Why is it that the people most likely to demand that we “keep Christ in Christmas” seem to know so little about the historical birth of Jesus!

If they did, they would have no sentimental attachment to traditional nativity scenes and they definitely wouldn’t want to have them placed in centers of commercialism like shopping malls.

This isn’t so much to grouse about the chintz and cheesiness of traditional Christmas celebrations as it is to bemoan the widespread ignorance of the gospel story by the very followers of Jesus.


If you knew and believed the story of Christ, you’d know a trad nativity scene is a cartoonish representation of what really happened in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.

This was highlighted for me again when I read about Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler defending the actions of senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of initiating several sexual encounters with teenage girls, including one who was only fourteen, when he was in his thirties. Ziegler’s justification for Moore’s behavior was breathtaking (and not in a good way):

“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Aside from the reprehensible action of using the gospel to defend the sexual harassment of minors, Ziegler’s ridiculous statement just goes to show some Christians know nothing about the birth of their Lord.

Even though we celebrate Christmas every year, how could an educated man like Ziegler show such utter ignorance of the story.

Sure, Mary probably was in her teens when she gave birth to Jesus, but we have no idea how old Joseph was. Ziegler says he was an “adult carpenter” although he doesn’t specify what age that means. He might be more thinking of religious art that usually portrays Joseph as an older man, with grey hair and a beard, often balding.

Maybe we can forgive Ziegler his ignorance about the ages of the holy family, but it’s his statement that “They became parents of Jesus” that’s so concerning. The gospels clearly tell us that Mary and Joseph didn’t have sexual relations and that Joseph agreed not to divorce Mary when he found she was pregnant.

To use them as justification for a 30-year-old man to try to seduce teenage girls is not only disgusting, it’s plain dumb. It gets the facts of the Christmas story and the theology of the Incarnation completely wrong. As does every manger scene ever set up in a town square or a commercial shopping center. Don’t believe me? Read on, and then burn your plastic nativity scene when you get home.


Jesus wasn’t born in a little stable constructed of twigs and peat moss. Most likely, he was born in the home of Joseph’s relatives in the section of the house where animals were brought in at night. Mary was probably attended to by the female members of Joseph’s extended family, strangers to her, but nurturing and experienced in the matter of childbirth. Rather than two lone parents in an isolated stable, the holy family were probably surrounded by fussing women and awkward men.


Sure, there’s that line in Away in a Manger that goes “the cattle were lowing” but none of the gospels mention any animals. If Jesus was born in the part of the house where animals were housed at night, they would obviously have been shooed out for his birth. But more concerning for nativity lovers is the news that there’s no reference to a donkey either. Say what? No cute donkey? It has been conjectured that Mary and Joseph must made their journey to Bethlehem on a donkey because it was cheaper than traveling in a caravan, the far more common and much safer option. But the Bible is silent on how exactly they got to Bethlehem.


I know, this is hard for some of you. But the magi don’t arrive in Bethlehem until a year or two after Jesus birth, so the star doesn’t appear until they begin their strange journey from the east.


While we’re on the magi, they would have to be the most bizarre characters in the gospels. But who were they? Why did they come? What were they doing? They were eastern holy men, astrologers who divined the stars (although that was frowned upon by the Jews), who consorted with Herod (and later betrayed him), and who arrived in time to present the toddler Jesus with exotic gifts. But there’s no reason to believe there were only three of them. There’s nothing to suggest they were kings. Their names were not Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar. And there’s no basis for dressing them in silk robes and strange turbans.


Well, there were angels, just not at the actual birth of Christ. The gospels recount that a host of angels appeared to shepherds on the hills outside Bethlehem. But there’s no mention that they schlepped into town with the terrified shepherds. So, those depictions of one or a handful of androgynous beings fluttering around the stable roof – yeah, that didn’t happen. What did happen was way more amazing. Luke’s gospel says “a multitude of the heavenly host” appeared, praising God. The Greek word for “host” is stratia which alludes to the stars in the sky. How many does that make? It’s impossible to know but it could be suggesting the night sky was filled with angels! That’s mind-boggling.


You know the line, “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”? Yeah, again, unlikely. He could have screamed his lungs out like a banshee for all we know. And we can be pretty sure he wasn’t the porcelain-skinned cherub in those shopping mall nativity scenes either. All of which leads me to my original question: which Christ are you trying to keep in Christmas exactly? If it’s the eight pound, six ounce, newborn baby Jesus from Talladega Nights (“don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent”) you’re not fighting a war on Christmas. You’re championing tradition and the symbols of the ancient European nativity.

Keeping historically inaccurate and culturally anachronistic religious displays in shopping malls isn’t a victory for the gospel at all.


Jesus came to free us from enslavement to the things of this world. Those things include the commercialism and excess so celebrated in malls, themselves great temples to materialism. For his followers, Jesus is our king, our rescuer, our friend and our hope. Why do we so vehemently defend our right to set up shrines to him that in no way resemble the actual facts of his birth?



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