Category Archives: Christ

Re-envisioning the Manger: 7 Common Misconceptions about the Nativity of Jesus

A few fun facts about the ancient world and the birth of Jesus.

1.  Mary wasn’t necessarily about to give birth any moment on her way to Bethlehem. The classic image of Mary riding on a donkey about 11 months pregnant probably wasn’t the case.

Luke 2:4-6 – “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born

“While they were there, the time came…” not while they were in Nazareth the time came and she barely made it to Nazareth. I expect Mary was not quite as far along as we often envision her to have been.

2. Magi did not come to see newborn Jesus, nor were they at the manger (edit: should say at a stable) but in a house in Bethlehem.

Instead, the Magi saw the star some two years earlier and Herod understood that to mark the birth of Jesus. We don’t need to envision the gold, frankincense and myrrh ensconcing baby Jesus as much as being gotten into by terrible two Jesus.

Matt 2:7-11,16″ – Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh...16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

3. Mangers are not stables in separate buildings

In the ancient world the animals lives in an area connected to the house. These areas were either at the back of the house or situated under a portion of the house. Baby Jesus wasn’t put in a barn. The manger is the food trough the animals ate out of and the examples we have today from this period are made of stone. So Jesus wasn’t born out in a barn somewhere distant from the house but in part of a house itself.

4. The shepherds and the Magi never met.

The shepherds came for the birth of Jesus and the Magi seemed to have arrived two years later.

5. Herod didn’t kill thousands of kids.

The town of Bethlehem was so small that the number of children killed was in the dozens, not thousands.

6. There probably wasn’t an inn in Bethlehem.

Mary and Joseph went there because it was their family town…which means they probably had family in town. Archaeology doesn’t show any record of an inn in Bethlehem. What is more Luke uses two words in his Gospel, one for guest room (Luke 2:7 and 22:11 – upper room wasn’t an inn) and one for inn (10:34 – where the Good Samaritan took the injured man). In the nativity of Jesus he uses the word he uses elsewhere for guestroom, not the word that means inn. So in all likelihood, they were checking with relatives for a place to stay without any luck finding a vacant guest room but probably still found room in the back of a relative’s house in their manger.

Bonus: Shepherds weren’t very welcome people to the birth of your child in Jesus’ day. They were often considered to be unclean as they dealt with the animals all the time…this was not a very prestigious job but was more a job at the bottom of the food chain. God had angels invite the least of these and the marginalized as guests and witnesses of the Messiah!

Adjust your manger scenes accordingly:

Newborn Jesus: Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus up to two year old Jesus, shepherds and animals. Remove all angels. The star is on its way…not there yet.

2 year old Jesus: Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, Magi and change the manger into a house. Remove all angels. The star has arrived.

Birds, Rocks and Thorny Places

Parables are like ogres, which are like onions…they have layers.   One of the layers that adds rich meaning to the reading and understanding of Jesus’ parables is packaged in identifying with the different characters in the story. This is quickly and easily seen in the parable of the prodigal son where most of usContinue Reading

Open Tombs, Fight or Flight and Making Sense of Mary in John 20

When you are young you do foolish things…things you look back on and wonder “What was I thinking?” or think about all the bad things that could have resulted from your decisions. We had a youth group that went through a season of seeking out scarey experiences. There were nights we would leave Wednesday nightContinue Reading

Moralizing Scripture…the Rush to Application and Misappropriating the Text

When you teach the Bible there should be a desire to find the application to our everyday lives. The quickest path to finding application is to moralize scripture. Moralizing scripture is finding good moral lessons in the verses we are readying and using the scriptures to teach people who to behave better. That is notContinue Reading

The Difference Between Righteousness and Self-Righteousness

Jesus was 100% righteous. He lived without sin and never defiled himself in any way. Jesus was also right 100% of the time and knew it. If anyone had the right to beat people up with their own righteousness it was Jesus. But he didn’t. Then there’s us. We aren’t righteous apart from Christ. WeContinue Reading

The Power of Experience

The Gospels spend a tremendous amount of time on the Passion and Resurrection narratives. As N.T. Wright wrote in Surprised by Hope, “Take away the stories of Jesus’s birth, and you lose only two chapters of Matthew and two of Luke. Take away the resurrection, and you lose the entire New Testament and most ofContinue Reading

Finally Read Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright

I finally got around to reading Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright on the trip to Bakersfield this weekend. The book could have been called “Surprised by What the Bible Actually Says About Heaven and Resurrection and What That Has to do with the MissionContinue Reading

What Did Jesus Mean When He Talked About Causing “Little ones to Stumble”?

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. ” – LukeContinue Reading

The Book of Ruth Resolves the Insanity of Judges

In a previous post I went through some reasons that teaching Judges is extremely difficult. Judges is one of those books of the Bible that I can’t imagine Beth Moore teaching a series on. I can’t see it not because she lack the ability but because it wouldn’t appeal to her core audience. It isContinue Reading

Jesus Healed Them Anyway

In Luke 6 we get three groups of people. It starts with Jesus’ disciples. From that group Jesus selects the 12 apostles. After that selection, Jesus and all his disciples go out to the plain to preach. When he gets there the crowd grows from just being Jesus, his apostles and other disciples to alsoContinue Reading


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