Revising the Christmas Story

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      December 21, 2016

                            

I gave a “test” to the twenty folk who make up the congregation of the church I am “kinda’ pastoring” right now. I say “kinda’ pastoring” because my friend Steve Wamberg and I mostly fill the pulpit on Sundays, and are also helping them figure out the direction of their future ministry.

The test I gave them was “True and False” statements about the Christmas story. I love it, because it brings to the surface how much our understanding of the story has been determined by Christmas carols and conjecture. Through the layers of the years, music, and imagination there has been a lot of “stuff” added to the pure biblical story.

In Ken Bailey’s book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, he brings out a few of these story revisions. For example, how many nativity scenes will we see this Christmas that are set up in a make-shift barn stable? Growing up in eastern Kentucky where my grandparents lived on a farm, I identified with the Christ-child born on a bed of hay in a barn that creaked and shook in the wind. Since my grandparents had a pack of barn cats that roamed the farm I always envisioned a few feline figurines in the nativity scene. Ken Bailey makes the point that in the homes of Bethlehem the stable was actually inside the house. Livestock were brought indoors at night, and the house usually had two rooms- one where the family resided and one where the livestock bedded down. The manger would have been where the livestock were kept…in the house! It’s a cultural understanding that seems strange to us, so we have simply revised it to fit our understanding better.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Whether Jesus was born in a cave, a barn, or was bunking with the cattle in the house is not a detail that changes the essence of the story. The essence of the story that does not change is that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, come to earth in the flesh…fully human and fully divine!

But what about when layer after layer of imagination is added to the story? What happens when the created stories crowd out the original truth, the original meaning? As I sit on my “writing stool” at Starbucks I’m listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas”, and humming the tune that tells me that the best Christmas has snow. Unlike Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, it’s pretty doubtful that the first Christmas in the Bethlehem of Israel featured snow.

Saint Nicholas is a great story about a 4th Century Greek Christian bishop, known for his generosity to the impoverished. As time went on children were given gifts on the evening before St. Nicholas’s day of honor, December 6. During the Reformation there was increasing opposition to the honoring of saints. Martin Luther promoted the giving of gifts to children at that time, but sought to focus it back to the Christ-child. Santa Claus emerged sometime in the 17th or 18th Century as a blended character of Saint Nicholas and the English Father Christmas from the 16th Century.

Great story! Great and entertaining story…a jolly elderly man coming down chimneys, helped out by elves, escorted by flying reindeer. Great story!

My guess, however, is that if you gave a test to children and adults alike a huge majority would be much more proficient at knowing the Santa Claus created facts than the actual story of Saint Nicholas and…the biblical story of the birth of Jesus.

Imagination and creativity are wonderful gifts, but sometimes they steer us away from the story of the most wonderful Gift!

Explore posts in the same categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Christmas, Grandchildren, Jesus, Parenting, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

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