The Expository Files

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas - Not!

We are getting ready to enter another Christmas season. There are many things about the holiday that people do not know, and probably would rather not know. It's not that I am a scrooge or anything, but I have to tell you that the whole celebration is foreign to the gospels, the epistles, the history, and the practice of the church in the New Testament. This is not because the birth of Jesus was not a wonderful event worth remembering. It is. The Lord just did not ordain it as something to be celebrated in an annual observance. That's it. He didn't. Please don't "kill the messenger" but this is the fact of the matter. No Christian in Bible times knew anything about Christmas trees and presents. They did not know anything about a "mass" of any sort. They were appreciative for the birth of Christ, as I am. The announcement of angels to the shepherds heralding the birth of God's Son is a tremendous and joyful thing to be remembered, even though it was the result of "unplanned parenthood."

But though many urge us to "keep Christ in Christmas" (we've got to insert Him in it because God never did) it is interesting that the events surrounding the birth of Christ do not always match up with "the Christmas story" as it is told today.

First, Mary was a virgin betrothed to Joseph. It had been prophesied that a virgin would bear a son (Isaiah 7:14) and this was fulfilled as were all the prophecies concerning Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-23). But, unlike many believe, Mary did not remain a virgin. She and Joseph had other children, though she did remain a virgin up until after they married and Jesus was born (Matthew 1:24,25; cf. Matthew 13:55,56).

Second, though the shepherds did visit the baby on the night he was born, the "wise men" did not. All the nativity scenes which show the shepherds and the wise men gathered around the manger are wrong. The wise men were not there. They were packing and leaving their homes far to the east, and following the star, beginning their travels to Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1-12). After a long journey taking at least weeks, they arrived at Jerusalem and made inquiry of Herod about the newborn king. It was the first Herod had heard of it, and he secretly wanted to kill this potential future rival. His counselors informed him that the king was to be born in Bethlehem, so Herod told the wise men to go and find the child, and then return to him. They went, and found Mary, Joseph and the baby living in a house in Bethlehem. That's right; a house! They were no longer in the stable. (Matthew 2:11).

Thirdly, the Bible nowhere says that there were three wise men. I have had people get very upset with me about this, but it's not my fault. There is a plurality of wise men, but the exact number is never mentioned. There were two or more, perhaps three, perhaps four. But "three" is a guess. It probably comes from the fact that there were three types of gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh. But two wise men could have brought those gifts, as could have four wise men. We do not know.

Fourthly, the wise men, however many there were, were not "We Three Kings of Orient Are." They were a king's counselors perhaps, but not kings themselves. They were "magi" and often magi served on a king's court as advisors. They could lose their jobs and their heads if they began to suggest that they were kings themselves.

Anyway, it is a good thing to celebrate the coming of God's Son into the world. How? By giving our lives to Him as our gifts. He was born to be a king and to reign in our hearts. We have no business calling Him "Lord" if we will not do the things He says. But we have every reason to be filled with joy and peace every day of the year if He is truly our Savior and king.

By Jon W. Quinn
The Final Page
From Expository Files 7.11; November 2000