We are far enough on the backside of Christmas now that I can share some facts about the first Christmas and not ruin the holiday for you. You ask, how could that be? Some of what we have come to accept as “fact” about the first Christmas has actually been gleaned from tradition, paintings, and movies. What? I know, it’s almost too much to bear but don’t worry, there isn’t any heresy in this…just some good fun.

Let’s start with the Magi, or Wise Men. We’ve gotten a lot wrong about them.

  • In every painting, movie, and book you’ve likely ever seen, there were three of them. Why? Because there were three gifts given to Jesus (gold, frankincense, myrrh). Truth is, we don’t know how many Magi there were because the Bible never tells us.
  • All the nativity sets you own (mine as well) have the Magi arriving the night that Jesus was born. They actually arrived about two years later. How do we know? The description of Jesus when He was born used a word that meant “infant.” The description of Jesus when the Magi arrived used a word that meant “toddler” or “very young boy.” Also, when King Herod sent his soldiers to try to kill Jesus, they had instructions to kill all boys two years old and younger.
  • Oh, Matthew 2:11 tells us they found Jesus and family in a house.

How old was Mary when Jesus was born? We really don’t know but she was probably between 14-16 years old because that was the typical age that girls were given away in marriage in that culture. Joseph was probably 16-20 years old.

How did Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census? The traditional story has her riding a donkey. Really? Those of you who have been pregnant, imagine doing that for 90 miles. I see more than a few heads nodding in agreement. No, because of the danger of traveling in that region, they likely traveled with many others in a type of caravan and she probably rode most of the way in a cart or wagon. Everyone was going to their hometown for the census and it would have been the smart thing to do.

The purpose of the gifts given by the Magi was because Jesus was a king. True and false. All three gifts were expensive and worthy of a king. However, there were two other likely reasons for these three specific gifts:

  1. Each of the three gifts could be gradually sold to pay for the long trip and life in Egypt when they had to move there to escape Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus.
  2. All three gifts were also used in those days to pay for and prepare a dead body for burial. God was reminding us from the beginning why Jesus had come; to die for the sins of the world.

I hope this didn’t ruin your image of the first Christmas, Instead, I hope that it gave you a better picture of why Jesus came in the first place. Blessings.