No, I don’t mean we should try to improve upon the stories in the Bible. They are wonderful as they are, and true. The problem I have is with the Christmas stories for children, and adults, that take some elements of the Bible stories, add lots of imagination and wind up sounding like fairy tales.
Take the story of the star leading the Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem. To believe that, one would have to believe that these Wise Men were not very wise at all and could never have figured out on their own in what country and what city the King of the Jews would most likely be found. In addition, if we believe that the star was directed by God, we would have to believe that God had temporarily forgotten where He had left the child.
The Bible informs us that the Wise Men saw the star in the East, in their home country, and travelled to Jerusalem to find the newborn King of the Jews. That much they could figure out all by themselves. It was when they realized that the baby was not in Jerusalem that they needed help. And now the star appeared again and led them directly to the house in Bethlehem where they found Jesus. This is the information the Bible gives us, and we are free to imagine their feelings and add descriptive details to the story. But saying the star led the Wise Men to Jerusalem gives the impression that God didn’t know any more than they did. Let’s not tell it that way.
Then there is the story of the wicked, hardhearted innkeeper. The Bible doesn’t mention him at all. In fact, the word that is translated as “inn” in the story of the nativity is translated as “guest chamber” in the account of the Last Supper. In all probability the “inn” in the nativity story was a guest room built on top of a private home. The stable wasn’t far away either, it would have been under the same roof, either alongside of the living quarters or directly below them. When the Russian Mennonites came to Canada in the 1870’s they built their homes in much the same way as was done long ago in Palestine. They built long houses with living quarters at one end and used the other half for their barn. Thus, they didn’t have to go outside in the bitterly cold winters to milk the cow. These barns were kept meticulously clean and very little odour was detectable in the living quarters.
Another aspect of the “Joseph and Mary alone in the stable” story is that we are left to assume that only Joseph was present to help Mary when the baby was born. I don’t think that was very likely. If the setting was actually a private home, with the guest chamber already occupied, there would have been at least two other ladies to offer their help and it wouldn’t be at all unreasonable to think that a midwife would have been called as well. Joseph and Mary would seem to have been deemed as being less important persons than those in the guest chamber, but let’s not assume that they were complete social outcasts.
Some stories tell of Joseph and Mary (riding a donkey), coming over a hill and seeing Bethlehem in the valley below. It takes a little searching of Bible reference books to discover the actual setting of Bethlehem. The town is located on a rocky plateau and is in fact uphill from every direction. The donkey is not mentioned in the Bible, but it is a very reasonable assumption that Mary would not have walked all the way from Nazareth in her condition.
Anyway, my aim is not to criticize the children’s Christmas concerts and the stories that they recite. These are the kind of stories that are available, and have been around seemingly forever. Nevertheless, the impressions left by these stories go with us throughout life if we don’t ever take a close look at their implications and what the Bible really says.
I just think it is time someone tried to write better Christmas stories.