Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: the star of Bethlehem

We need better Christmas stories

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.

The star, the king and the foreigners

While the children of Israel were trekking through the desert after leaving Egypt, the king of Moab called on Balaam to curse them.  Balaam found himself unable to curse them, rather pronouncing many blessings for them.  The most notable was the prophecy recorded in Numbers 24:15-19, where Balaam says “there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel” and “out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion.”

Many years later, when the Jews were in captivity in Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dramatic dream, but when he awoke he could only remember that he had dreamed something that must be meaningful, but had no memory of what the dream was about.  He called the wise men, the magi, and demanded that they tell him the dream and its interpretation.  They replied that such a request was unheard of and impossible.  Whereupon King Nebuchadnezzar decreed that they should all be put to death.

Now Daniel was numbered among the wise men of Babylon and was included in the king’s sentence.  He went to the king and asked for time and promised that he would show the king the dream and its interpretation.  Daniel asked his three friends to help him pray that God would reveal this to him and their prayer was answered in a vision of the night.

Daniel returned to the king in the morning and revealed the dream of the statue and that it signified four empires that would rise upon the earth.  In the time of the fourth empire, God would establish an everlasting kingdom.  This brought Daniel into great favour with the king, and with the other wise men whose lives were spared.

Later, God revealed to Daniel when this everlasting kingdom would begin.  “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks and threescore and two weeks” (Daniel 9:25).  The weeks spoken of here are weeks of years or 7 times 69 years, which is 483 years.

The wise men of Babylon kept alive the remembrance of the prophecy of Balaam and the prophecies of Daniel.  They understood that the promise of the Messiah, the King of the Jews, was not only for the Jewish people, but was the promise of salvation for all the world.  They counted off the years until the time drew near that Messiah should be born.  Then they saw a star that they had never seen in the sky before and knew that the time had come.

This brings us to the account in Matthew chapter two:

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”  (Verses 1 & 2)

Where else would one go to look for the newborn King of the Jews but to Jerusalem, to the palace of the king?  But the king at that time was not of the lineage of David, he was not a Jew at all but an Edomite, a descendant of Esau, and knew nothing of the birth of another king.  But he played along with the wise men for his own evil purposes and called for the priests and scribes who informed him that Messiah should be born in Bethlehem.  So Herod sent the wise men off to Bethlehem with instructions to bring him back word of the newborn king.

The wise men set out for Bethlehem, ten kilometres from Jerusalem, no doubt wondering how on earth they would find the seemingly unknown and obscure King of the Jews in this town.  As they left Jerusalem, the star that they had seen in their home country again appeared to them, and seemed to have a special message for them.  It moved before them, leading them to Bethlehem, down the streets of Bethlehem and finally stopped directly above one house.  Now there could be no doubt in their minds that they had found the Messiah.  They entered the house, saw the young child, fell down and worshipped him and offered their gifts.

We know the rest of the story, how the wise men took another way home to avoid Herod, how Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with Jesus before Herod could vent his fury by killing all the children of Bethlehem and its surrounding area from two years old and under.

However, the real wonder in this account is that God chose these foreigners to announce the birth of His Son to the king and priests and scribes in Jerusalem.  He showed a special favour to these foreigners in leading them directly to the house where Jesus was living.  He chose these foreigners to provide the means, through their gifts, for Joseph to take his small family out of harm’s way when Herod sought to take the young child’s life.

Thus, from the very beginning of Jesus’ life, the Bible reveals that He had not come for one specific group of people, but for all mankind, for all those who would recognize in Him their Lord and Saviour.

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