The 7 or so weeks that end the year constitute my family’s favorite season: It’s Christmas time and a great reason to review the biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth.
We milk the season for all its glory. My wife collects…. can you guess what?
Read the Christmas Story for the First Time
In the last few years, I’ve been learning to read and study the Bible with fresh eyes. I’ve learned in part to try and read scripture from the perspective of the authors and their first audience. This means trying to understand what goes without being said.
Here’s an example of what I mean: if I describe a politician as “Darth Vader”, everyone reading this would understand the reference. It goes without being said. But what about someone reading this 2 millennia later? Might they be very confused?
Or imagine a football game and I point out a certain game was “that coach’s Waterloo.” Most of us reading that would understand what I mean, but millennia later, someone reading that may be confused on a few points:
- Is the author linking the game to Waterloo, Iowa?
- Maybe to a song by Abba?
- Is the author describing an American football game or a “soccer” game?
- Did that game lead to the team losing its coach and forever reshaping the landscape of football?
That I am linking an American football game to a battle that ended Napoleon as a power and forever reshaped Europe as hyperbole goes without being said.
So, what goes without said in the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth? Well, quite a lot.
A few years ago, a movie called The Nativity Story came out and I was very disappointed that it did not break new ground. It told the same old story contrived in the Medieval Era that everyone already knows, despite the plethora of new understanding we have in what went unsaid in the Bible.
Consider these items that we read into he Christmas story but are in fact not related to the story at all:
- There are no “inns” in the Biblical account.
- Jesus was not born in a stable. Or a cave.
- Jesus wasn’t born the day Mary and Joseph arrived in town.
- Jesus was not visited by three wisemen on the day he was born.
The actual telling of Jesus’ birth is awash in drama that shook families, cities and threatened the peace of empires.
Jesus was born on the backwater frontier of a vast empire, that had been the site of several wars with a neighboring empire, and people lived in perpetual fear of another war breaking out at any time.
In fact, the Biblical author assumes the reader would recognize that many believed Jesus’ birth might actually trigger the next war between these two superpowers!
But the story is deeply personal and reveals a ton about God’s favor and Joseph’s family. Much goes unsaid. Let’s examine it afresh. Over the coming weeks, take some time to read these posts from the past, but revised this year.
Explore the Christmas Story with These Articles
- The Christmas Story. First, read the scriptural accounts of the Christmas story from beginning to end.
- Mary’s Experiences are linked to Genesis 6:1-4, when angels had sex with women, who bore giants. In addition, God’s favor on someone doesn’t always mean material blessing and positive social standing. The Christmas story reveals Mary to be one of the most remarkable person in history.
- Jesus was not born in a stable or a cave but in a house. Mary and Joseph had been in town for a while before he was born. The story of his birth is one of rejection by his family, but welcome and worship by the community.
- A fictionalized take on the Shepherds.
- The Birth of Jesus accompanied tensions between two empires. The Magi (wise men) were Parthian nobles (hence, the ‘we three kings’ song) who came to town with an army, with up to 10,000 men, soldiers who had schooled the Roman legions before. And there were probably way more than just three who showed up. And the backdrop of what was going on when they showed up is loaded with drama and excitement!
Merry Christmas everyone!