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Myths of Christmas

What is a myth? There are many definitions, but this one from Merriam-Webster is as good as any: “an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true; a story that was told in an ancient culture to explain a practice, belief, or natural occurrence.” (Bolded for emphasis).

Some Christians believe a lot of things that are more myth than Biblical truth. The following are some of those from the Christmas story.

For openers we have the Nativity scene etched in our minds of the baby Jesus complete with wise men surrounding him bringing gifts. But did the wise men really see an infant?

When they came from the East, their journey took a very long time. Upon arriving in Jerusalem to see Herod, he found out that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. He then sends the wise men to find the child, and report back to him when they make the discovery.

Here, though, is where Scripture clearly states that the child the wise men saw was around two years of age. Remember they were following a star that guided them to the Messianic child. This is how Matthew 2:16 puts it. “Herod was furious when he learned that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, because the wise men had told him the star first appeared to them about two years earlier.”

Sorry to all of us who have these great Nativity scenes of “baby Jesus” and the wise men! I guess having a toddler running around kind of ruins the image.

Oh well! By the way speaking of the wise men, there has been a long held belief that the number of them was three. Now Scripture doesn’t tell us the exact number, but universally scholars tell us the entourage had to be quite large for these Magi to make such a long trip, most likely from Persia or present day Iran. Eastern tradition places the number at twelve. So why three? Most likely because of the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Another myth that developed over time was the Magi were kings, hence We Three Kings of Orient Are. Well, the Magi were astrologers, that is why they were noticing the unusual star they followed. Our best guess is they were influenced by the Jews still living in that part of the world exiled hundreds of years earlier.

Some other myths of Christmas involve traditions that we commonly practice today. For example the belief that Jesus was born on December 25. Historically we don’t know when he was born. December 25 was picked by the church because according to Christianity Today, it was around the year 273 that the church considered commandeering the existing pagan festival of winter solstice as fitting time to honor the son of God. Then in 336 AD, December 25 became a fixed date in the Western Church.

There is some strong speculation that the actual time of year of Jesus’ birth was during warmer weather, because shepherds were watching their flocks by night. If it was winter time, highly unlikely those shepherds would be enjoying the night time outdoors.

The Christmas tree! Many people believe it was a common pagan tradition, which decorating trees were in ancient times. However, according to a Wheaton College Bible teacher, Timothy Larsen, who studied Christmas traditions for 3 years, “The real origin of the Christmas tree was medieval European sacred plays performed at Christmastime. Those plays told the biblical story of redemption and included a decorated evergreen tree, which represented the Tree of Life. It became a symbol of the season.”

Another myth that might not seem so obvious is the perceived secularization of Christmas. While there is no denying that the emphasis on Santa, spending wildly for gifts, and singing Silver Bells is not expressly Christian, this time of year has all kinds of talking and singing about Jesus. Where else can you get your local rock station playing nonstop Christmas songs for a month, many like Joy to the World, doing it without apology? Talk about secular radio stations and television Christmas specials exalting the Lord Jesus! Who could have thought this possible?

So what is the lesson in this blog I want to convey? First off, don’t believe something because of supposed tradition. The tradition can be accurate, but sometimes it is a myth. Remember when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees about their traditions supplanting the Word of God? (See Matthew 15:1-20). This is dangerous when we believe tradition or myth over truth.

A second lesson is not doing good research makes us lazy and fall prey to all kinds of myths, and ultimately false teaching. When Paul preached to the Bereans, they checked out everything he said to make sure it was accurate (Acts 17:11). The Scripture commended them. If it is highly commendable to check out the Apostle Paul, we sure better check out a lot of what goes around today as truth. Otherwise we will pass on myths and legends to our children. A truly frightening legacy!

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