By Norris Burkes, Dec 27 2020

Last week, I joined a socially distanced group of Christmas-caroling neighbors on a local golf course. Scattered around the 16th hole, we sang from our pandemic pods into the darkened night.

Yes, I still sing the old carols, even though I know that some of the lyrics don’t hold up in the light of the biblical accounts.

Alas, not to worry. I’m still a believer. This isn’t a humbug column. I simply want to take a look at our traditional stories that aren’t as biblical as we think. 

Hark! The herald angel never sang

Luke 2:10 tells us that it was only a single angel who spoke the announcement. “Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.’” Afterward, he was joined by a host (plural) of angels to praise God. Yet there’s nothing to indicate that they sang.

Nativity sets are overpopulated

First of all, you can remove the kings because they weren’t at the birth. Matthew’s account says they didn’t meet Jesus until he was a “young child,” meaning that Jesus was a little knee-biter when they met him.

Furthermore, they weren’t kings. The Bible calls them “wise men from the east,” or Magi. They were esteemed men of their day who may have indeed been riding camels while wearing glittering robes. Today we’d probably call them astrologists.

No matter their credentials, the cadre needn’t be limited to three. We assume that number because Matthew 2:11 mentions three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Truthfully, there could have been a whole gaggle of wise guys.

While you’re at it, remove the animals too. They are never mentioned in biblical accounts. St. Francis added them to the nativity scene in 1223.

We aren’t done yet. Subtract the inn and innkeeper from the story. Bethlehem was likely too small for a Traveler’s Inn. The word translated as “inn” is the same word translated in the Easter story as “upper room.” 

This was the place in Joseph’s ancestral home that accommodated guests. Since that room was likely overcrowded with family when Mary and Joseph arrived, the couple stayed on the lower floor where animals were often kept.

While Shepherds Watched their Flocks

This song suggests what you already know — Dec. 25 isn’t Jesus’ real birthdate. Shepherds wouldn’t have “kept watch” in the winter because their flocks were sheltered indoors. The census, taken during Mary’s pregnancy, would’ve been held during good traveling weather, meaning the spring or summer.

Real Babies Cry

“Away in a Manger” suggests the impossible in its second verse – “the little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” The verse was added in the 1900s by a Methodist minister who likely wanted to encourage children to be seen and not heard.

Let me assure you that Jesus was a real baby who really cried, spit up and left little gifts in his swaddling clothes. To portray Jesus as a supernatural baby disregards the crux of the Christian belief, namely that Jesus was fully God and fully human, neither one to the neglect of the other.

That’s why, when our golf course group sang “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” I could still muster the gusto to below:

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Son of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings,

Ris’n with healing in His wings.

Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

Hark! The herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King!”

Merry Christmas, everyone!


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