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I’m always surprised at how early the Christmas shopping season starts each year. Fortunately the ritual of amassing gifts for supposed religious reasons is on hiatus right now. The flood of consumerism makes it impossible for us to forget when it’s almost time for Christmas. That’s why it’s ironic that the secular world would push Christmas so much, but when I read Luke 1:46-55, I had to remind myself that it was about Christmas.

At first glance, Mary’s prayer song in Luke 1:46-55 doesn’t seem very Christmasy. It just seems like a generic prayer you might read in the Psalms that proclaims how great God is because of all the great stuff he’s done. Simple enough. But shouldn’t this passage feel more Christmasy?

I don’t think it’s Mary’s fault that this passage didn’t initially make me think of Christmas; I think it’s mine. Mary probably knows a good bit more about the true meaning of Christmas than I do, no matter how many times I’ve seen A Christmas Story on TV. Mary shows us that the simple, core meaning of Christmas is that God is good–really good. God has “done great things” in the past and will extend mercy “from generation to generation” (vv. 49-50). God’s “mighty deeds,” both past and future, are monumental in scope–toppling governments–yet personal in effect–feeding the hungry (vv. 51-53). The Christmas event is an extension of those mighty deeds. The birth of the Savior is yet another way that God shows love to us. And that’s what Christmas is all about. Take it from Mary. She would know.

2 Responses to “Blogging the Bible - Luke 1:46-55”

  1. on 14 Mar 2009 at 2:25 amJemima

    Hi, I just stumbled on your Blog and thought I’d share something with you.
    I read the Christmas story in Matthew one day and was amazed to find some really interesting things in there. All those nativity scenes I had seen in shopping malls and the Christmas trees with all the colorful lights and the beautiful star on top…..all took on new meaning. Would you like to explore it with me? It might explain why Mary’s prayer song didn’t sound very ‘Christmasy’.
    Matthew Chapter 2 starts off by talking about the “wise men” that came from the east. I had to read it three times to realize that it doesn’t actually say there were 3 of them. How wise were these men I wondered? It turns out that “wise men” is translated from the word “magi”. (from where we get the word magic) and from the east, likely meant Babylon, where people practiced magical arts and astrology, things that are clearly condemned in the Bible. So I take note now of the fact that they followed a star that led them, not to Bethlehem to the newborn Jesus, but to Jerusalem to a wicked king who subsequently hatched a plot to kill him. Carefully ascertaining from them WHEN the star first appeared, he then asked the chief priests and scribes WHERE the Christ was to be born. He then told them to let him know when they found the child, so that he could come and ‘worship’ him too. (yeah right!) So anyways, the star moves ahead of them and leads them onto Bethlehem, where “it stood over where the young child was.” No ordinary star this!
    Now verse 11 was also an eye opener. Where was Jesus and his parents when they got there? In the stable? NO! Jesus was a “young child” (not an infant) living in a “house”. Now seeing as how the ‘wise men’ were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, means that they had no evil intent; they were just dupes used by the devil to have Jesus killed before he could fulfill his assignment. So the star wasn’t sent by God at all! It was sent by his enemy in an effort to try to destroy the Christ! Afterwards, Herod was so enraged that he had been “mocked” by the wise men, that he sent and had all the babies in Bethlehem two years of age and under, put to death. Could we imagine God being responsible for the deaths of all those innocent babies?
    Where do all those Christmas customs come from, if they are not in the Bible?
    In his book The Story of Christmas, Michael Harrison writes:
    “First of all, it must be noted that, despite the efforts of innumerable scholars, it has not yet been proved upon what day . . . Christ was born.”
    The Bible is silent about the date of Jesus’ birth. If we were supposed to celebrate it wouldn’t you think that the date would have been recorded?
    December 25 was probably chosen because of its being the day for the pagan celebration of “the birth of the Unconquered Sun,” known as the Brumalia in the Roman Empire. This followed the week-long festival of the Saturnalia (December 17-24) at the time of the winter solstice. At this time of year the daylight period begins to get longer. The pagan Romans believed that the sun-god, Mithras, was conquering the darkness and gloom of winter. According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, this point of view “remains the most plausible explanation for the dating of Christmas.” They know it’s pagan!
    What about the “merry customs” of Christmas, such as the brightly lit and the decorated tree, holly, mistletoe, the yule log and the practice of exchanging gifts? Are these Christian customs?
    Professor Edvard Lehmann writes in Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics: “Most of the Christmas customs now prevailing in Europe, or recorded from former times, are not genuine Christian customs, but heathen customs which have been absorbed or tolerated by the Church. . . . The Christmas feast has inherited these customs chiefly from two sources—from Roman and from Teutonic paganism.” Some customs even come from ancient Babylon.
    In spite of this, the churches go on celebrating Christmas year after year.
    I don’t know about you but I was pretty disgusted to find this out, especially in view of the scripture in 2 Corinthians 6:14-17.
    Do you have any thoughts on this?

    Jemima

  2. on 16 Mar 2009 at 1:47 pmStuart

    Jemima, You raise great points. Isn’t it weird when you read the Bible and realize, “This isn’t what I was told!” The main things that cause differences between what we’re told and what’s actually there are: 1.) consolidating Bible books/passages together that weren’t written together, and 2.) combining religious traditions with secular ones.

    Like you mentioned, the wise men visit raises interesting questions. It just says 3 gifts, not 3 people. Maybe they pooled their money and gave joint gifts like I do ’cause I’m cheap. There could’ve been just 2, or maybe a whole big group. Who knows? You’re right in realizing they went to Jerusalem first. Not straight to Herod though; they just went around town asking people where “the one who has been born king of the Jews” was so they could worship him. Soon after, Herod heard about them and tried to deceive them. You’re also right in realizing Luke’s nativity talks about Jesus as a “baby” and a “child” in a “manger.” Matthew talks about Jesus only as a “child,” and the wise men visited him at his “house” (actual words vary depending on Bible translations). So that implies the wise men didn’t visit Jesus in the manger the first night. When did they? Nobody knows. Mary & Joseph could’ve found a house the next morning, and maybe Matthew calls all kids children not babies ’cause he’s weird. Perhaps the star appeared while Mary was pregnant and gave the magi enough time to travel and arrive soon after the birth. Some people think the star didn’t show up till Jesus was born (but the Bible doesn’t specify), and because Herod called all boys 2 and under “in accordance with the time he had learned from the magi,” maybe Jesus was 2 when they visited. But Luke 2:39 suggests Mary & Joseph left Bethlehem after only 40 days. It’s so confusing!

    You’re also right in discovering that the wise men were magi, which was something like astrologers, alchemists, and maybe even sorcerers. They were popular in the Middle East back then as advisers to kings because people thought they could read the stars and horoscopes and were all-around wise. God’s followers knew different, and magi stuff was definitely forbidden in lots of Bible passages (see Ge 41:8; Ex 22:18; Lev 20:27; Dt 18:10-14; Ez 13:17-20; Ac 8:9-25; 13:6-11; and lots more). But I think their inclusion in the Christmas story as really neat. It shows that Jesus was sent to reach everybody, not just people who were already accepted or considered religious, but even folks who were considered pagans. Remember that everyone is a sinner in need of grace. Jesus came for them too. Now trying to determine how the star appeared, the Bible doesn’t imply that the devil did it (remember: adding meaning to what’s not in the Bible is how the story was confused in the first place), and I think Matthew would’ve mentioned something. But what do I know? And how lucky were the magi that they “read” that star and decided to follow it? They got to be the first Gentiles to experience Jesus. I bet their lives were never the same.

    Trying to understand all the Christmas traditions is an interesting study. You can go to Wikipedia and find information on things like Christmas trees, Santa, Yuletide, etc. A lot of the religious celebrations we have were scheduled on previously pagan holidays to try and Christianize them (like Dec. 25). If people were celebrating anyway, when not give them a better reason, I suppose. And even the whole BC (Before Christ) timeline is off because Herod died in 4 BC , so somebody got their dates wrong when they made the calendar.

    Anyway, the big question I think you’re wrestling with is how to celebrate Christmas the best way given all the weird ways it changed through history. I think you’ve already started the first important thing: know what the Bible says and what it doesn’t. That way you’re not taking other people’s word about what you believe/celebrate, you’re figuring it out yourself. Then you can ask, “What things do I do to celebrate Christmas? Which ones help me celebrate Jesus’ birth and enjoy the blessings of family and friends? Which ones are distracting?” For me, even though some of our traditions come from strange places, it’s what they mean now that’s important. Decorating a tree with my family is a wonderful, enriching time. Spending money at the mall… not so much. What do you think?

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