As the holiday season draws near, one can expect to see many "Christmas Story" productions by local churches. Granted, we may very well see less this year than ever before due to our beloved friends over at the ACLU. Nevertheless, the Christmas story well be done across the country.
Occasionally the church has been guilty to holding to traditions, even when these contradict the teaching of the Scriptures. This is certainly not a new problem. The Pharisees were guilty when Jesus came on the scene. The Roman's were guilty on many accounts. I would say that as Protestants we are guilty with respect to the "Christmas Story".
An Evaluation of Luke 2:
First, Joseph and Mary were going to Bethlehem. This is very common knowledge, but a little background information goes a long way. Bethlehem was a very small town that is completely out of the way (at least 3 days journey from Judea). It can easily be concluded that there were not any Motel 6 or Holiday Inns that were packed from all of the visitors. A place like this would have absolutely no need for such accomodations. Mary and Joseph were not going down Hotel Road looking for a place to stay.
Second, they were traveling back to Jerusalem because he was of the house of David. Joseph would have had family here. One of the differences between ancient Jewish culture and our culture is the emphasis on family. In some senses, it may be equated to many Asian cultures of our time. People generally stayed in the same place, took care of their family, etc. Joseph would have certainly been returning to a city where he knew most, if not all, of the people.
Third, verse six: "While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth." Joseph and Mary did not arrive and give birth within 10 minutes. In fact, they did not even give birth the same night. Rather, they arrived and after an unspecified amount of days, Mary gave birth to Jesus.
Fourth, there is absolutely no mention of a stable. Jesus was not born in a stable. The reason this view has developed over time is that Jesus was placed in a "manger". This is where some history is in order. Extensive study has been done of late and scholars have basically concluded that Animals and People both lived inside of the same house. One end of the house would be the normal living quarters while the other would have steps leading down to where the Animals lived. The steps would go down about 4 feet so that the animals could live down there and then stick their necks up and drink out of the manger (which was up on the level of the living quarters. This lower portion (where the animals lived) had a gate so that they could be let out during the day and then at night they would return to the house for protection. So then, the typical Jewish house would have a place for animals that came up to about a 4-6ft wall that had mangers. There would then be steps that led up to the living part of the house.
Fifth, is the word that is translated "there is no room in the inn". This is where English really hurts us. The Greek word is "Kataluma" and properly means "lodging place" or "guest room". As an example, the same author uses this same word in Luke 22:11: ""And you shall say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, "Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"'
In light of all of this, we can now draft a somewhat more accurate Christmas story.
Joseph and Mary were returning to their small hometowm of Bethlehem. Since it was time for the Census, there was not any room in the guest room of their family's house. So rather than having a bedroom the two had to lodge in the open area of the house (similar to a modern Family Room or Living Room). After several days, Mary gave birth to her baby and used an emptied manger as a crib for her child.
Small differences? Maybe. If they are small then we should have no problem adjusting our Christmas presentations. However, I have a feeling that this tradition is impressed upon our minds and it will be hard to divorce ourselves from it. So then, the question remains: How committed are we to keeping the Scriptures in their proper place?