Perhaps a little too much tradition blurs the reality
Like many others, no doubt, our church is getting ready for the Christmas pageant to be performed by all the kids in Sunday School. Last Sunday the decorations appeared – tinsel-covered Christmas trees and a large barn-like structure complete with the animal trough surrounded by a donkey, a lamb and a cow that looks suspiciously like a Jersey. As we took our seats my husband leaned toward me and whispered, “Good North American nativity scene.”
I chuckled. Yes, we have remade Christmas in our own image. There would not have been spruce trees anywhere near the birthplace of Christ. A fig tree would be a more accurate depiction, and perhaps an ox would have been more appropriate than the cow. Often we are relying more on tradition than accuracy as we prepare for Dec. 25th. Jesus was likely born in the spring, not the winter season.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the traditions of Christmas: the tree and all its baubles and tinsel, the wreaths adorning the doors, the cards that stuff our mailboxes both real and virtual, the Santa hats that adorn the heads of sales people and shoppers alike.
And I was glad to see the display at our church, nonetheless. With the religious symbols of Christmas sadly absent from most of the festive displays our communities these days, I was thankful that here, at least in the church, we are still making an attempt at remembering the birth of the Messiah.
Perhaps it would do us all good to remake Christmas more accurately in our hearts, as we focus on the Scriptures that tell us what really happened that day over 2,000 years ago. Yes, there was a census, the reason Mary and Joseph had to travel to Nazareth, the city of David, which fulfilled one of the prophesies about Jesus (Luke 2:1). Scholars debate whether His birthplace was actually a stable or more likely the place in many homes where their animals were housed in bad weather. (Luke 2:12). And there were shepherds, the first to hear of the birth, (Luke 2:8), the first to spread the good news to as many as would listen. (Luke 2:15). There was an unusual star, one so bright it caught the attention of astronomers who made an arduous journey to find the one prophesied about long before. (Matthew 2:2-10). They did not arrive in time for the birth but they did supply Mary and Joseph with the means to care for themselves when they had to flee to Egypt to avoid Harrod’s death squads. (Matthew 2:13).
Some of the details have perhaps been remade into tradition, but there is one fact that scripture tells us is true. The Son of God, “The Word, became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14, NIV). He had come for a specific purpose, to reconcile mankind to God.
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, NKJ).