All that said, we will now address the fourth myth.
Myth number four___Angels sang as they announced His birth to the shepherds.
I must admit that this IS NOT of earth shattering significance. But the whole idea of angels singing is kind of fun to think about. So with no desire to "burst bubbles" in any one's mind about this, I will address whether angels can sing at all, but more specifically, even if they can, DID they sing when they appeared to the shepherds?
If you believe the text of most of the carols of Christmas you will certainly hold to the idea they can...and did..sing. Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, and even Silent Night, all declare the angels sang at the announcement to the shepherds, if not at the manger itself. This belief is especially helpful I would think since it enables larger churches to have more volunteers involved in Christmas cantatas, since you can always use more singing angels especially if they have a good voice.
I listened this past Sunday to the Christmas carols I joined our fellowship in singing and noticed that the word 'sing" was found to be repeatedly used in the lyrics. I began to wonder why and then I began to be aware that the reason may have been, as much as anything, because it rhymes so well with "king" and "wing." Just kidding.
But I am thinking that an argument might be made from the scriptures that angels are not said to sing AT ALL. I know about the reference in Job to "sons of God" and the host around His throne singing in Revelation, but there may be some problems textually in making those passages speak of angels.
Arguing from silence however, is never the best method for establishing truth because with that method we could wind up arguing that the disciples NEVER bathed since the bible doesn't specifically say they did or did not. The scriptures only have a veiled reference to disciples bathing in John 13 when Jesus said the one who has been bathed doesn't need anything except his feet washed. So I would think a subject about which the bible is silent generally means we might as well be generally silent about it as well.
But the angels did not sing at the announcement to the shepherds of the birth of Jesus according to the text, and that's the myth I'm addressing. The passage used to say they did is Luke 2:10-14. Those verses say this, "Then the angel SAID to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, for unto you is born this day...This shall be a sign to you: you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes...and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and SAYING, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men."
I've highlighted the word "saying" in both place it appears. It is the word legonton. [I'm using the English spelling of the Greek word for simplicity.] It is from the Greek word, lego. It is a very common word in the scriptures and it means,"to talk, to speak or to say." It also means to really focus upon the content of what is spoken. It DOESN'T mean SINGING at all.
So why do people assume the angels sang here? I'm guessing it's because of the phrase "praising God" is generally thought to be synonymous with "singing" by most people but that could be incorrect. While the two words, "praising and singing" are closely linked, "praise" is MORE than "singing." It can mean praying, proclaiming, or even shouting. But the general sense of praising is "to speak of the excellence of a person, object, or event." The text indicates whatever message the angels gave, they said or shouted it rather than sang it.
But that wouldn't go over too well in a Christmas cantata at all. So I'll bet, if I were a betting baptist, the angels won't mind at all our saying they sang even if when we get to heaven we find out they didn't sing after all.
Now on to the fifth myth.
Myth number five___There were the shepherds and three Kings at the manger on His birth night.
We've established that the manger may have been located in a private home, [see the last post] and it is pretty clear the shepherds were able to make it to that home the night of His birth, but the three Kings? I'm not so sure that there were in fact three of them and that they came that night. The scriptures may well indicate otherwise.
Matthew is the only gospel writer to tell of the Magi. His task was to write to the Jews about the birth of Jesus so there is much more of a Jewish flavor than say, Luke, whose emphasis was to the gentiles. I will not attempt to explain who and where they came from as that is too broad for my present purposes. You can read all about them on Wikipedia if you like further information on them
Matthew 2:1-2 simply says, "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men [magi] from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” [ESV]
Notice that there is no number given by Matthew and it would be good to remember that most historians say they were from Persia and traveled in bands of a dozen or more, generally on horseback. The number three was settled on probably because of the three kinds of gifts mentioned. Also, they were not kings, but more likely Priests of the Persian religion who studied the stars. In some way they had read the stars and saw a new one and knew something of the Hebrew Prophets predicting the birth of a new King of the Jews and came to pay homage.
They came to Jerusalem [Matt.2:1] questioning about it all and word got to Herod who was understandably disturbed at the news. [2:3] He was told by his advisers that there was, in fact, some indication by the prophets of old that this would happen. [2:4-6] So he promptly told the magi to go to Bethlehem and return to him with word about it all. [2:7-8] They did leave, but here's where it gets a bit dicey.
To assume they went to Bethlehem is to assume something not stated in the text. They did follow the re-appearing star [2:9] which took them to a house where they found the "young child" [not baby and is paidion in Greek which is different than brephos, baby, used in Luke 2:12 and 16.]] with His mother Mary alone. [2:10-11] The text is saying Jesus was NOT a baby but a young child when the magi arrived to offer their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. but it gets even dicy-er. [If there is such a word.]
It's important to note that Luke records after the shepherds left Jesus on the night of His birth that just some eight days later they circumcised the baby and announced the prearranged name given Him as Jesus. [Luke 2:21] Then, forty days later, the time of Mary's purification, according to Jewish law, Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem to dedicate Jesus according to that same Jewish law. [Luke 2:22-24] This is the time of the experience they had with Simeon and and Anna. [Luke 2:25-38]
Now the hitch. Luke 2:39 says very clearly they went BACK TO NAZARETH IN GALILEE. But this seems to contradict what is said in Matthew when he records the Magi were warned to go home home another way and forget about Herod. Then Joseph was warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt because, as happened, a furious Herod ordered all the children two and under killed which the scripture sadly records.
There is no problem if it is remembered that a couple of explanations could be understood. Joseph and Mary took Jesus to NAZARETH after Mary's purification and it could be it was to NAZARETH the star led the Magi around the time of his being several months old and it could be it was from NAZARETH that Joseph fled to Egypt for fear of the order to kill the children in Bethlehem and the AREAS AROUND. [Matthew 2:16-18] One hint this might be correct is the use of the name Rachel is used in Matthew 2:18 as she is connected to Galilee as well. Bethlehem was in Judah and considered to be the children of Leah.
But it also could be that Joseph had returned for a visit to Bethlehem when Jesus was several months old, and that it was to the home he was visiting to which the star led the magi and it's from there he was taken to Egypt. Whichever, after the death of Herod, Joseph was told to go back to NAZARETH, which he did. The point is simply that it was not likely that there were three kings who came to pay homage to Jesus and it was not to bethlehem on the night of the Savior's birth, no matter what the song writers say.
Myth number six and number seven are rather simple.
Was it an actual star that guided the Magi? Maybe or maybe not! Some people believe the star was just a natural alignment of planets and others believe it was the forming of a new star. That would have certainly been a miracle which I have no problem with as this was a time of splendid miracles anyway.
But the timing and movement of the star dictates, to me at least, that something far more divine in nature than a natural alignment was transpiring.
It could have been a star of the kind we mean when speaking of stars, but it also could have been something more akin to the shekinah glory that accompanied the children of Israel in their wilderness wanderings. This could be the hint intended by Luke 2:9 where it is says the "glory of the Lord" was shining on the shepherds.
This would have meant the presence of God was being manifested during that time since the Shekinah or the "glory of the Lord" has always been associated with God's presence, No one can say with any certainty that it wasn't a star miraculously produced for the divine moment. But my choice is to think of it as that Shekinah fire [The Glory] that God travels in and may even be testifying to the Father being present at the birth of His Only Begotten Son. That's what a Father does.
Whatever the case may be, I ran out of time for my Sunday presentation last Sunday at this point and, frankly, it was just as well, since we could talk forever about these kinds of things. But for the same reasons I'll just leave it at that. at the present
Then, the seventh and final myth is that it's a sin to celebrate Christmas in any fashion.
Since "sin" is defined in scripture as "missing the mark," you would have to have either a condemnation OF celebrating Christmas stated in scripture, which would mean we should not, or a command TO celebrate it, which would mean we are to do just that. But when there is neither a condemnation nor a command present in the bible, each is free to live by his or her own conscience. Of course, there are times when other things come into play about whether there is freedom of decision about something, such as deferring for the sake of others, but none seems to be there as far as I can tell.
Since I have reason to believe the birth of Jesus was more likely to have been in September rather than in December, [That's a post for another time] and I believe it to be associated with the feast of the Tabernacles which was celebrated with the lighting of a candle during each of the seven days of the feast, Mary and I, through the years, would gather our kids around a seven-branched menorah, much like the one used in the ancient Temple, and would, six nights before Christmas, with all lights off, light one of the branches, read a prophecy, sing a carol, then put the light out. The next night two with another passage, song and the next night three...and so on.
Then, on Christmas morning we would light all seven branches, celebrating the full light of the world, read Luke 2, and while holding hands, we would sing HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Jesus. That's my kind of celebration. To then enjoy exchanging of gifts, trees, food, family time, are all possibilities, to be sure, but to make it truly a celebration of the birth of our Lord is essential, I would think.
I hope you and your family will enjoy the celebration of His birth, whatever the actual and factual circumstances that may or may not have surrounded that first Christmas morning, because the REAL celebration is all about the gift of His Son given on our behalf that first Christmas day.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL.