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 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 of 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 of 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 does snow 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 of 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.
The Season of Advent (the 4 weeks before Christmas)
Will You Find Rest This Advent Season?
HOPE Advent Candle 1 – Prophecy Gives Hope (video)
LOVE Advent Candle 2 – Promise Reveals Love (video)
JOY Advent Candle 3 – Jesus Is Our Joy (video)
PEACE Advent Candle 4 – Pause to Find Peace (video)
Christmas Day: When Love Was Born — Light the CHRIST Candle
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Christmas-themed GOT QUESTIONS?
- Misconceptions about the Journey to Bethlehem (video)
- Errors in the Nativity Story? Is Jesus’ birthplace wrong?
- Who were the Three Wise Men? Fact or legend?
- How Did the Wise Men Know to Follow His Star?
- Did The Wise Men Arrive 12 Days After Jesus’ Birth? Or Was It Much Later?
- What is the significance of the Three Kings' gifts?
- Was Jesus born in a stable, a cave, or a house?
- Was Jesus born in September (not December?)
- Should we celebrate Jesus’ birthday in September?
- Does “Xmas” Cross Jesus Out of Christmas?
- What is the Prophetic Symbolism of Advent Candles?
- The Most Important Lesson for YOU in the Nativity Story?
- Was Mary a Levite, making Jesus both King and Priest?
- Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?
- How did Jesus become a man?
- Do You Get These 7 Things Right or Wrong About the Nativity Story?
- Are You Stuck in the Middle This Christmas? (short video lessons from the popular comedy TV show "The Middle.")
- What are the Prophecies of Christmas? (video)
- Where are the genealogies of Jesus in Mark and John?
- Why Are There Two Different Genealogies for Jesus?
- Should I Say “Happy Holidays” Instead of “Merry Christmas?”
- A Boastful Christmas Letter
- Peace Delivers Hope
- Promise Ignites Hope
- Preparation Produces Hope
- Prophesy Reveals Hope
- Alone at Christmas? Feeling lonely?
- Another reason God came to dwell with man.
- How can you have a white Christmas without snow?
- Christmas, abortion, and Joseph, the forgotten man of Christmas
- Remember the Wonder of Christmas
- Will you find rest, peace, and joy this advent season?
- A Christmas Morning Prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
- I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, performed by Casting Crowns
- Mary’s Child — from the movie, A Christmas Wish
- The True Meaning of Christmas: The Sacrifice Began (How Many Kings)
- What If You Had Been There When Jesus Was Born? (video)
- Pause To Find Hope. Receive the Promises of God. See Jesus. Hear God’s Plan.
- Christmas Trivia Fun
- Songs of Christmas Series: Away in a Manger; Mary, Did You Know? Rose of Bethlehem; Good Christian Men Rejoice; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; I Wonder As I Wander; What Child Is This? The First Noel In the Bleak Midwinter (a golden oldie)
Have You Heard About This Baby Boy? A most beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, with a Christmas message to touch your heart and give joy to your soul.
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