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Untangling Christmas Traditions

      The Christmas story has become so entangled with tradition that it's sometimes difficult to remember what actually belongs in the biblical account and what doesn't.  Like an old logging road overgrown with briars and thorns, so the facts surrounding Christ's birth have become covered with all kinds of false notions.  Unfortunately, many of the traditional hymns and carols we sing at Christmas-time have turned out to be the worst culprits.
      Take for example "We Three Kings of Orient Are."  Now Christmas just would not seem like Christmas without singing this old favorite.  Yet, the title itself tends to distort the divine record.  The Bible never states that the Magi were "kings," or that there were three of them.  Matthew 2:11 does say that gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh were presented to the child Jesus.  Evenso, we can't assume that three gifts (or three kinds of gifts) mean three givers.
      Then there's Martin Luther's "Away in a Manger."  The second stanza of this little song recounts, "The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes. . . ."  However, the Bible doesn't mention any cattle lowing, or that there were even any present.  We are told that there were flocks of sheep in nearby fields (Luke 2:8), but there is no mention in either Matthew 2 or Luke 2 of a donkey, cow, camels, or any other such creatures.  And as for Jesus not crying - well, it seems likely that He cried like any normal baby would.  We do know for certain that he wept and cried as a man (John 11:35, Luke 19:41, and Hebrews 5:7).
      This Christmas season when you open up your Bible to read the Nativity story, try to untangle the traditions.  You might be surprised at what you find, and at what you don't.

© 1997 Tom Rakow.  All rights reserved.