Sometimes people will say to me, “One of my favorite things about Christmas is how everywhere I go, I get to hear songs about Jesus. It’s like the mall is full of Christian music for a whole month.”
But what if the only thing you knew about the gospel story was based on the Christmas songs you had heard. You’d be prone to all sorts of questionable facts and superstitions like:
1. Jesus’ divinity made him a super baby
One of my favorite eye-rolling Christmas lines comes from “Away in a Manger.” When a bunch of rambunctious cows wake up the infant Christ, “no crying he makes.” Why? Because crying is what filthy little sinner babies do.
On top of that, we get the imagery from “Silent Night” that radiant beams were shooting out of Jesus’ cherubic and godly little face.
“Honey, can you drape a blanket over the baby’s face? I am trying to sleep.”
2. History is cyclical
Ancient people believed that history revolved in an ever-turning cycle of ages—some golden, some not so much. It’s a fatalistic idea that suggests that no matter what you do, some eras are just going to be terrible and mankind just needs to wait for the cycle to swing around again.
Was the era Jesus ushered in contingent upon God’s timing or the “ever-circling” years like “It Came upon a Midnight Clear” suggest?
“For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold”
3. Jesus was visited by a trio of wisemen
It has to be true, right!? I mean it’s in the title of the song, “We Three Kings.” It has to be true—I mean, come on, three gifts!? It only makes sense.
I find it interesting how much this idea has wormed itself into Christmas consciousness. You never see more or less than three wisemen in any Christmas picture or nativity scene, but we have no idea how many wisemen there were. It could have been 50—it could have been 500.
4. Jesus was born into a European winter wonderland
Who knows when Jesus was born? No one. Was it in December? Maybe. Was it snowing? Probably not.
The ground most certainly didn’t sit “hard as iron” with “water like a stone.” I think one of the gospel writers would have mentioned if “snow had fallen—snow on snow.”
We tend to place the context of the incarnation into our western holiday experience. It isn’t just “In the Bleak Midwinter” that does this. “The First Noel” tells us that it all occurred on a “cold winter’s night.”
5. Jesus and Mary took three ships into Bethlehem
LOL . . . WUT? How’d they manage that?
Does any of this matter? Am I one of those “if it isn’t all 100% true, it’s rubbish and Christmas is a fraud” folks?
But I think it’s a good opportunity to recognize that we all see truth through cultural eyes, and that, like Christmas carols, many of of our theological beliefs are more perspective than divine truth. Does Satan cause me to think bad things? Does God control all of my life’s events? Is salvation secured through a mimicked prayer at an altar call?
After a while, Christmas carols worm their way into our consciousness and affect the way we envision Christmas. Like that, many of the things we emphasize, prioritize, and extrapolate come more from cultural concerns and considerations than they do actual Scripture.
Things like our weird fixation on end times, the strange western conflation of material possessions and blessing, or they way we prioritize certain sins or virtues over others reveals more about our values than Scripture’s.
Maybe we need to become as much students of the lenses through which we assimilate information as we are of the information itself.
Because it might not matter how many wisemen there were, but you can be certain there are areas we run pretty far afield in the things we emphasize. And if we aren’t careful some of the ideas we value might be as Scriptural as the virgin Mary and Jesus sailing into Bethlehem on Christmas day in the morning.