In the United States, people who celebrate Christmas typically start decorating after Thanksgiving. These decorations include trees, strings of lights, and various other yard or home decorations, which may include a Nativity display.
If you have never seen a Nativity display, it typically consists of a barn-like setting, with a baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, the Magi, and some farm animals. Though these Nativity displays are a long-held tradition and a great reminder that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” the question is “are they biblically accurate?”Let us go back to the sources of these events, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2, NIV).
The Magi, traditionally called “the Three Wise Men,” possibly came from Persia or Babylon (modern day Iran and Iraq, respectively).
The idea of a king being born troubled King Herod, for he saw this newly born king as a threat to his power. Herod then asked his priests and scribes where would the Christ be born and they informed him Bethlehem. Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem.
“After they [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:9-10, NIV).
From the text, there is an indication that time had elapsed between Jesus’ birth and the Magi’s visit to Herod, because it would take quite a bit of time to travel from Persia or Babylon to Israel. Herod, unbeknownst to the Magi, had murderous intentions, and asked when did they see this star? Thus, another indication time had passed. Matthew 2:16-18 describes Herod issuing an order to have all of the children in Bethlehem aged two and under to be killed, but Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fled into Egypt.
The Bible describes the Magi’s visit: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream, not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:11-12, NIV, italics mine).
By the time the Magi came to pay their respects to Jesus, his family had settled into a home in Bethlehem, which would not put the Magi at the manger where Jesus was born. Luke’s Gospel makes no mention of the Magi, but does mention the angel appearing to the shepherds who were watching their flocks that night (Luke 2:8-20). According to Luke, the shepherds were the only people besides Mary and Joseph, present at the manager when Jesus was born. As to when all of this happened exactly, there is one historical fact: King Herod died in 4 BC. Given Herod’s order to kill all of the children two years old and under, could possibly place Jesus’ birth around 6 or 7 BC, which gives us a two to three year window for all of these events.
I write this not to step on anyone’s tradition or take away from anyone’s celebration, I just feel it is important for Christians to know what the Bible says about the events upon which our faith is based. Let us go back to the word ourselves and not succumb to artistic license or the traditions of man. God bless you all.