The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 20, 2013

Inaccuracies in our Christmas traditions abound

Point Blank column

By John Blankenship

— We received a copy of a Christmas homily recently by the Rev. Dr. Earl Miller of Princeton. We quote in part from his copyrighted “Forgive Us Our Christmases” by permission:

“Underfoot and in the way amid a hectic Christmas Eve, little Marcie hustled off to her upstairs room by harried parents and told to say her bed-time prayers. Trying to repeat the Lord’s Prayer as best she could, but foiled by the word ‘trespasses,’ she was heard to lisp, ‘Forgive us our Christmases’ as we forgive those who ‘Christmas against us.’

“Aha, out of the mouth of babes comes a pungent seasonal theme: ‘Forgive us our Christmases.’

“At this time of year how many of us have been roiled to pray, ‘Forgive us our Christmases’? We resent the holiday’s crass commercialism, the take-over of secularism, the protest of the Left. What’s more, we deplore the eclipse of the Savior by Santa, or the vulgar reveling of Yuletide Saturnalia.

“Moreover, we might utter this prayer in the light of certain glaring glitches about His nativity: (a) the Gospel writer (Matthew) does not number the magi as three, (b) nor were the wise men kings — they were astrologers. (c) Since the magi and the shepherds arrived two years apart, they should not be conflated in one setting as seen in our creches. Alas! Materialism, solecisms, myth and tradition are just cause for uttering, ‘Forgive us our Christmases.’

“Yet, I submit three other reasons — more significant and more telling — for calling out, ‘Forgive us our Christmases.’ (1) We assign the wrong date to the Savior’s birth, (2) we locate His nativity in the wrong setting, and (3) we focus on the wrong event — the Savior’s birth, rather than His death.

“The wrong date: While 6 B.C. may be a fairly more accurate date it is simply preposterous to pinpoint Jesus’ birth at a time, certain month and day. On this the Gospels are as stony silent as the Sphinx in ancient Egypt. At best Luke’s frame of reference regards the days when Caesar Augustus issued a decree for tax registration (Luke 2:1).

“Where then, did we come up with December 25? On this date pagans of old observed a Festival of the Sun-god-Sol Invictus — during the winter solstice.

“The wrong setting: But where in Bethlehem was the Messiah born? Over the years, scholars and preachers have pointed to a stable or a barn or a cave as the setting of Jesus’ nativity. But were they accurate? No, says Middle East scholar Kenneth E. Bailey.

“In his 2008 publication, ‘Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes,’ 25-37, Bailey contends that the Savior was born in a house in Bethlehem — not in a stable or cave! According to Bailey, who lived in the Middle East for forty years, the typical village home in Palestine contained two rooms, the family living room and a guest room, a ‘kataluma.’ At the end of the family area was an animal stall, a few feet lower than the rest of the house’s floor. Each night into this designated space, the family cow, donkey, and a few sheep would be brought in.

“To summarize, Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, where they were received into a private home. The child was born in the living room, cleared of men, while the village midwife (and perhaps other women) assisted in the delivery. Upon birth Mary wrapped the newborn and placed Him in the straw-filled manger.

“Why were Joseph and Mary not invited to the family guest room? Bailey answers: ‘The guest room was already occupied by other guests.’ (34)

“Again, dear Lord, ‘forgive us our Christmases’: for we have construed the wrong setting.

“Finally, our third and last reason for uttering this prayer is the supreme and major one: the wrong focus.

“The emphasis of the New Testament is on Christ’s atoning death — not on His birth. His incarnation was for the purpose of rescuing lost sinners. ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Tim 1:15). ‘He has once and for all at the close of the ages appeared to put away sin by His sacrifice of Himself’ (Heb 9:26).

“This is a perfect analogy of what has happened to Christ’s coming to earth: it has been overlaid with centuries of distortion and sentiment and wrong perspective; namely — a wrong date, a wrong setting, and most grievous of all, a wrong focus on the Savior’s birth instead of His death. For this let us all earnestly take up the little girl’s plea: ‘Forgive us our Christmases.’”


Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a reporter for The Register-Herald. E-mail: