"What can a ruined soul, like mine, effect towards the redemption of other souls?—or a polluted soul, towards their purification?"

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Our Myth Of Christmas

If I was still pastoring, my church would have to hear my yearly rant on Christmas and what we've made it into. I'm not a fan of this time of year. For a lot of reasons. But I like it for one reason. But I'll get there.

I just got back from Wal-Mart so I'm a little more cynical than usual. People are always frowning this time of year. And they're frowning at church when they're singing Christmas songs. Oh, I'm just getting started. I don't even know where to start.

Christmas cards. So pretty. So divine. There's always the ones with the wise men traveling with the star in the sky. Or the three wise men huddled around the manger, animals all around, giving their gifts to Jesus. So kingly. So humble. Snow all around. There's the baby Jesus in the freezing cold wearing his diaper while the three noble kings from the orient bow down and offer him gifts.

Somewhere in the background, you can hear, "We Three Kings Of Orient Are". . .

There's a problem, though. A problem that most Christians should know about but don't. If you read Matthew 2 carefully, you'll learn a lot about these guys. It never says how many there are, just the number of gifts they bring. It never says the star led them straight to Jesus. They had to ask for directions. They weren't kings, they were more like astrologers. And guess what? They didn't get there until Jesus was a young child. Not at the time of his birth. Go read it. It's all right there. Jesus was living in a house at the time.

The "wise men" don't belong in a nativity, that's for sure.

"Oh, Arthur," you'll say. "You're being so picky. It's part of the story." No, it's not. For a group of people who pride themselves on a high view of Scripture and not adding to or taking away from it, we sure take liberties with the Christmas story, don't we? There's an old saying that we should speak where Scripture speaks and be silent where it is silent. Well, get ready, there's more.

There's also some lovely Christmas depictions of Mary riding a donkey to Bethlehem while she's really, really pregnant. Was she? Bible doesn't say she was really pregnant. For all we know she could have just been barely pregnant. And who said she rode a donkey? You'll say, "What else did she ride?" Point is, we romanticize the thing. Why do we do that?

I had a friend a few years ago who invited me to her church play. Someone had written it and directed it and they were really excited about it. She said it was very biblical. I asked, "What's it called?" She said, "The innkeeper."

I paused for dramatic effect. I'm famous for that.

I said, "What innkeeper?"

She said, "You know, the innkeeper who said there was no room at the inn and told Mary and Joseph they couldn't stay there."

I pulled out my Bible to Luke 2. I said, "Show me the innkeeper." She looked and looked and finally showed me the verse about there being no room at the inn.

I said, "Yeah, but there's no innkeeper."

She said, "But there had to be an innkeeper."

I said, "You're about to tell me I'm a know it all, but it wasn't like a Holiday Inn Express. In those days, an 'inn' was like an addition to someone's house. There was a census and a lot of people crammed into a small space, into someone's living quarters. It wasn't an inn like we know it, hence, no innkeeper. I'm sure the play will be great and the heart is there, but there's still no innkeeper."

She said, "You're a know it all."

Yeah, but there had to be an innkeeper because John Piper wrote a poem about it. See Arthur? You're taking it too far. It's just people being creative. Yeah, yeah. I'm sure his church can tell the difference, it's the rest of Christendom I'm concerned about. But I'm still not sure.

Then, one of my favorite scenes on Christmas cards, paintings, etc. The angels that appeared to the shepherds. Little chubby angel babies singing in the sky about the good news of Jesus' birth. Now, come on. You all have to know this is ridiculous.

Are we even reading our Bibles or are we just perpetuating a tradition? Luke says that the angels stood/appeared before them. Doesn't say a word about hovering in the air. And guess what? No chubby, fat angel babies. They don't exist. The Bible describes a "company" or a "host". These are military terms. These are strong, warrior angels. These shepherds were scared. Remember the angel said, "Fear not"? Fat little angel babies wouldn't have had to say, "Fear not."

Don't even get me started on Christmas songs.

Okay. Do.

Not to get too picky, (too late), but I heard an adult Christian the other day talking to another adult Christian about whether the little drummer boy was really at Christ's birth. Seriously. Seriously.

I'll mention one song I really, really hate. There are several. I hate them because they're seriously, theologically flawed and they perpetuate our fictional ideas about the truth about the Christmas story. One of the best ways we learn good (or bad) theology is through our music. If we sing good songs, we learn good theology. If we sing bad songs, we learn bad theology.

Exhibit A is "Do You Hear What I Hear?" Yeah, it's meant to be lighthearted. And it starts like that. It's cute. It's fun. But it strikes way, way out in the end. A wind tells a lamb who tells a shepherd boy about Jesus. So far, so-so. But then the boy tells the king and the king, in response tells everyone how wonderful this is and how the baby will bring us goodness and light.

Who was the only king around during this time? Herod. What did he want to do to Jesus? Kill him. And he sent out spies to find Jesus. Who were his spies? The wise men.

I'm done complaining. But I have a point. What if we watered down, added to and took away from the story of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection like this every year? People would melt down. But it's okay to do it to the Christmas story?

What's the story really look like? It looks like this. A young girl, Mary, who was probably around 14 or 15, a virgin went back to Bethlehem with her bethrothed, Joseph. Was she scared? Probably. Don't fool yourself.

She got to a place where they thought they could find some room, a place where much of the community was staying, but it was cramped and crowded, wall to wall. But, no problem, God provides. There's actually no mention of a barn, or a stable in Scripture. In Bethlehem, they have a cave marked as the birthplace of Christ. It doesn't matter. They actually found somewhere to lodge and to find shelter.

We don't know how long they stayed there until she gave birth, but she did. Any woman who has given natural childbirth knows it is a painful process and Mary's wasn't any different. But when it was over, she loved Jesus and held him. This young mother was with Joseph and regardless of what was going on around them, she had the promise of God and all she needed right there.

Imagine her surprise when a band of shepherds came in. Smelly, dirty, but they had news. They had just been told by angels of good news. That a savior had come and they wanted to see him.

What does the Bible say? She pondered these things in her heart. This young girl, who would watch her son grow up and eventually die for others just watched her newborn as God worked in history.

Simple. To the point. Yet glorious. A savior came because we needed to be saved.

What could we possibly need to add to that?


  1. Thanks for your post. I whole heartedly agree! We have watered down and romanticized the Christmas story. Funny thing is I have always felt that way about Christmas. So it may seem funny that it's always bothered me that our one Christian music radio station in town is the only place that never plays Christmas music at this time of year. Not that I'm always fond of what they play through out the year anyway (but that's another topic hehe). Anyway, this year they actually started playing christmas music (yes I meant to not capitalize that) they were playing "Sleigh Bells Ring are you Listening" .... Ummm OK never mind stick to NOT playing "Christmas" music please :) Merry Christmas, may you have a blessed Christmas as we remember not only "that" Christ came but more importantly "why" He came! God bless you and your family.

  2. Merry Christmas to you too, friend. Glad to know there are other "christmas" protestants out there.

    Thanks for the comment and take care,


  3. LOL yeah, I always fuss about these things, too. The Christmas plays I wrote were interesting adaptations to be sure, full of murder, weeping women, angels in military garb... I took my own liberties, but I always wanted to get to the heart of the matter while complaining ;-)

  4. Shadowvoice,

    Now those sound like some Christmas plays I would definitely attend.

    I was talking to Cynthia on the way back from Wal-Mart today (why do I keep going there?) and I was thinking about live nativities.

    What would happen in a church did a true to life nativity scene? What if we put out a fourteen year old Jewish girl for Mary, a middle aged man for Joseph (best guess), and had Mary scream in labor pains for about six hours?

    Just wonderin'. Sure would be different than the Americanized 30 something year old couples we usually get. Would be more historical. Anyway. Just a thought.