I might be overly sensitive to this topic, as I remember being surprised reading the Bible for the first time as a college student and realizing the nativity scene I had learned all my life up to then wasn't accurate to the biblical account with some parts of it. But here's some thoughts that have been stirred from this morning listening to my daughters talk.
This morning I was quite happy hearing our daughters talking to each other as they were drafting up a play portraying the wise men and Jesus they are going to be doing with their friends. The reason I was happy was that they were talking through the real story vs. what Christmas cards have created as the story and basing it from the Bible and discussing the differences. I hadn't talked to them directly about it for their play. They were writing it on their own and began talking about making sure they wrote the play the way the Bible taught it on their own which was why I was happy listening in to their discussion.
We had recently talked as a family about a friend of ours who sets up a nativity scene in their home, but they place the wise men in another part of the room not at the manger. They do that indicating that in the Bible story, you don't see the Magi there on Christmas Day but they would likely have been back in Persia somewhere at the time of the birth of Jesus. So that is likely what Katie and Claire were remembering we talked about when they were drafting up their Christmas story play. But I was glad hearing them discuss the importance of looking into Scripture for what the actual story is vs. Christmas cards and medieval artwork.
As we know, the Christmas story often shown in most church musicals as well as Christmas cards and nativity scenes is not quite accurate when looking in the BIble itself. Such as:
1) Jesus was likely born in the Spring or Fall not December:The December 25 date was based on the winter equinox and celebration of that which was happening in the days of the early church. December 25th is the date pagan religions of that time period celebrated the alleged birth of various gods like Mithras etc. So after Christianity began the legal religion of Rome several hundred years after the birth of Jesus, the early church then desginated the 25th to say Jesus was also born on that day to counteract the wide spread celebration of the birthday of other alleged gods that were celebrated that day. See here for more info on the December 25th date and here if you want to know more.
2) There is no indication the star was there on Christmas Eve - When you read the biblical account, there is no mention of the star appearing in Christmas Eve or shining above the manger. That was added in artwork, not based on the Bible. The star comes later when the Magi (Wise Men) visited Jesus in a "home" when he was anywhere in age up to two years old. In fact, there is some interesting thinking about the whole "no room in the Inn" understanding of the story, may not have been an "Inn" at all, but a home that they went to. And underneath homes at that time, was the place they kept animals. But the typical sort of Christmas Eve barn-like structure we see the Nativity scene in, it wouldn't have been that. See here for more info on that. There are various theories on this, but there is no star mentioned in what happened on Christmas Day on the day of the birth. That came next when the Magi (the Wise Men) visited Jesus at a later time than the day of His birth.
3) The Wise Men weren't at the manger scene and Jesus was likely up to 2 years old when they visited Him - The wise men went to a "house" the Bible says (Matthew 2:11) when they visited Jesus, not a stable or barn or cave. This could be explained by the time the Wise Men arrived, Joseph and Mary had settled for time in a home somewhere in Bethelehem. Some speculate it was the same home that Jesus wasa born in, but now it was in the main quarters and not in the cellar where the animals were. We don't know for sure. But it was a house that is what we know.
Jesus was likely not a baby at the time of the Magi visit, but could have been up to two years old. It explicitely uses the word "child" in this verse which is translated from the Greek word “paidion”. There is a different Greek word for a “newborn” (brephos) that was used in Luke when describing the infant Jesus. The word paidion can mean infant also, but it does mean “young child” (paidion) which fits the scene of some time having gone by after Jesus' birth. Some scholar believe Jesus could even been up to two years old as we see that as the age Herod went and ordered the killing of children in Bethlehem of those 2 years and younger. From everything I have read in commentaries, most scholars suggest 6 months to 18 months is the age Jesus was when He was visited by the Magi. But again… we don't know for sure. But in all likelihood, he was older and the Magi did not appear like we see in Nativity scenes.
The Wise Men weren't "Kings" either. That idea of them being actual Kings came from a Christmas carol written in 1863 ("We Three Kings Of Orient Are"). That was written without biblical backing as well as the idea that there were 3 of them. We don't know for sure how many there were, but early tradition even says there were 12 of them. And they likely were not from the Orient but somewhere in Persia, which is what is modern day Iraq. And they were likely astrologers not kings.
In the play Katie and Claire are writing, the scene of the Wise Men coming has Jesus as a 2 year old in it. So they have selected a friend who is around that age to portray Jesus when the Wise Men visit as they tell the story.
I have always found it fascinating that even in the church, we keep portraying some of the story based more on Christmas cards, medieval art and Christmas carols written in the 1800's vs. the biblical account. Now, I know it is just artistic license and the point is celebrating the birth of Jesus and the incarnation which is what we truly celebrate as the focus. So whether the Wise Men were there or not Christmas Day, or if there was no star that was shining above the baby Jesus etc. isn't important as we focus on the incarnation with joy. So I am not overly bothered when I see the wise men at the manger and a star on Christmas Eve as we show in most Christmas graphics and portrayals of the birth of Jesus. The birth of Jesus is something to be amazed at, in wonder at and celebrate whether we know the date or the Wise Men and the star were at the manger as we show in nativity scenes. So in many ways this is a very petty thing to even raise up.
BUT…. my nagging question is if we aren't noticing (or at least having some discussion to be correcting things as we portray and tell tell the story as we teach it) which has some some significant fact errors in of who was there, the star etc. …. then is there any concern that we set an example for not being good teachers of Scripture? Do we set an example of being poor Bible teachers inaccuratly telling the story? Let me play this out with some examples.
If we are having a play or art piece about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness and in the artwork or actors in the play we have Peter, James and Thomas standing there with Jesus – we would be thinking "What are they doing there? They weren't in that scene and there when Jesus was in the wilderness?'. Or if we had an art piece or play portraying the Last Supper and in the art piece or play we also put in Pontious Pilate being at the Last Supper with them. We would be like "What is Pontious Pilate doing there? He doesn't come into the story until a little later after Jesus was arrested?".
It feels like as we put the Wise Men and the star in our Christmas portrayals is basically the same. We don't have Pontious Pilate or Barrabus or Caiphus at the Last Supper even though they are part of that story. If we did, it would raise eyebrows and questions (hopefully!). With the nativity scene we are taking the timeline (In this case 2 years difference with the Wise Men and star) and plopping it into a different time period of the story. I guess I wonder why more Christians don't raise this up more to at least ask about it or question it more.
When I did a quick scan of this on the internet, interestingly I found more non-Christian web sites teaching about the errors in the general portayal of the nativity scene and raising it up than Christian ones. Even Snopes.com covered it here and here.
Thnking about this doesn't at all take away the incredible beauty and joy of the incarnation of Jesus. The incarnation is to be celebrated and in wonder and worship of. Whether it was December or July when Jesus was born doesn't matter. We have the truth of the reality and joy a Savior was born which is our focus this season we selected to focus on His birth. In our home we have a nativity scence I am looking at as I type this and there is the wise men by the manger. And an Advent Calendar we use has the artwork of the Wise Men and star and all right as the main depiction of it.
But I suppose I am writig this, as it does make me a little uncomfortable that we need to take seriously and at least be acknowledging as we display inaccurate portayals of scenes in the Bible.Not just the Christmas story, but all stories in the Bible. I think I am heightened to this, as I was scanning the internet you sure see non-Christian web sites raising up the discrepencies. I think there is a movement to show that Christians don't know their Bibles out there and point out alleged errors and things in the Bible that are difficult to understand. So this blog post, was just an expression that I was glad to hear two 9 year olds discussing this desire to portray the story as accurately as they can according to the Bible as they wrote their Christmas play.