Before you bundle up the family to go Christmas caroling, there’s something you should know about those carols. Much of their lyrics don’t hold up in the light of the biblical accounts.
Alas, not to worry, I’ve not fallen prey to militant atheists. I’m still a believer. This isn’t the Chaplain Scrooge column. I simply want to point out that many of our sacred traditions aren’t as biblical as we think.
First of all, hark, those herald angels never sang.
Luke 2:10 tells us that an angel 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.’ ” In fact, while we’re on this cherubic subject, there’s also nothing to indicate that the Christmas angels were of the winged variety.
Second, we may need to remove some players from our nativity sets.
You can remove the kings because, first of all, they weren’t at the birth. Mathew’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 Maji. 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.
Nevertheless, 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.
If you’ve not choked on your Christmas pudding yet, allow me to remove a few more characters. Take the inn and innkeeper out of the story. Bethlehem was 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, they stayed on the lower floor where animals were often kept.
Speaking of animals, remove those, too. St. Francis is the one who added the animals to the nativity scene. They aren’t mentioned in biblical accounts.
Also you can scratch Dec. 25 as Jesus’ birthdate. The census taken during Mary’s pregnancy would’ve been held during good traveling weather, meaning the spring or summer. Besides, shepherds wouldn’t have “kept watch” in the winter because flocks were often sheltered indoors.
Finally, when you sing the second verse of “Away in a Manger” where “the little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes” you should know that 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 I sing the last verse of “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing” with special gusto.
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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