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Some Christmas Story Facts

At the risk of sounding like the Grinch who stole Christmas, I would like to take a moment and state some biblical facts about the Christmas Story.

Let’s start with the Bethlehem Inn Keeper who refused to receive this couple into his establishment. This poor guy has often been cast as a heartless villain in the story. Note: There is no Inn Keeper in the Christmas Story. The text merely states that there was no room in Bethlehem’s Village Inn. Most likely due to the influx of pilgrims returning to register for the Roman census. As a result, No Vacancy, with no heartless Inn Keeper to be found (Luke 2:7).

Middle of the winter? Probably not, because it was the habit of shepherds of the region to stay with their flocks in the open field during the warm months of the year. In the cold months, bands of sheep were herded into a common corral-type enclosure that had in the middle of it a warming hut for the shepherds. In the morning the shepherds would call their sheep by name and return to pasture grounds for the day (John 10:1-5).

Did the Wisemen, who were guided by a star to Bethlehem, visit the new-born King at the stable? No. By the time they arrived on the scene, Joseph and Mary and Jesus were living in a house (Matthew 2:11). And the baby, who at one time was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, was now a toddler who was probably walking. Another clue is that when Herod realized that the Wisemen were not returning to him as instructed, he ordered the killing of the young boys in Bethlehem who were two years of age and younger (Matthew 2:16).

Did Mary ride on a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem? Who knows, the text does not say. Was the stable filled with assorted animals when Jesus was born? Who knows, the text does not say.

What do we know for certain? We know that Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem because Caesar Agustus mandated a census that required individuals to register at their ancestral home (Luke 2:1). We know that some Judean shepherds saw and heard an announcement of the Messiah’s birth from angelic messengers (Luke 2:8-14). And, as they followed the angel’s instructions, found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger (Luke 2:15-16). We know that later Magi (astrologers) from a country to the east of Palestine arrived on the scene, guided by a star (Matthew 2:1-2).

Now, I know what you are thinking, “Wayne, what does it matter? In the large scope of things, probably not a whole lot. But it is easy to see how stories can take on a life of their own when we do not pay close attention to what the text of scripture actually says. I will also concede that because such a big event is described for us in precious few words, there are background happenings of which we are totally unaware, and this also lends to our taking of creative license. Most Christians get this, but for those with little biblical knowledge or background, they are just as apt to believe that there was also a Little Drummer Boy at the manger, who, with a nod of Mary’s head began to play his instrument.

What I am striving for is that our telling of the whole gospel story be told as accurately as possible from the written testimony of scripture. Many would say that in this instance it doesn’t matter, it’s a beautiful story, nonetheless. But what do we do, along the way, when someone asks, “Does it really matter that Jesus was born of a Virgin?” or “Is it truly necessary to believe that Jesus performed miracles.” Or “Does it really matter that Jesus was physically raised form the dead following His crucifixion?”

In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul made the case that approved workmen of God do their very best to accurately handle the scriptures (II Timothy 2:15).

By the way, I just walked through my living room and on display are twelve Nativity Scenes. My wife, Sandy, loves Nativity Scenes and we have bought them from every corner of this country as we have traveled together. And yes, several of them include Wisemen and an assortment of animals at the stable. They are and will always be a beautiful part of this wonderful season, a blessed reminder of our Savior’s birth.

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