum-pum" on his drum. But the truth about Christmas is that God the Son entered our world through the birth canal of a virgin, came to earth to save His people from their sins just as He had promised many, many, many years ago. There was light entering into our darkness. There were shepherds hearing the news of the angels and seeing the true Lamb of God born that men may have eternal life through His freely giving of His life as a substitute sacrifice. There was hope for the worst of sinners and such a hope that remains today. And that is what we celebrate not just this month but the whole year through. No myths to bust there!
Love in Christ,