Ahhh… the nativity scene! If you don’t have one set up in your home, there is no doubt you’ve seen them in a friend or family members house or set up at church or a business during the Christmas season. What I love about nativity scene is the picture of the birth of Jesus that it allows us to view – Mary and Joseph comforting the child, the lowly shepherds with their smelly sheep bowing before their Maker, the wealthy wise men reducing themselves to the dirt of a stable, the animals scattered about to show the humble beginnings of our Savior’s entrance to earth, the stars shining, and the angels above singing – it’s all captured in one snapshot.
But, how much of this scene is accurately portrayed? According to the ultimate authority of Scripture, what is actually true about our snapshot into the birth of Christ and how much has been fictionalized? This past Sunday in our college and career Sunday school class, we took a fun little quiz to see how much we knew about the true, first Christmas. Today and tomorrow I’ll be posting these questions with their answers. I challenge you to take a look into the Biblical account of Christ’s birth to see how true your perception is.
These questions and answers are copied directly from Grace Community International.
Answer true or false to the questions below:
- The Christmas story roughly spans the nine month period from Christ’s conception to His birth in the manger.
- Mary rode on a donkey to Bethlehem
- At Jesus birth a star shown over the manger
- The angles came proclaiming, “Peace on earth and good will towards men.”
- The star led the wise men directly to Bethlehem
Below I have the answers, explanations, and Scripture references…
Luke 1:1 – 2:38; Matt. 1:18-2:23
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Christmas Story actually spans a period of several years.
The Christmas Story as described in the Holy Scriptures, spans a time period of several years. The actual time frame work extended from the announcement of the impending pregnancy of Elizabeth and subsequent birth of John the Baptist to the return of Jesus from exile in Egypt.
In the historical revelation of Jesus’ birth, no mode of transportation is given in terms of Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem to register for taxes. It only states that they traveled to the city and that she gave birth there. “And Joseph also went up from Galilee… along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.” If you have ever seen someone trying to ride a donkey, you would be very skeptical of a woman in the last days of pregnancy choosing this as a mode of transportation. The Bible does not say, but if we were to speculate, given Joseph’s profession as a carpenter, it is more plausible that he built a cart, filled it with hay and then either pulled it himself or used an ox or a donkey. This is far more believable than a woman, just days before giving birth, clip clopping along on the back of a donkey – especially given what we know about Joseph’s righteous character and sensitivity to Mary.
Luke 2:1-20; Matt. 2:1, 9-12
At Jesus’ birth there was no star. The shepherds followed the instructions they were given by the angels in order to ultimately find their way to where Jesus was lying in the manger. The star did not appear until later, most likely more than a year later, guiding the Magi. The common manger scenes sold in stores with the star attached to the pitched roof of stall is fabrication for the sake of convenience.
Although the quote “Peace on earth and good will towards men” appears almost universally on Christmas cards and in Christmas pageants the actual quotation is found in Luke 2:14; “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Two key elements are almost always left out when the angels are quoted.
- First: “Glory to God in the highest…” – the birth of the Messiah has to do with the glory of God. It is not man-centered but God-centered. God, not man, is the center of the universe. The center of the Christmas Revelation is God, what God is doing and the glory due Him, not man, nor what man is getting.
- Secondly: “with whom He is pleased”. The peace which Christ brings is not a universal peace. It is a peace extended to those to whom God, through His good pleasure is pleased to reveal Himself (Galatians 1:15). It is only a peace, a hope, for those who acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior of mankind, who submit to Him and put their trust in Him as their personal Lord and Savior. For the rest of mankind there is no peace, (Isaiah 48:22; 57:20 & 21); there is the turmoil of sin followed by the eternal judgment and agony of Hell (Revelation 20:10 – 15).
The message of peace in the Christmas revelation is a message of peace to those who put their trust and faith in Christ. The reality of the incarnation brought with it no end to wars, no end to poverty, no end to crime, no end to man’s cruelty to man, no end to despotic rule and unjust governments. It brought with it no universal peace on earth. These acts continued on unabated. Rather, it brought peace on earth to those “with whom He is pleased”, those who place their faith in Christ. True, the possibility of peace is presented to the world, but the reality of peace is for those with whom God is pleased and this is limited to those who trust Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. The rest of mankind experiences the displeasure of God, the turmoil of sin in this life and the prospect of the eternal judgment of God in Hell in the next. Just as in Satan’s dialogue with Eve where the Words of God are misquoted and distorted, so here the angelic message is so often misquoted and distorted to bring a generic message of “peace” and “goodwill” where the call for repentance in the face of judgment should instead be given.
Matthew 2:1-2; 9-11
- First: The Word of God says that the Magi, who were themselves from the East, saw the star in the East, then traveled to Jerusalem which would have been to the West placing the star at their back as they traveled. At that point the star was not providing specific aide in locating Jesus but rather was a sign which for some unknown reason caused the Magi to travel to Jerusalem. This is the first myth that must be overcome, that of the Magi were following a star to Jerusalem. Think now for a moment. Where were the Magi – “in the East”. Where did they see the star – “in the East”. Thus the Magi, east of Jerusalem, saw a star to their East, of both Jerusalem and the Magi. As a result of seeing this star which way did they have to travel – the answer being West. The Magi of the East, seeing a star in the East, traveled Westward to Jerusalem, the star at their back. We do not know why these Magi from the East, upon seeing a star in the East, would then choose to travel West. We do not know why they associated the star with the birth of a king. We do not know why they chose Jerusalem out of all the great cities to their west. We do not know why they unquestionably believed the scribes when they searched the Scriptures. There is no Biblical answer for any of these questions.
- Second: We do not know why they came to Jerusalem. A star such as the North Star may lead us in a general direction but certainly not to a specific city. If you were in Chicago, Illinois you could locate the North Star and by keeping it to your back travel in a southerly direction. You could not however use the North Star to guide you to Houston, Texas. The Magi were not following a star Westward to Jerusalem. The star remained in the East as they traveled from the East westward to Jerusalem, keeping the star to their back. Using this type of celestial orientation it would have been impossible for them to have guided themselves to a specific city. Why they chose Jerusalem as opposed to one of the great western capitals of Egypt, Rome or Greece (or one of the other great city states of the middle east) is not known. What is known is that there were Magi east of Jerusalem. These Magi saw a star in the East. For some reason they associated this star with the birth of an Israeli king and set out for Jerusalem. The Bible does not say why they chose to go to Jerusalem. Many plausible explanations abound, but since the Bible is silent, so we must also be silent. It should be noted though that no prophecy of scripture foretells a star, no precedence in scripture sets the scene for the star. No one who was looking for the Messiah, as a result of studying the Holy Scriptures, would associate the star with His birth. For a reason, apart from the Word of God, the Magi saw the star and traveled to Jerusalem. The why of it remains a complete mystery.
- Third: After Herod consulted the scribes and priests on behalf of the Magi, the star led them South, directly to Bethlehem and the residence of Jesus. Thus the star took them on an indirect route, first, prompting them, (for some reason unknown to us) westward to Jerusalem and then, contrastingly guiding them southward directly to Bethlehem and then finally bringing them to the exact house where Jesus was living.
The first star could have been a standard star created by God for this purpose or a comet or some other phenomenon put in place by God. This could have been created miraculously on the spot or something set in motion in the past and by the plan of God making it’s appearance at Jesus’ birth. Since it was a sign in the east it could have been any number of natural phenomenon miraculously put in place or motion by God.
Come back tomorrow for five more revealing questions!
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Right now in southeast Texas the temperature rests at 75 degrees, the skies are partly cloudy, and the wind blows at 25mph. Not exactly the ideal weather for the fifteenth of December while my radio plays, “The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful… let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” Catchy tune, nice image, but not true outside my window!
Regardless of the weather, this is hot chocolate season! We kick this time of year off on the day after Thanksgiving while we decorate our Christmas tree. I make a pot of hot chocolate that we deck with marshmallows, whip cream, and candy cane pieces. Then we sip away at a few cups as we carefully place ornaments on the branches.
This simple recipe is easy to make and can be reduced to a one cup size if you need an evening drink while enjoying a movie or made by the gallon for a large crowd. Below I have the measurements and directions for four servings and another list for one serving. Enjoy!
Hot Chocolate for One:
- 2 Tbs. sugar
- 1 Tbs. cocoa
- Dash of salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1/4 teas. vanilla
- Combine sugar, cocoa, and salt in mug
- Heat milk in microwave until hot – approx. 2 minutes
- Add milk to dry ingredients
- Stir well, add vanilla, stir again (continue to stir while drinking because cocoa tends to settle at the bottom of cup.
Hot Chocolate for Four:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cocoa
- dash of salt
- 1/3 cup hot water
- 4 cups milk
- 3/4 teas. vanilla
- Combine sugar, cocoa, and salt in pan on stove top.
- Add water
- Stir while cooking over medium heat until mixture boils.
- Boil and stir 2 minutes
- Stir in milk and heat. DO NOT BOIL. Watch carefully to avoid scorching.
- Remove from heat and add vanilla
- Pour into cups and garnish with marshmallows, peppermint, or whip cream
This can also be reheated in a crock pot or by the cup. Make sure to stir as cocoa will settle at the bottom of the pan or cup if it sits for awhile.Read More
On the hay ride to head to the tree field
This year marks Matt and my fourth Christmas together! Hard to believe, but it’s true! Christmas is by far our most favorite holiday. Each year we’ve purchased a real tree on the day after Thanksgiving, brought it home, decorated, and enjoyed it for the entire month of December. This year is our third to drive to Red Caboose Christmas Tree Farm to pick out and chop down our unique tree. Last year I was one month away from having Abigail, and this year she was able to join us for the adventure. We look forward to continuing this Hunter family tradition for years to come. Today I’ll share with you some pictures from this years trip:
Daddy chopping the tree down!
Abigail’s not sure what to think
Mommy and Abby watching Daddy
What a man!
On our way back!
Walking through the barn to see the animals
Enjoying the complimentary hot chocolate (Abs obviously had too much)
Set up in the house
Later that night, in our new Christmas pjs about to decorate the tree
Being a little silly first
Abby is excited about having a tree IN our house!
No Christmas carol list would be complete without the exuberant celebration song, “Joy to the World.” This lively tune is easily memorized and simple to play on an instrument. But do you know the interesting story behind this well loved hymn?
Isaac Watts (1674-1748), author of around 750 songs, is commonly called “The Father of Hymns” due to his popularity as the first English hymn writer. A few of his most well-known songs still sung today include: Come ye that Love the Lord; When I Survey the Wondrous Cross; At the Cross; and the topic of today’s post, Joy to the World. Isaac Watts was a young man when hymns other than the Psalms were allowed to be sung in the Church of England. This gave way to Watts developing many beloved songs. Watts still based many of his songs on the Psalms, but he was especially interested in writing hymns based on the “Christian experience.”
Joy to the World was written in 1719 and based on Psalm 98:
Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together. Before the LORD; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.
If you notice the lyrics of the song, Joy to the World, you will see nothing about shepherds, a manger, wise men, angels, or any other character or element that we normally associate with the Christmas story. The reason being that Isaac Watts did not write Joy to the World to be a Christmas song. The original theme of this song was the second coming of the Lord. Christmas won’t always be a joyful time, but when Jesus comes back, even the rocks will sing!
Over 100 years later, in 1839, Lowell Mason adapted and arranged this song into a melody many believe to have been written by Handel. In my research, however, I have not been able to establish when or why this hymn became associated with Christmas. Certainly we can look at the message in the song and see that it can be applied to Christ’s appearance as a babe in Bethlehem. We must prepare room for Him in our hearts and lives. This is a joyous occasion!
As you hear and sing this beloved carol this season, think about the words. Yes, they apply to the Christmas story in that the Lord is come! We should rejoice! But, let the lyrics all point you to the reason Jesus came: to save the world. Be ready because He is coming again! What a glorious day THAT will be when the whole earth celebrates His appearing!
Joy to the World
Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.
Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.
Christmas time has arrived. Turn on the tv, the radio, look at a newspaper, listen to children talking, and you are sure to see and hear the most famous icon of the season: Santa Claus. This week I’ve shared with you who the original St. Nicholas was, how he morphed into the Santa we know today, and my personal history with him. Today I want to share with you the reasons that Santa will take a far removed place in our family Christmas traditions. Please understand that I am sharing these things to give insight into the personal decisions our family has made through thought, discussion, and prayer. Our standards do not need to be every other family’s standards. I do hope, however, that our conclusions will give you something to ponder as you seek to establish and continue your family holiday traditions.
Santa can remove Jesus as the focus for Christmas
What is the reason for Christmas? To celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the greatest gift of all, the Savior of the world!! Yes, December 25 is not the actual birthday of Jesus, but it is the day we remember His birth. TTo include a focus on another character during this Christmas season can detract from the reason of the holiday. I have enough distractions already without purposefully including another one! Plus, trying to celebrate Santa and Jesus can postpone a child understanding what is truth and what is not. We want our children to be exposed to the truth only, so that whatever age they are, they will not have to pick through purity and error to find the truth.
Santa can create and encourage a selfish attitude and unreal expectations
“So, what are you asking Santa for this year?” How many times have you heard that question? Kids are encouraged at this time of year to make a list, write a letter, and wait in a long line to tell Santa the deepest desires of their hearts. This creates a focus on self (as if humans don’t have a problem with that already!). Plus, some children have lists that in no way can be supplied by their parents due to income or just plain inability. What the child then comes to learn is that Santa, despite his many “powers,” really doesn’t live up to what he promises. Matt and I feel that it would be better to teach our children, as we seek to continue to learn ourselves, that giving far exceeds getting. We desire to foster an environment that promotes the joy of sacrificing for others, not see how many toys we can accumulate in one day.
Santa hides the real gift givers
Now, this may seem selfish as a parent, but think about what adults who teach children about Santa have to do. Not only are they playing “Santa” to their kids by trying to buy everything on the child’s list, but, on top of that, they buy presents for the children from Dad & Mom. When the sparkly, excited eyes of the child see what Santa brought, who are the kids grateful to? Not the parents who sacrificed to please the child, but the man in the north pole who worked all year with his elves. Our prayer is that when our children see a present, whether it’s from a grandmother, parent, aunt, or uncle, they will embrace the giver with a hug and kiss and thank that giver for the sacrifice and thought put into the present.
Santa distorts the perfect gift giving of God.
Santa has many attributes: he’s sees everything you do; he can travel around the world in one night; he rewards you if you’re good; etc. While these seem like good things, they are not entirely accurate. I mean, how many of us have heard the threatening mom in the store say, “You’d better be good if you want Santa to bring you something this year!!” How many of these disobedient children still get gifts from Santa? Think about the way God operates. He sees everything we do; He can be in all places at once; and He rewards us too! However, as Romans 5:8 states, “Even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” THAT’S what the perfect giver of good gifts sent at Christmas! We could never be good enough for His son; yet, He came anyway. This is the message we want our children to have. Just because they are naughty and have spankings at times doesn’t mean we stop loving them and want to bless them. And, oh, how much more Jesus Christ wants that for our children too! That’s why He was born in a manger.
Santa is a lie
This point struck Matt harder than me for some reason! But, the more he talked to me about it, the better I understood his passion. We desire our home to be full of fun, laughter, and play. We will have imaginary play times and tell fairy tales. But, we will know that they are just that – fairy tales. We also want our home filled with truth. If Daddy and Mommy tell you something is real and true and actually happens, we want to be able to stake our lives on the fact that it does. Santa is not real. To tell our children he comes at night to bring presents, eat their cookies, and then scoots back up the chimney or out the back door is being dishonest. A day will come when my children will be punished for lying to me because it is a sin. How can I then turn to them and tell a lie? Trust holds high value in the Hunter home. We don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.
Will’s & Wont’s
So what does all this practically look like in our home? Well…
- We will celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ
- We will have stockings, but the whole family will fill them for each other.
- We will watch Elf and The Santa Claus (with Tim Allen) and laugh our heads off
- We will dance around the room singing Rudolph and giggling
- We will be respectful of other family’s traditions
- We will talk about who St. Nicholas was
- We will share who some people think Santa is, and why we don’t
- We won’t treat Santa as a horrible word
- We won’t decorate with Santas but rather use angles, stars, and greenery
- We won’t set cookies out for someone who’s not coming
- We won’t write letters or wait in lines to talk to a paid poser
- We won’t forget the true meaning of Christmas
In my research for this week’s blog posts, I have learned a lot about the history of Santa. It has softened my attitude towards his character in our culture. However, my heart is broken over the thousands of people who find joy and meaning in something other than Christ. May we as Christians seek to proclaim His name above all others in our homes and around our communities!!Read More