Thursday, December 16, 2010

In a Stable?

One of the great ironies about those who want to get back to the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ is that they usually are firm believers in the myths of Christmas. No, I’m not talking about Santa, nine reindeer and a sleigh full of toys. No need to look at obvious fantasy to find a myth, just look at any ‘nativity scene.’
The bible never says Jesus was born in a stable. In fact, an in-depth bible study, complete with understanding Matthew’s and Luke’s stories through the eyes of a first century Jewish Christian, will show you the fallacy of the stable myth.
When the angels told the shepherds that they would find the babe in a manger, they weren’t telling them to look for a barn, they were telling them to look for a peasant’s home. See, peasants’ homes in Judea had mangers in the entryway which was a little lower than the main living area. Almost everyone had at least a few sheep and goats. Most nights, they would bring their sheep and goats into that front entryway. In the morning, the town’s shepherds would gather up all the sheep and take them out to the field.
Bethlehem was a very small town. Those shepherds probably knew everyone in town. They knew who was pregnant, so they didn’t have much trouble finding the right house.
The purpose of that story was to show that the Messiah was a peasant, not a king. It was only the beginning of the ways he would be unforeseen even though he was long expected. That’s part of the true meaning of Christmas – our God is found in unexpected places.
The true meaning of Christmas isn’t about a mean innkeeper and finding room for Jesus in your heart. The inn is another myth of the Christmas story.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Origins of Christmas

One of the first things we need to understand about Christmas is that there is no biblical indication that God intended for us to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Remember? Most certainly! That’s why the story was told. But unlike the resurrection which is repeatedly talked about in the New Testament, the birth of Jesus is never mentioned outside of the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. The early church remembered and celebrated the resurrection, but there is no indication in the bible that the birth of Jesus was to be celebrated.
There is extra-biblical evidence that Clement, one of the late first century church leaders, did encourage Christians to observe Christ’s birthday as a primary feast day, but whatever day that was has been lost in antiquity. Some early evidence actually placed the day of Jesus’ birth in the spring, some in the fall. It wasn’t until early in the fifth century that December 25th was finally accepted as the best tradition by most of the church.
The best guess for how we finally settled on December 25th is that the date is of pagan origin. The pagan winter festivals took place around that time. As Christianity spread from Rome up into Europe, many of the pagan festivals were substituted for Christian festivals.
These festivals, coinciding with the end of the year (since the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, is on December 21, the sun was once again ascending, therefore it was a new year), were celebrated around the world. Many of them included swapped roles – the master became the servant of the slave – and exchanging gifts, as well as, of course, feasting. Many of our contemporary Christmas traditions are rooted in some of those ancient pagan winter festivals.Does all that mean we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas? Or does it mean that we need to be very careful when we preach about the ‘true meaning of Christmas’?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jesus' Birth, or Christmas?

This is a fascinating time of year for me. I have to be very careful because I run the risk of getting myself in all kinds of trouble. See, I'm a Christian - bible-believing, tongue-speaking, dancing-in-worship Christian, and yet I don't see what all the fuss is about Christmas.

Truthfully, the Christian beliefs about Christmas have often left me more than a little confused. Why do we get so wrapped up in the traditions of man? If you stop to think about it and seriously consider it, that's what Christmas is, the traditions of man. The Word of God never says to celebrate Christmas. In fact, in all our talk about stables and innkeepers and gifts and room in your heart, we somehow lost the original messages that Matthew and Luke presented to their readers. To understand the bible as the Word of God, not just as historical literature. we must understand it as the original readers did. Only then can we apply it to our own lives.

So what was the original intent of the nativity stories? To understand that, you need to study the prophecies of the Old Testament. Then you will see that both Matthew's and Luke's primary intent was to show their readers how Jesus' birth had fulfilled some of the prophecies of the Messiah.

When was the last time you celebrated Christmas with an understanding of the true meaning of what the gospels were written to convey? Do you even know how that original intent affected the first century readers? If you don't, I purpose to you that you don't know the true meaning of Jesus' birth. You probably don't even know the true meaning of Christmas. Would you like to?