every time i read the christmas story, even after all these years, i am overwhelmed. i cannot fathom the mystery of the incarnation, and i cannot comprehend the compassion that compelled it. what jesus did for us is simply stunning.
so why do we embellish it?
the christmas story is miraculous (miraculous…what a huge word!) on its own merit, yet we romanticize it and sanitize it. apparently we secretly believe we can improve on the christmas story so we make it something its not. granted, the embellishment has taken place over several centuries and is influenced by a profusion of stories and carols (and, more lately, movies). but why try to dress up the most beautiful story ever told? for example:
– we always want to put mary on a donkey. yet they were extremely poor, and she probably walked.
– joseph and mary were not married when jesus was born.
– we assume that jesus was born in a barn or stable, because his mother placed him in a feeding trough (a manger) when he was born, but the bible does not say that–only that there was no room available in the inn.
– when joseph found out that mary was pregnant, he determined to “divorce her quietly.” throughout the entire narrative, though, joseph is never quoted as saying a word.
– at first, a single angel appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of messiah, not a choir. and when the other angels appeared, they didn’t “sing” anything.
and as for the depiction in the modern nativity scene, there are some serious scriptural errors (and i’m not suggesting we should take an axe to them all forthwith, but…)
– there is no mention in scripture of barn animals at the manger
– the magi did not show up at the manger, either. they found him at a house (and it might have been up to two years later).
– and the bible does not say that there were three magi (we have no record of how many there were).
oh, and there was no “little drummer boy” either
i may be accused of ruining the christmas story, or of having scrooge-like (scroogey? scroogish?) tendencies. some may even say, “okay, but what difference does it make?”
jesus was born in a cold, lonely place. his parents had no one to encourage them, no parents of their own around to soften the blow of this traumatic experience. the ground where jesus was born was filthy and smelled horribly (if there was an animal feeding trough, there was also animal waste). jesus was born in the most miserable moment in the most miserable place, not surrounded by worshipping wise men and cute little lambs.
and that’s precisely the situation he chose for his arrival.
you see, jesus’ first day was like most of my days–weeping in a pile of dung. jesus chose to start his life in squalor because he wanted to relate to the worst moments of my life (to say nothing of my brothers and sisters in third-world cultures). no matter what i face on a day-to-day basis, jesus can say, “I know what you’re going through.” and, while i’m challenged by it, i can also be encouraged in that.
also, i am challenged by jesus’ sacrifice. do you think jesus showed up on earth and said, “eewww, i didn’t know it would be like this”? jesus could have come to earth as a businessman or a noble or the chief priest (and it would have been an unthinkable sacrifice…remember, his previous address was heaven), but he resolved to come as a peasant. in fact, you and i are wealthy by comparison. when i consider the christmas story, i am motivated to pay any price–make any sacrifice–to please jesus. that’s what he did for me.
so keep your sterile, idyllic version of the christmas story. it’s a little scary, but i’ve grown to love the unedited version.