Psalm 45:6-7; Matthew 2:7-12; John 19:38-42 (text)
December 20, 2015 • Download this sermon (PDF)
Congregation of Christ: Everyone loves the Nativity scene: a cute baby in a manger holding out his hands in blessing; Mary and Joseph in wonderment of their firstborn son; lowly shepherds and three kings kneeling in worship; and adorable sheep and cows in the background.
But Nativity scenes are far from real, and not even Biblical. A few years back, Dr. Jack Kinneer, professor at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, wrote a paper questioning many assumptions, both traditional and modern, that Christians have about the birth of Jesus. He bases his conclusions using Scripture texts and historical and geographical facts.
These are some things he questions. Most of us imagine that Mary started having labor pains as she was riding on a donkey on the way to Bethlehem. Rather, they were already in town for some time before Jesus was born. Luke 2:6 says, “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” And animals surrounding the manger? Well, this also is doubtful, because “no room in the inn” is actually “no place in the guest room” in Greek (Luke 2:7). Luke uses the same Greek word for “guest room” when Jesus’ disciples asked the owner of a house for a “guest room” in his house so that Jesus may eat the Passover meal with them (Luke 22:11). And the room where Joseph and Mary lodged was so small, probably used for feeding animals, that they had to clear it of the animals before the baby was delivered. This means that “the cattle are lowing” manger scenes are also improbable.
Also, did the wise men arrive on the night that Jesus was born? Not true, for Matthew 2 says that they came “after Jesus was born” (v 1). From their place of origin, they saw “his star when it rose” (v 2). Most commentators believe they came from Persia or Babylon, since the word “magi” which means “wise men,” “magicians” or “astrologers,” came from those areas. But a few believe that they came from Arabia, since Arabians, including the queen of Sheba have had centuries-old relationships with the Jewish people, even paying tribute to King Solomon.1
So when did the wise men arrive? We know that Mary and Jesus did not go to the Jerusalem Temple until 40 days after Jesus was born for her purification rite and Jesus’ redemption as a firstborn son. So it was after this that the family fled to Egypt. If the wise men started their journey after the star arose, it would have taken them about one or two months to reach Jerusalem, about 600 miles away. At the rate that most camel caravans travel – 15-20 miles a day – it would not take the wise men two years to reach Jerusalem. When Herod ordered the slaughter of infants up to two years old, there are two explanations: he was covering his bases; or he only ordered the slaughter two years after the wise men did not return.
Therefore, our Nativity scenes are not realistic. The most realistic scene would be: a baby in a manger, his parents, some shepherds, and possibly a midwife and a few other people. But no wise men, angels and “cattle lowing.”
Still, humble and lowly shepherds and Gentile wise men worshiped him at his birth. And at his death, ruling Jews who became his disciples honored him.
So today, our theme is: “The King-Priest Worshiped at His Birth and Honored at His Death” under three headings: (1) Wise Gentiles Worship Him with Three Gifts; (2) The Humble and Lowly Worship Him with Glory and Praise; and (3) Ruling Jews Honor Him with Myrrh and Aloes.
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