Many have already set up their nativity scenes on mantles, tables or under the tree. Nativity scenes are beautiful. They cause us to wonder and consider what it might have been like so many years ago on the night in which our Saviour was born. Unfortunately, many nativity scenes portray misconceptions about Christmas. They depict things that are not biblically supported. So also do many of the Christmas narratives and pageants at this time of year. They all tell the Christmas story, but are they correct? Is it the “Hollywood syndrome” whereby the story get “rewritten” with theatrical and poetic license?
Did You Know?
For the next three weeks, Got Questions? will focus on common misconceptions surrounding Jesus’ birth. First, let’s address that most nativity scenes portray European or Caucasian people. We know that Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the shepherds were all Middle-eastern Jews and that the Wise Men were from Persia, so we also know that the figures in nativity scenes should have much darker skin. Setting that aside, let’s focus on some lesser known misconceptions. This week we’ll review the journey to Bethlehem and Mary and Joseph’s arrival there. What do we know about this journey? What does the Bible tell us and what has been created by legend and lore?
Did Mary ride on a donkey to Bethlehem?
We don’t know the answer to this question. But it is likely that she did. The Bible only tells that Mary went with Joseph to the city of David, which is Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-5). The Bible does not say that Mary rode on a donkey. However, since we know that the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was 70-80 miles and that Mary was pregnant (Luke 2:5), it is not likely Mary would have been able to travel the full distance on foot. Other than walking, the means of travel at that time would have included donkeys, camels, horses or some type of cart drawn by a horse. Since Joseph was not believed to have been a rich man, it seems most likely that he would not have been able to get a camel, horse or cart for use in their journey. It does seem possible that he would have owned, or been able to borrow, a donkey for Mary to ride upon during the journey to Bethlehem.
Did Mary give birth the night she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem?
No, she did not. Christmas narratives and pageants present the idea that as soon as Mary and Joseph found shelter Mary went into labor and delivered Jesus. The Bible does not support that. There is no indication how long Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem before she gave birth, but we can be certain it did not happen on the day she arrived. Luke 2:6 indicates at least a couple days, but it’s possible there may have been more:
Luke 2:6-7 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son…
Was there snow in Bethlehem around the nativity scene?
We don’t know the answer to this question. Many nativity scenes feature a snow setting. While it is true that it snows in Israel during the winter months, it is not accurate to assume that snow was falling, or that snow blanketed the ground in Bethlehem, when Jesus was born. In fact, there is support to believe that Jesus was not born in late December. He might have been born in late September. In that case, there would not have been any snow in Israel (other than at the top of Mt. Hermon, which always has snow). The reasons are many for thinking a September birth to have occurred. A foremost reason is that the shepherds were “in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). If it had been December, it would have been too cold for the flock to be in the field at night. It’s quite possible that when Jesus was born, and came to dwell (tabernacle) with us, it was around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles in late September (Read…Was Jesus born in September? and see pictures of the record snowfall in Israel in December 2013)
The Beauty of Nativity Scenes
Now don’t hear me wrong and don’t put away your nativity scenes. Don’t skip the Christmas pageants and, please, don’t criticize the way they tell the Christmas story! The message of Jesus coming to earth, as an infant born of a virgin, is accurate…even if some of the other details are amiss.
The purpose for addressing these misconceptions is so we don’t base our theology on man’s narratives. Instead, always be a Berean and check the Scriptures to determine what is true (Acts 17:11).
Enjoy the Christmas narratives, but hold closely to the truths revealed in the Bible. The Bible does not give all-inclusive information about Jesus’ birth, but the Bible does give fully-sufficient information to know that Jesus humbled Himself and came to earth to seek and save the lost. He came to be Emmanuel—God with us. Rejoice in the great sacrifice of God that brought salvation to mankind.
Lesson for This Week
Mary and Joseph are enduring examples of obedience to the will of God. Reflect on their difficult trip to Bethlehem and the Scripture it fulfilled.
Micah 5:2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
As we approach Christmas, prepare your heart to “come to the manger.” Focus your eyes on Jesus the One who was whispered of in the Old Testament and revealed in Bethlehem in a lowly manger. Prepare your heart to see Jesus.
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Misconceptions about the Journey to Bethlehem (video)
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A Christmas Morning Prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Christmas Trivia Fun (video)
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