Here’s a Christmas news flash: Most Nativity Scenes are WRONG! It’s not a deal-breaker, but if you check the Scriptural accounts of the details around Jesus’ birth you’ll find that the traditional Nativity sets depict a scene that never occurred…
Just the Facts, Ma’am…
Luke describes this pastoral scene, out in the fields: “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8, NIV) Matthew, though, refers to the wise men here: “And when they [the wise men] had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.” (Matthew 2:11, NIV)
I’ve always loved the nativity scenes, with the animals, shepherds and wise men gathered around the manger honoring the baby Jesus, while an angel hovers over the stable as Joseph and Mary look on… The problem is, that scene never happened.
The traditional nativity scenes are based on a couple of different events that took place at least several months and possibly up to two years apart, each with a different location and set of players. I guess you could say that Nativity scenes are Cliff Notes’ representations that portray both events together… Therefore, the only group who made it to the manger area out behind the inn when Jesus was born were the shepherds.
Connecting the Dots
Interestingly, the place where the angels appeared to the shepherds is traditionally known as the “Tower of the Flock,” or Migdal Edar, which is very near Bethlehem. That pasture had a birthing place for lambs called the manger, and if that was where Mary delivered her baby, it creates some very interesting connections. Migdal Edar was where lambs were prepared for sacrifice at the Temple.
Therefore the sheep born there were set apart and sanctified according to Jewish law. It stands to reason that these Shepherds would have known a LOT about unblemished lambs and sacrifice, since they were usually guarding lambs who were on their way to be sacrificed at the Temple. (Pretty thoughtful of God to connect those dots for us, isn’t it?)
Second, Luke says the angel appeared to the shepherds out in the fields. Once they got over their fright somewhere out in the Judean countryside, the shepherds did indeed stop by the manger in Bethlehem; but it was shortly AFTER being visited by an angel. (That angel, by the way, was joined by a host of other Angels who sang in celebration.) So, contrary to most Nativity scenes, it wasn’t a single angel, it was many; and the angel(s) didn’t go into town with the Shepherds to the manger.
The Original Manger Scene
It says in Luke 2:15 that the Angels “went back into heaven.” The shepherds went into town on their own, where they found “Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” Obviously, they were pretty fired up when they realized that something pretty big was going on, and that they were part of it! Luke 2:20 says they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
The shepherds, it seems, have a lot in common with us. They are ordinary folks. And, as ordinary folks, they heard some really good news. They had a choice: ignore the news, stay out in the fields, and just go on with their lives as if nothing had happened; or they could believe the message, go and find out more about this baby, and meet him face to face. You have the same information the shepherds did, and the exact same choice. Something pretty big is going on. Be part of it.
Nativity scenes are quite profound,
With shepherds and Magi gathered ’round,
Adoring Jesus, meek and mild…
The angel greets this new-born child
With Mary and Joseph and all the rest.
But it doesn’t pass the Bible test!
Just look at the Nativity:
It isn’t accurate history,
And if you give it scrutiny
You’ll find it’s more of a summary.
And that’s ok, just get it right:
Some history was made that night
And all of those events occurred,
Just not the way you’ve always heard.
The shepherds on the hillside heard
The Angel speak his glorious word,
Then ran to town without delay
To where the baby Jesus lay.
That’s when the angels came to sing
Of Glory to the Newborn King!
The Magi visited later on,
So most Nativity scenes are wrong…
Before your nose gets out of joint,
I’m not being critical; here’s my point:
I’m not saying it’s kinda lame
That the Nativity scene is not the same;
The important thing is, Jesus came!
Although it may lack accuracy,
The scene at the Nativity has elements of history
Presented as a summary.
Nativity scenes may not be totally factual,
But Jesus came. That truth is totally actual.
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