Think You Know the Christmas Story?

Think You Know the Christmas Story?

Written by Michael J. Kruger |
Friday, December 22, 2023

It seems likely, then, that Mary gave birth to Jesus while they were staying at the home of Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem. But the room in which they stayed—likely a tight guest room or hastily added chamber—couldn’t accommodate a birth. So, Mary had to give birth in the larger family room and lay Jesus in the nearby manger.

Bah, humbug.

That’s probably one of the most well-known lines in literary (and now, cinematic) history. Everybody immediately recognizes the curmudgeonly voice of Ebeneezer Scrooge as he pours cold water all over our Christmas spirit.

And his point is still made today by some, albeit in different words.  It’s that the Christmas story just isn’t true. It’s rubbish. It’s made up. It’s all in our heads.

While now is not the time for a full-scale defense of the historicity of the Christmas story, Scrooge’s skepticism does prompt us to wonder whether we’ve gotten the story right. Are we telling the story that really was, or are we just telling the story that we want to tell?  Are we just telling the story in our heads?

It might be useful, then, to reflect on a few common misconceptions about the Christmas story. The best way to validate the Christmas story to the Ebeneezer Scrooge’s out there is to make sure we’ve got it right ourselves. Here are five of them.

1. There Was a Star the Night Jesus Was Born

It’s difficult to find a nativity scene (or Christmas play) without a star over the manger. Indeed, this might be the quintessential symbol of the birth of Jesus.

The problem is there’s no indication the star hovered over the manger on the night Jesus was born. On the contrary, when the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds watching their flocks by night (Luke 2:8–11), they weren’t told to look for a star. They were told to look for something else: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).

The star was given not to the shepherds but to the Magi (Matt. 2:2), who appear to be visiting Jesus at a later time period. How much later is unclear, but the fact that Herod commands all the babies in the region younger than 2 years old to be killed suggests Jesus may have been in Bethlehem for some time.

2. There Were Three Wise Men

Speaking of the wise men, in both art and in song (“We Three Kings”) we get the undeniable impression there were three of them (also called “Magi”). The problem, however, is that this number is found nowhere in the biblical accounts.

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