A meditation inspired by the Bible Society's 'Bible Misconceptions' quiz.
This is the time when we traditionally prepare ourselves to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. But when is the birthday of Jesus?
A long time ago the Church decided to celebrate his birthday on 25 December because it was already an important holiday. But in the first of our Bible Misconception's pictures we see Jesus trying to fill in one of those annoying electronic forms on his tablet, and he’s stuck because he’s got to the bit where you have to fill in your date of birth, and he doesn’t know when he was born!
Have you ever had that feeling where you’re not sure what day it is, and you have to look at your phone, or a calendar, to find out the answer? Well. often in the past people weren’t sure exactly what day it was, or even what month it was, so they didn’t necessarily know when they were born and no one knows the birthday of Jesus.
All we do know is that it was God’s plan for Jesus to come, and that he grew up believing he’d been sent by God to show us that God loves us, and has a purpose for each of our lives, and wants to makes us the best people that we can possibly be. And the proof that Jesus was right about this is that he was the best person anyone who met him had ever come across. They felt that God’s love was shining through him to them. And he achieved God’s purpose for his own life, by dying to show us just how far God’s love is prepared to go to reach out to each one of us.
But I’m getting ahead of myself because that’s how the story ends, whereas in Advent we’re only at the beginning of the story. And in the next Bible Misconceptions' picture Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem, the place where some of the stories about Jesus say that he was born. But how did Mary get to Bethlehem?
We don’t know that, either. In one version of the story Mary and Joseph were already living there, and in another version they travelled there from a place called Nazareth which was 90 miles away.
One of the things people say about cars is that they’re no good unless you can find somewhere to park them. Without a parking place, you’re condemned to drive round and round until you run out of petrol. And that might be how it was for Mary and Joseph too. Only wealthy people - or people who were working for the government or someone rich and powerful - would take a horse, or a donkey or a camel on a journey, because you’ve got to find somewhere to tie it up for the night and something for it to eat.
So if Mary and Joseph travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem they probably walked, which reminds us that when God decided to show us what he’s like he didn’t send his representative in a fancy car or on a big white horse. Jesus and his Mum and Dad walked everywhere. So next time we’re walking somewhere, let’s remember that walking was good enough for him.
The next Bible Misconceptions' picture asks, 'Where did Mary and Joseph stay in Bethlehem?'
One of the stories says they stayed in a house and another story says that there weren’t any guest rooms for them. But it was quite normal for animals and people to live in the same space, with the people at one end of the house and the animals at the other. And if you needed to keep warm, perhaps because you were poorly or you were a newborn baby, the warmest, snuggest part of the house was where the animals slept.
Lying in a manger full of hay is warm, and cosy and comfortable, so it’s the best option really if you can’t afford a cot or a cradle. When God decided to show us what he’s like he didn’t send his representative to live in a palace but with ordinary people who had to squeeze in with the animals to keep warm and safe.
And then the Bible Misconceptions' quiz asks us, 'Who were the people who came to welcome the baby Jesus on the night when he was born?'
According to the Bible, it was just some humble shepherds. In the picture they’re waiting in a queue and they’re not going to be allowed in until the wise men arrive too. But that’s not how it was. The story says that only ordinary people realised how important Jesus was and came to welcome him when he was born. In fact the story says that Jesus is bad news for rich and powerful people, because he turns their world of privilege upside down. He wants a more equal and just world where ordinary people are not just nameless faces in the crowd but where everyone matters.
And finally, I guess we’ve all played Where’s Wally - even if it was only in the dentist’s waiting room. This Bible Misconceptions picture invites us to find where the wise men are. They’re easy to spot because of their red and white striped hats. But how many of them are there?
At first glance it looks as though there are three, standing near each other in the foreground, clutching their gifts. But on closer inspection you’ll find there are six! And that’s because the story doesn’t say how many wise people there were, or even whether some of them were wise women.
All it tells us is that people came from far away places to celebrate the birth of Jesus - not on his birthday, but as soon as they could get there, because it was a long way to go. It’s worth travelling a long way, it’s worth making a special effort, to meet Jesus. He may have been an ordinary person but he was a person with an extraordinary message for the whole world - not just long ago, and not just in a far away place, but here in Yorkshire today.
So what inspired these pictures? Well, they’re from Twitter and they’re part of a marketing campaign for Christmas.
This week a Methodist minister said that someone was paying for a banner outside his church to advertise the true meaning of Christmas, and he asked on Facebook for suggestions about what slogan to use. The people who were paying for it had suggested, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season,’ or ‘Put Christ back into Christmas,’ but he wanted something new and fresh. Someone suggested, ‘Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man’, but that’s a lot of words to squeeze onto a banner. Someone else suggested, ‘Innkeeper welcomes refugees,’ and another person suggested, ‘We all need a stable influence.’ But, as we’ve heard, the innkeeper and the stable aren’t really part of the story. I suggested, ‘Get Jesus for Christmas. No batteries required.’
Well the marketing campaign which these pictures come from is #BackToBible. And it’s an ad campaign paid for by the Bible Society. Someone else is running an amusing Christmas ad campaign for luxury handbags, saying that it would be better to worship a £900 Mulberry handbag than the Baby Jesus, but the Bible Society wants us to go back to the actual Christmas stories in the Bible - which are all online - and to read on to see how the story ends, not just at Christmas but at Easter too.