And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. – Luke 2:7
Pope Benedict XVI has written a new book where he looks at the early life of Jesus. You can read about it and see a promo video here. It’s likely to disappoint or anger some Christians, because he debunks several myths about what happened on Christmas morning.
According to the pope’s new book, we’re celebrating Christmas on the wrong date thanks to a 6th century monk’s miscalculation. Also, there is no evidence that animals were actually present for Jesus’ birth, or that the angels actually sang. He has a point about the angels and the animals – the Gospels don’t mention these things.
Benedict does not have a vendetta against Christmas carols and nativity scenes, and I certainly have no intention of removing the animals from our nativity set or banning certain carols from our worship services.
Still, how important is it that we get the story right, down to the very details?
About Corey Sharpe
Where do we get our beliefs?
Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology.
From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ.
Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles.
I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
The events surrounding the birth have been retold so many times and in so many ways—in plays, poetry, books and movies—that most people have a distorted view of the true events. The only accurate record is found in the Holy Bible, God’s Word.
The details are interesting. Speculation and filling in gaps are inevitable. If they don’t change the core — that Jesus is the way to God — I don’t see a lot of harm done.
I had heard a report before that the date we celebrate Christ’s birth was probably not the actual, true, date He was born. I would not be surprised if Peter, himself, did not know the date. Does that make Jesus any the less our Lord and Savior? The date of His crucifixion and resurrection are made much clearer in scripture. But what if we had that date wrong, too? (oh, my goodness) Would the facts be any the less true? Not in my book! I think the important part is that we believe in His miraculous birth and His miraculous resurrection. Therein lies our salvation!
No matter how much drams is added to Jesus’ birth, it is still the greatest story ever told. And Jesus’ death, as sad as it is, gave us the greatest gift — as Zee said, “our salvation.”
I think of a stable/barn/cave and I conjure animals and I remember the smells of hay and manure.
I think of a host of angels and I imagine heavenly hymns, like no music we have ever heard.
So, no big prob for me about animals/no animals and angels singing/not singing before/during/after the birth of Jesus.
The Bible accounts do not say that these animals and singing angels were not a part of the night(s).
These details do not alter the meaning of the story of Jesus’ birth, as others have commented.