Sunday, 9 December 2007

Traditional Christmas

A British charity, the Amos Trust, has produced a traditional nativity scene with a political twist. Made by Palestinian carpenters with olive wood from Bethlehem, they have a dividing wall symbolising Israel's controversial security barrier.

Established around the work of Garth Hewitt in 1985, the Amos Trust helps underprivileged people around the world. However, I wonder if, with this project, they have gone beyond Biblical truth?

It is understandable to use an event that brought the message, ‘Peace to all men’, to highlight a wall dividing two communities. But I wonder if it needs to question whether a country is allowed to defend itself from suicide bombers? Injustices between the two communities will not be solved by taking this wall away; only by removal of the dividing wall of enmity mentioned in Ephesians 2, that Christ started to deal with in His birth and completed in His death and resurrection.

However, what struck me most was the comment that this nativity is one where "the wise men won't get to the stable." When will Christians learn to sift tradition and truth? The wise men never went to the stable and so the picture painted above is Biblically incorrect.
We know the world celebrates at this time of year, even when the birth of Christ did not happen in December. As Christians, we can choose to give Christ an ‘official birthday’ and share with the world the truth about the tremendous birth of Christ; but to do this we need to be Biblically. We should ponder whether the traditions we hold to about Christmas are true? Here are a couple of thoughts to get you started:

First the Bible never mentions a stable and a wooden manager. The Greek word, kataluma translated, ‘inn’ by many versions (Luke 2:7) is used regarding one other event (see Luke 22:11 and Mark 14:14); it was the place where Jesus observed the Last Supper, which according to Luke (22:12) was a furnished large upper storey room within a private Jerusalem house. Could the kataluma of Jesus' first night be a similar room in Bethlehem? Joseph's ancestral home full of other family members, Joseph and Mary stayed downstairs in the domestic stable, still within the ancestral home. The Biblical account does mention a manger (Luke 2:7, 16), an animal feeding trough, and there is archaeological evidence that such mangers were found within the house where animals were regularly kept at night.

Second the Magi (not 3 wise men on camels but a whole train of people) came to the house (Matthew 2:11) but when and indeed where? They had travelled far after seeing, not following, His star in the east (Matthew 2:2).

They arrive in Jerusalem, the place they expected the King to be born. Herod, with his conferred title ‘King of the Jews’, probably obtained by bribery and corruption, desperately wanted to know where the new King was born. Bethlehem, his scribes told him, finding the Micah prophecy, and so Herod sent them to Bethlehem (v8). Then, we read in v.9 that the star reappears and leads them but to Bethlehem? Would they need the star at this point when they knew where they were going? Did the star appear because what Herod had said was man’s wisdom and not God’s? Born in Bethlehem, yes, but living there now?

Here, we need to look at Luke’s account. First please note that Mary and Joseph were moving freely in and out of Jerusalem right under Herod’s nose. If the Magi had already tricked Herod, he would be out to destroy Jesus already. That it was later is also shown by the fact that Herod went back 2 years to kill the baby boys.

Luke 2: 39 is the interesting verse because it says that Mary and Joseph returned home after they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord. Leviticus 12:2 shows this would be after a total of 40 days from the birth; then, Luke tells us, they went to Nazareth. And the returning to Nazareth is clearly linked with the completing of the necessary ceremonies in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Every commentary I have read says that, yes they did go to Nazareth but via Bethlehem and Egypt (see Matthew 2:13). Yet there is nothing in Matthew to say where they were when they were told to flee to Egypt and so that could have equally have been from Nazareth.

We should allow the Scriptures to challenge our traditions so that we do not build on what man says but on what God says.

The above is just a thought for you to ponder and indeed as, at this time of the year, many have holidays, let us search the Scriptures, on this and other issues, and see what they say about Jesus.

No comments: