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A Daring Rescue

The story of Christmas is actually one of a daring rescue.  There are so many things we leave out or gloss over when telling the Christmas story to children.  After all, who REALLY wants to explain a virgin birth? 


We have made the Christmas story into a Hallmark movie, avoiding the uglier, more brutal parts of the story.   It has become a pretty story or a church play, often based on assumptions not included in Scripture.


We assume Mary rode on a donkey.  That would be the polite, reasonable thing to do.  But Scripture never says so.  In fact, it doesn’t even mention a donkey in the story.  It was an 80-mile journey to Bethlehem.  Mary and Joseph were not wealthy.  If there was a donkey, it most likely carried the supplies needed for the long trip. 


Nor does the Bible mention a stable.  All we know is that the child was laid in a manger.  The manger was a feeding trough for animals and could have been dragged to wherever they were staying, perhaps a tent?  We only know there was no room for them at the guest house. 


Inns at that time were almost all brothels.  Most people who traveled stayed with relatives.  And there was no innkeeper mentioned in the Biblical account.  Perhaps they were not wanted at a relative’s house.  After all, Mary was pregnant before they were married.  It was a bit of a scandal. 


Most likely the baby was not surrounded by a host of other barn animals.  Isaiah 1:3 does prophesy, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”  So perhaps Mary and Joseph had travelled with an ox and donkey.  The baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes which were rags used to wrap newborn lambs who were to be used for temple sacrifices to keep them from injuring themselves or getting defects.


There is no mention of angels at the place where Jesus was born, at least none that people saw and recorded.  Angels did appear to shepherds in the fields, announcing the birth of the Messiah.  But the Scripture says they were “praising” and “saying.”  It never mentions angels singing at that time. 


And then there are the wise men.  They didn’t even come until well after Jesus’ birth.  They were not kings, but Magi…astrologers, and astronomers.  And we don’t know if there were three.  We have assumed there were three because of the three gifts given:  frankincense, gold, and myrrh.  I understand the gold.  After all, he was a king.  The frankincense indicated his priestly role as sent from God.  But myrrh?  Myrrh was an embalming agent!  


If you look closely at the REAL details of the Christmas story, you can’t help but see the foreshadowing of the cross.  Wrapped in swaddling clothes as a sacrificial lamb would be.  The gift of myrrh indicating a death to come.  A blessing on the child given by Simeon in Luke 2:34-35 which basically said the child would be the most loved and hated, and Mary’s heart would be pierced.  What kind of blessing is that?  Yes, the signs of the cross were all there from the beginning, even at the cradle.


The assumptions we add to the story and the difficult parts we leave out have made the story we tell our children a type of happy tale.  In reality, there was a genocide of all baby boys two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem.  Because the Magi first went to Herod asking about this newborn king to be born, Herod became jealously enraged and ordered the execution of hundreds of baby boys. Just think, if Jesus had stayed in Bethlehem and went to kindergarten there, he would have been the only boy in school his age.


Instead, the rescue mission for the world led the small family to escape to Egypt until it was safe to return.  Most likely the gold they had received helped finance the trip. 


Christmas still comes with many assumptions.  Christmas isn’t about religion.  It’s about a relationship.  The focus isn’t to get people to heaven, but to show the love of Christ so that others desire to have a relationship with the One who can bring hope.  It’s not about fixing people; it’s about demonstrating a love that can transform a human life.  It’s not about having someone control you; it’s about deciding to give up control and let God bring about some of the most precious plans you could imagine for your life.


Christmas isn’t about having a perfect family, or a spotless background.  Jesus understood what a messy family was.  After all, he had incest, gentile blood, a prostitute, an adulterer, and a murderer in his lineage.  (We probably don’t talk about that with our children either.)  He understands dysfunction! 


Just for one minute, imagine if you committed a crime that didn’t really seem all that bad (like having hash in Russia), and the penalty for that crime was death.  While you were waiting to be executed, a person steps up and says, “Let me die in this guilty person’s place.  I’ll pay the penalty.”  The warden had never had such a request.  Can you imagine, all of a sudden the warden throws open the door and says, “You are free to go.  Someone has agreed to recue you and your place.”  This is Christmas!  It’s THE gift…the gift of a lifetime., the most daring rescue. You just need to accept it.

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Anne Hope is the award-winning author of Bent Pages...a sharp, funny, and deeply inspirational narrative.

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