In my recent Christmas novella release I include a small Christmas tradition that I, in fact, made up.
I remember a pastor once challenging the congregation to think beyond our stereotyped images of Christmas because some of the things we love … aren’t in fact in the Bible.
A couple of examples. No where in the Bible does it say there are three wise men. It says wise men came from the east. And it specifically mentions three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. But the wise men themselves were never numbers.
He also said some Biblical experts believe the wise men didn’t come to the stable on the night Jesus was born.
King Herod estimated the time the wise men had set out on their journey, assumed that they’d begun it on the night Jesus was born, and that made Jesus as much as two years old when the wise men arrived. That’s why he ordered the deaths of every baby boy in Bethlehem under the age of two.
But what doesn’t make sense about that theory is, why would Joseph and Mary stay in Bethlehem? They went there from Nazareth for the census and to pay their taxes but why wouldn’t they go back home after they’d paid? It’s no where mentioned that they had to MOVE to Bethlehem, just go, pay, get counted and then go home.
So I’ve always disagreed with that part of it. I think the wise men got there on the night Jesus was born, I think they were able to see the star well ahead so they could follow it and arrive on Christmas Day.
Anyway, I enjoy being challenged about things like that. It makes me read the chapters more carefully and be more aware of how we are all affected by a simple nativity set, always with three wise men. We see it so often, and all of them there at Jesus birth, that we begin to accept as true some things that we’ve never been told. I like to think there were fifty wise men–and they came from all corners of the east. I imagine them bringing many gifts, including–but not limited to: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Because of this memory and the fact that I have written maybe as many as ten children’s plays for our Sunday School Christmas Program (I’m letting others handle that now!), I think I’ve looked deeply at many aspects of the Christmas story for new angles, new things to emphasize, the staging, the characters, how did they really act, how did they really feel?
And I used this familiarity I have with Jesus birth to create this tradition for my book.
Here’s an excerpt from Longhorn Christmas, from the novella collection Cowboy Christmas Homecoming
Roy watched while Jeremy helped Netty arrange a Nativity set. Roy heard family stories, some so old they went back to the beginning of America. Some took them across the ocean.
As she talked she set the pieces in a strange order Roy didn’t understand. There was a wooden stable with a little manger. She sat that on the mantle over the fireplace, but instead of putting the other figures beside it, she put three pieces in the farthest corner of the room. The corner of the kitchen. The shepherds were on the floor right to the side of the hearth. Mary and Joseph were against the wall that ran at a right angle to the fireplace. There was an angel and Netty sat her right on the kitchen table…right beside the salt cellar.
“It was my pa that wanted them placed like this.” She pointed to the corner of the kitchen and the wise men. “We think of them as coming to see Jesus on the night he was born, but then when Herod orders all boy children under two years of age be killed, Pa said that might mean the wise men didn’t get there all that soon. If they set out for Bethlehem following the star when it appeared over Jesus in the manger, it might’ve taken them two years to get there.”
Netty picked up the little angel. It was only about three inches tall, and a fine shade of stained oak. A perfect match for the rest of the set. “But I’ve always wondered if, instead, they saw the star over their own heads two years before Jesus was born. And it guided them for all that time.”
Netty turned and pointed to Mary and Joseph. “They had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem because of the census, but why would they still be there two years later? They didn’t have to stay there, did they? So that makes me think the wise men got their right away.”
She looked at Roy expectantly, as if she wanted him to have the answers. He said, “I like the idea of them showing up right when Jesus is born. Especially because Jesus is only a few days old when they go to the temple and the story seems to be told in order. Why talk about the night of his birth, then something that happens two years later, then go back to the baby just a few days old, then jump back to the story of Herod and the wise men. Of course I think those stories are in different books of the Bible so maybe it’s not in as straight of order as I remember.”
Nodding, Netty said, “I like thinking of them showing up, too, but it doesn’t matter when. What matters is making our peace with God and believing in Jesus. This is just the details of a beautiful story and we like to think we know how it was, even though we don’t.”
“So the wise men are in that corner then, because—
“They come from far away, in the east. They traveled, possibly for years to get to Bethlehem. When Ma and Pa set out the nativity, they’d move the travelers a bit each day. The wise men first because they had so far to come. The last week we move Mary and Joseph closer and closer. They reach the stable on Christmas Eve,” she held up the angel, “the angel appears.”
Netty reached into the box that had held all the figures and pulled out a manger with the Baby Jesus in it. “On Christmas morning, when Jeremy wakes up, he’ll find Christ the Savior is born. Then shepherds come in from the pastures. Finally, the wise men get there with their gifts.”
Netty tucked the baby in a manger back into the box and set the angel back on the table. “Every night until Christmas, I’m going to read a bit of the story of Jesus. I’ll tell Jeremy stories of our family, and I’ll move the pieces. Closer every day to the stable. Together, we’ll take the journey all these people made, toward the birth of our Savior.”
What this little tradition made me wonder is, do you have any traditions in your family that are especially precious to you?
The one that always comes to mind for me is, on Thanksgiving when we are washing up after dinner, whoever’s home we are in, we play Mannheim Steamroller’s Celebration Christmas. This music just kicks off the season. It puts us all in a festive mood, guides our conversation about Christmas plans and memories. It’s a little thing but that music, that beautiful, instrumental music, begins the journey to Christmas for me.
Leave a comment about your favorite Christmas traditions to get your name in the drawing for a copy of Cowboy Christmas Homecoming.