Recently, I have read several sources questioning the authenticity of the Nativity narrative. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has recently questioned the traditional Nativity narrative portrayed in Christmas plays, Christmas cards and various Nativity scenes. Are the traditions associated with the Nativity true?
First, was Christ really born on December 25th? Most likely December 25th was not the date Christ was born. December would have been too cold for humans to stay in a stable that time of year. The date actually comes from the Roman pagan celebration of Saturnalia. The Catholic Church selected the date as the observance of Christ’s birthday to provide new convert an alternative to pagan celebrations (1).
Was Christ really born in a stable or manger? According to Luke 2:7, Mary used a manger in lieu of a crib. From this we can surmise that they were some where animals kept. This could have been a stable, cave, the lower level of a house or an enclosure attached to a house (2).
Who was present when Jesus was born? Well, obviously Joseph and Mary were present (see Luke 2:4-7). Luke 2:8-19 records the shepherds encounter with angels and hasty visit to the Christ child. Neither the Matthew nor Luke accounts record the presence of the angels in the manger.
However the Magi or Wise Men did arrive on the night of Christ’s birth. In Matt 2:1-18, we learn that their arrival occurred sometime after Christ’s birth. By Herrod’s order decree in verse 2:16 we can deduce that it may have been as long 2 years after Christ’s birth.
It is my belief that the both Matthew and Luke’s account are reliable and true accounts of Christ birth. I make no apology for my belief that Christ did come to this world as infant, lived a perfect life, died on cross and rose again on the third day and is coming again for those believe in him.
(1) Just Ask, “When Was Jesus Born?”, [Available on-line http://www.just4kidsmagazine.com/justask/dec.html, last accessed 25 December 2007].
(2) Christianity Today, “Jesus is Born” [Available on-line http://www.christianitytoday.com/holidays/christmas/features/born.html#manger, last accessed 25 December 2007].