In this unique sermon Stephen takes his congregation through a Christmas "Quiz", exposing some of the common misconceptions surrounding the Christmas story.
One of the things I love about the Christmas season is the opportunity to deepen our appreciation for the humility and sacrifice of Christ, observed in His incarnation.
I fear the Christmas story has become so polished and cleaned up that we wouldn’t recognize the real scene if it were enacted in front of us.
The truth is, the original Christmas scene was actually a dirty, desperate scene with two teenagers delivering their first born in a stone cutout in the hillside.
The Christmas story is actually a fearful time and eventually a brutal scene; the story begins with embarrassment and confusion on Joseph’s part and it ends with murder.
Since we’ve stopped our exposition of Revelation for a few weeks, and this Sunday is rather different – in fact, we have all of our children from the 1st grade and up in here as well – I thought what I’d do is survey some of the scenes in the birth of our Lord and at the same time test your knowledge of the true Christmas story at the same time.
In fact, I’ve prepared a quiz.
Don’t worry. It’ll be an open book test . . . and you’ll have a chance to grade your answers immediately. It won’t be graded – your church membership is not on the line.
Question number 1; According to the Biblical record,
- Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem on a:
- In a wooden cart
- In a Volkswagen
- Joseph walked and Mary rode a donkey
The answer is, none of the above. I guess I should have given you that as letter e. But I’m an unmerciful professor who loves to trick his students.
The record of scripture merely records in Luke chapter 2 that Joseph went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem . . . in order to register with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
It’s possible that both Mary and Joseph were too poor to even own a mule.
Joseph was a carpenter – literally in the likes of a migrant worker – traveling around Galilee wherever he could find work.
When they finally arrived in Bethlehem, question #2:
The Innkeeper’s actual words to Joseph and Mary were:
- Why didn’t you make reservations?
- Please use my stable.
- There is no room for you in the inn
And the answer is – none of the above.
The Bible simply informs us that there is no room for them in the inn. In fact, an Innkeeper is never introduced in the scene.
Luke simply records in chapter 2 verse 7, “there was no room for them in the inn.”
We have every reason to believe that with all the travelers heading back to their hometowns to register, according to the Emperor’s decree, everything was packed with people.
Furthermore, we’re never told that Joseph even knocked on the door of the Inn; he was more than likely told by other people in the courtyard – that place is overflowing – there’s no room.
You ever thought about the fact that the innkeeper always gets the worst job in the Christmas play.
I read about one church who put on a children’s Christmas play and a child with downs syndrome was to play the role of the Innkeeper. The moment finally arrived when little exhausted Mary and Joseph arrived and knocked on the door. He came to the door, right on cue. Joseph explained their pitiful situation that ended with, “Can we have a room?” The innkeeper was simply supposed to say, “We’re full . . . use the stable.” But he was so engrossed in the scene that after pausing a moment he said, “We’re full, but you can have my room.”
That kid got the picture . . . what a great answer.
You see, this Inn in Bethlehem remains to this day a powerful metaphor . . . how many hearts today have written across them a message for God that says, “Sorry . . . no vacancy” . . . “I’m all filled up right now . . . there’s no room!”
Is there really any room for Jesus Christ in your life? Or, are you crowding Him out?
Mary delivers the baby in that stable. Although, we have to be careful here . . . we’re never even told they were in a stable.
The only thing that implies a stable is the fact that when Christ was born, Mary laid him in a manger.
It might have been out in the open, where the travelers had tied down their animals. Many scholars believe it was a hollowed out cave in a Bethlehem hillside, common in these days.
Luke informs us that Mary laid Him in a manger.
Let’s ask another question for your quiz.
The place where they placed newly born Jesus was:
- A wooden cradle
- In a hammock
- In a feed trough
The answer is “C” – a feed trough – which happens to be the literal translation of the word “phaten” (fathn) manger; which then also supports the idea that this is a hollowed out area in a rocky hillside; the owner simply carved into one of the sides of that cavern a trough, literally cut into the stone where hay was put for the animals to eat.
This isn’t quite the cozy picture of warmth and adoration from the animals.
You say, “But I saw the pictures of the manger scene – I saw the animals . . . in fact, they all had halos. It’s soft and warm – there’s a campfire . . . the shepherds were roasting marshmellows . . .okay, maybe not, but listen, the last thing you would ever do is start a fire in a stable.
Those were not actual photographs you saw – they were paintings from skilled painters on the payroll of the church. And most of the paintings the church commissioned during the Middle Ages especially dehumanized Jesus Christ and cleaned up the scene a bit which effectively destroyed the humiliation of His birth; the rightful heir to David’s throne and the equal sovereign of Heaven – born in a cave by the hands of a migrant worker in smelly, dank, dark, confusing, painful, bloody, lonely scene.
But oh how their hearts will be filled with courage and hope as their first visitors arrive.
Angels filled the heavens and delivered a message to the shepherds.
Here’s another question;
How many angels spoke to the shepherds?
- It was a heavenly host
- One angel
- None of them spoke to the shepherds
The answer is, one of them spoke and delivered this message Luke 2:10, The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David, there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Only one – he was then joined by a host of angels who began singing . . . and these were the lyrics, verse 14, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is well pleased.”
Now, the angel gave the shepherds a clue to identify the Savior.
Here’s another question:
The sign the shepherd’s were to look for in identifying Jesus was:
- a Christmas tree
- three wise men
- a baby lying in an animal feed trough
The answer is c. a baby lying in the manger – or the feed trough.
The truth is, it was so unusual for a new born baby to be out in a barn surrounded by the flies and the filth of manure – and even more so, to have been placed in the feed trough, that the shepherd’s were given that as their sign.
Surely there were other infants in Bethlehem – but He was the only one in such poverty stricken conditions.
And both Mary and Joseph are so exhausted from their trip and now the delivery of their child that after wrapping Him in strips of cloth as was their custom, they laid him in the feed trough – no doubt softened with some hay perhaps or his cloak.
Listen shepherds . . . listen world . . . your Messiah – the King of Heaven – has been born – and He’s lying in a feed trough in a nearby cave used for housing animals.
Matthew’s gospel records for us that other visitors are on the way, led by the brilliance of God’s glory – translated “star”
Who saw the “star in the east?”
- The shepherds
- Three Kings from the Orient
- Professors living in Iraq
The answer is C – astrologers living in Iraq.
You need to understand – these were the Magi. That word gives us our word magic or magician. But they were more than that.
The ancient Greek Historian Herodotus informs us that the Magi were responsible for training the future kings of Persia – which is now modern Iraq. These were academic scholars – they were the professors of the arts and sciences, languages, architecture, mathematics, astronomy.
It’s interesting to discover that no King could ascend the throne without mastering the disciplines and receiving the blessing of the Magi.
Let me add this: the most distinguished Magi to have lived in Persia was a believer – a eunuch who was a Jew named ??? Daniel. He would live out his faith before several kings in that kingdom and nearly pay for it with his life when he was thrown to the lions.
He believed the scriptures . . . which informed him in Numbers chapter 24 that a star would rise from Jacob.
This was no ordinary star – again, it’s the word aster can be translated brightness.
- This was the light that guided the people of Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness (Exodus 13:21).
- This was the light that made the face of Moses to glow after he had met with God (Exodus 34:30).
- This was the brilliant light that knocked Saul off his horse on the Damascus road in Acts 9.
- This was the vision of John the Apostle as he saw the light of Christ’s face shining like the sun in Revelation 1:16.
The star was the Shekinah glory of God. I read wonderful articles on how the planets aligned at just this moment – and who knows, they might have. But this wasn’t a star somewhere in the universe, because it both appears and disappears. In fact, it doesn’t lead the wise men to Jesus at first because they needed to ask King Herod for directions.
How do you explain its disappearance when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem? And then it suddenly reappears when the leave Herod’s palace? And then it literally hovers over the very place where Jesus was?
The Magi – believing descendants of Daniel’s faith – in this long line of believers beginning with Daniel – have arrived from the kingdom of Persia, literally guided by a literal light from God and they come to worship the Savior.
Now, here’s the next question . . .
The wise men came and saw Jesus:
- While he was lying in the manger
- Just after the shepherds returned back to the fields
- After they knocked on the door of a house
The answer is c. Matthew records that after they came into the house they saw the Child with Mary. The text implies that Joseph might not have even been there at the time – perhaps he was at work. He hasn’t died yet – although he will die during the lifetime of Jesus. And we know that Joseph hasn’t died yet because he and Mary will have several children together after Jesus. One of them is a boy named James who will grow up to serve the church in Jerusalem and write a letter we’ve studied as a church recently, called the Book of James.
They came into the house and saw the child. That word for child is not brephos, (brefoV) for baby, used earlier for the shepherds who were told to go and find the baby; the word now used is the word paidion (paidion) which is the Greek word for little child.
In fact, remember Herod’s later command to kill all the boys in Bethlehem under the age of 2 indicates the timing of the Magi’s arrival and their disappearance back to their Kingdom; Herod wanted to make sure the usurper to his throne was eliminated and so he ordered all boys 2 years of age and younger were to be killed.
By the way, the church developed the myth of 3 wise men. We’re not told in scripture how many there were – we’re only told that they brought 3 significant gifts.
-Gold, which represented royalty;
-Frankincense, was used by the priest in his daily intercession.
The other gift was myrrh – a rather odd gift to give a child. Jesus was probably only interested in the boxes anyway at this point in His life.
Well, here’s another question for you.
Myrrh was used: (how?)
- to be mixed in drinks to relieve pain
- to wrap linens around a deceased person’s body
The answer is both.
Myrrh would be mixed in drinks to deaden pain. It was also used to create the sticky substance they would use in the wrapping of the shroud.
You may remember that when Jesus was hanging on the cross he was offered a drink mixed with myrrh – to deaden the pain – Mark 15:23 and He refused it . . . evidently to keep His mind clear.
He had important things to say . . . later, the Lord would be offered sour wine which he accepted . . . and moments later, died.
There can be little doubt that this gift of Myrrh was a symbolic reminder that Jesus Christ was born to die.
Now, let me shift gears and ask you some questions in more recent history.
Here’s the question:
Christmas was not officially celebrated until the 4th Century.
True or False? The answer is true.
The actual date of December 25th came from Roman pagan festivals during this season. One festival celebrated their belief that the sun in the sky had not been conquered and Spring would soon come again. This celebration was called Saturnalia and it was nothing less than a drunken orgy; but it also involved the giving of gifts to one another and the decorating of evergreen trees.
On December 25th the Romans celebrated the birth of the Mithras, the Persian god of light.
As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, in 336, Emperor Constantine took the date the Romans used to celebrate the birth of their god of light for the day Christians would celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the true light of the world.
He declared the official celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth to occur in the midst of pagan celebration – December 25th. All the icons of these festivals rolled into the Christian tradition.
I think it is so interesting that we happen to be living in an era where Christmas is just like it was in the 4th century. It can either be either pagan or Christian – and it all hinges upon what you do with your traditions.
Here’s another question that you should now know the answer to:
Christmas trees, mistletoe, ivy and holy were used by unbelievers in pagan rituals:
The answer is true.
And the Puritans would have nothing to do with it and they never established Christmas in America.
In fact, they made it illegal in 1644 to cook plum pudding and mince pie on Christmas day. They thought anybody cooking plum pudding was probably celebrating Christmas, so they passed a law against baking mince pie and making plum pudding on Christmas day.
So what do you think everybody did? They cooked their pies on Christmas Eve!
Frankly, our culture is riddled with pagan icons. Even the days of our week are named after Roman gods.
The question isn’t, “Do you use the words Maunday or Freyaday . . . but how do you live on Monday and Friday?”
The question isn’t “Do you celebrate Christmas and give gifts, the question is “Why do you celebrate Christmas?”
The Apostle Paul cleared the deck in Romans 14 when he wrote, “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind [so that] he who observes the day, observes it for the Lord . . . for he gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:5-6)
I personally believe Christmas happens to be a wonderful opportunity to observe a day that can uniquely exalt the birth of our Savior – to give thanks to God for His wonderful plan of salvation which included the birth of our Redeemer.
I would agree with the action of Martin Luther, who took his evergreen, attached globed candles to it to declare his belief through a pagan icon, that Jesus Christ was truly the light of the world.
And if you haven’t noticed, the world really doesn’t like the idea of Christmas revealing the truth of Christ.
Here’s another question for your Christmas Quiz.
True of false; in 1936, Adolph Hitler outlawed the word “Christmas” in exchange for “Yuletide”.
He also outlawed Christmas hymns too, by the way.
That actually sounds all too strangely familiar in our own generation today.
Is it any wonder in our western, modernized world that the answer to this next question would be what?
Here’s the question.
The month with the highest suicide rate is January.
True or False
The answer is False. Because the month with the highest suicide rate is what – December.
One author wrote, The Christmas season is marked by deeper emotional strain, greater anxiety, and more acts of violence than any other time of the year. The stress of the holiday, the depressing weight of loneliness, and the meaninglessness of mindless revelry make the holiday intolerable for many people.
Isn’t it interesting that when the angels came to the shepherds, Luke records that the words to their song went like this: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace . . .
There is no peace on earth.
The sound of the angels singing echoed on those Bethlehem hillsides.
Yet soon the wailing of bereaved mothers would pierce the air in Bethlehem as Herod’s soldiers slaughtered the little boys.
It hasn’t really changed.
In fact, a press release just this past week told the story of a Anglican church leader who came back to England from Bethlehem, banned the singing of O Little Town of Bethlehem in his church. Why? Because, he said, “It is hypocrisy.” There is no peace in Bethlehem – and he recounted the unrest; the check points and guards and open hatred in that region between Christians, Muslims and Palestinians.
Times Online, December 12, 2008 “Vicar bans ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’
He came back and said, effectively, “We’re not going to sing, “O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.
He’s missed the point of Bethlehem then and what Bethlehem will one day be in under the reign of Christ and ultimately when earth is newly made at the end of world history.
But he’s right in one sense – earth has not lived in peace. There’s not even peace in Bethlehem.
Was it a vain promise of the angelic host on the day our Lord was born?
PUT UP LUKE 2:14
No, if you note the entire text of Luke 2:14 (up on screen) and look at it carefully, you discover that the angels did not promise peace on earth (with a period there) – the rest of their song promises that there will be peace on earth among men with whom God is pleased.
In other words, there is peace in the hearts of those who are in fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.
To those who accept the Savior who came and died and rose again – there is peace.
Paul wrote in Romans 5:1; Therefore we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Those who’ve accepted the sacrifice of sovereignty of Christ are those who are pleasing to God. In fact, the primary foundation for pleasing God is accepting into your life the Son of God.
To those who believe that the baby Jesus was more than a baby – who believe He is the Lamb of God who came to die on the cross for the sins of the world; and rise again on the third day and ascend to the Father and then offer through his sacrifice, the full and final payment for your sins.
To that heart, the penalty of sin is forever removed. And you my friend, can have this peace the angels promised – peace with God through your Lord Jesus Christ.
A man in our church wrote a poem that was eventually sent to me . . . I think it sums it up well . . . let me read from it.
Owner of the whole creation, fashioned worlds with but a word
Yet he borrows now a manger for His entrance to His world
For a little while He borrows, then returns it back again.
Rides above the earth as Sovereign,
On the wings of tempest wind
Yet he borrows now a donkey to reveal Himself as King
For a little while He borrows, then returns it back again.
Ever Living One, eternal, sinless, holy, pure as light
Yet He borrows now a cross to die as Lamb in darkest night
For a little while He borrows, then returns it back again.
Cries in sorrow interceding, stripped of clothing, sold, betrayed
Dead, He borrows now a tomb in which His broken body lays.
For a little while He borrows, then returns it back again.
Taking on our flesh and nature, Son of God and Son of Man
Mighty Jesus, Lord of Heaven, Second Adam, Great I AM
Still a man, yes, man forever, takes our form eternally
Rids our souls of sin and fits us evermore with Him to be
And of all the things He borrowed, He returned them, one by one
All except my sins, Great Savior, these are gone, my soul is won.
Excerpted and adapted from Ron Berrus, The Borrower