Christmas has changed over time, but the meaning of Christmas has not.
Nevertheless, the birth of Jesus is mired in myths. The worst by far is that there were three kings. The truth is they were not kings and we have no idea how many there were. The tradition of 3 kings grew out of the three gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh) that they brought to the Christ child.
The word used to name them is “magi” not kings. Were they wise men, then? Sorcerers, astrologers? I can answer this question once and for all with three words: We – don’t – know.
Let’s move on to manger scenes, the time-tested depiction of the event set up In homes, churches and (a few remaining) public squares. Mary, Joseph and the baby are surrounded by animals, shepherds and the magi… but the shepherds were the only ones who came to the manger. The Magi arrived to worship perhaps two years later.
But I digress.
Myths mess with the true meaning of things, and that just can’t be allowed at Christmas. So here are five myths that will stand in the way…
Christmas is the Season for Giving
There’s no question that we have been programmed to believe this from Black Friday to Cyber Monday and beyond. Giving has become a raving ritual, a festive frenzy at Christmastime. If there is any connection at all to the Christmas story it is with the Magi who brought gifts to Jesus. But the best lesson to draw from them is that they were worshipers of the God who had given the greatest gift of all, a Savior King named Jesus.
Christmas is a time for receiving the gift God gave us in Christ.
It’s about “Peace on earth”
This is not United Nations peace between nations, but the inner peace that comes only in relationship with God. Peace with God leads to the peace of God.
Christmas peace is invisible and spiritual. It survives the assault of holiday stress and the world of hurt beyond it by tapping in to the unlimited reserves of God himself.
It’s about “Goodwill toward men”
But isn’t that what the angels said? That’s what our traditions have taught us, but here’s what the Bible actually says: “… an on earth, peace among those with whom he is pleased.” Peace is only available to those who please God by accepting his Son, Jesus; What a difference! God is not a Santa Claus who pronounces “Peace on earth!” but rather a loving Father who rewards the faithful with Himself.
Vive le difference!
Keep the Christ in Christmas
This is the chant of well-meaning people who see Xmas replacing Christmas and are understandably concerned about cultural creep. “First they take prayer out of schools, then God out of the Pledge of Allegiance, now Christ out of Christmas!”
Relax.
One of the most ancient symbols for Christ is the Greek letter, Chi (looks like our letter, X). Chi is the first letter of the name, Christos or Christ. Get it? When “Chi” replaces “Christ” it is an ancient abbreviation for Christ!
So, let them think they’re taking Christ out of Christmas. In fact, He is enshrined in Xmas.
Christmas is the Core of Christianity
I have a Jehovah Witness friend who had a holy disgust for Christmas (I’m certain he is not reading this). In his belief, Christmas is a pagan holiday and observing it by calling it “Christ”mas is a sham.
OK, I’m with him to a point. It is true that Christmas is a kind of reinvention of the pagan festival of Yule that originated in Germany. But Germany also birthed Martin Luther. Get it? The Father of Protestantism became one of the greatest advocates for Christmas, opening his home and preaching on the birth of Jesus.
You’re probably reading this on a full stomach, with the spoils of Christmas morning unwrapped around you. I’m with you, and I don’t feel one bit guilty. Unlike my friend, I believe that Christianity transforms whatever it touches, including Yule (by the way do you know anyone who still celebrates Yule?).
For me there is a thread that runs through it all, an inner light that shines. It is the meaning of Christmas, pondered by a young girl named Mary who was at a loss to understand it, announced to poor shepherds, feared by an earthly king who was full of himself but empty of compassion and seen in a star by magi in search of a King.
Merry Christmas!