Christmas Quiz

Here is a simple test to see if you know your Christmas trivia. All of the questions are true or false so you have a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right. Scroll down to the bottom to get the answers and then check the scale at the very bottom to determine how you rank.

1. Mary and Joseph were engaged when Jesus was born. 

2. Jesus was born and raised in Bethlehem.

3. Angels sang “Glory to God in the Highest” on the night of Jesus’ birth.
4. There were three wise men. 
5. Shepherds and wise men worshiped Jesus on the night of His birth.
6. King Herod is the same King Herod that puts Jesus on trial and sends Him to Pilate. 
7. Jesus’ name means “The Lord saves.”
8. The Magi (or “wise men” as it is translated in some Bibles) were kings from the Orient. 
9. “Merry Xmas” is a conspiracy to take the “Christ” out of Christmas.
10. In the song The First Noel, what does “noel” mean?
And the answers are……….
1. True. (Matt 1:18,25)
2. False. Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem, but He moved to Egypt after His birth until Herod died (Matthew 2:13-15) and then moved to Nazareth (Matthew 2:22-23) where He grew up (hence the name Jesus of Nazareth).
3. False. Angels said it, but there is no evidence that they sang it. “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'” (Luke 2:13-14)
4.  False, but maybe true. There were three gifts, but no mention of how many Magi. We only know there were more than one because Magi is plural. (Matthew 2:11)
5. False. Shepherds saw him on the night of His birth while He was still in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:16) The Magi honored Jesus when He was an “infant” living in a “house” about two years later, “in accordance with the time” the Magi first saw the star. (Matthew 2:7, 11, 16) 
6. False. Herod the Great died around 4BC. “Josephus tells us that Herod died after a lunar eclipse. He gives an account of events between this eclipse and his death, and between his death and Passover. A partial eclipse took place on March 13, 4 BC, about 29 days before Passover, and this eclipse is usually taken to be the one referred to by Josephus.” (Herod the Great, Wikipedia)
7. True. “Jesus” is from the Hebrew name whose English equivalent is “Joshua,” which means “The Lord (YHWH) saves.” 
8. False. “Magi” is the root of our word for “magicians,” but they were not known for sawing beautiful women in half or pulling rabbits out of their hats. Magicians appear frequently in the Old Testament (Genesis 41, Exodus 7-9, Daniel 1,2) and were expected to interpret dreams, turn water into blood, turn sticks into snakes, and predict the future. The Magi were indeed “wise men” in the sense that they were very well-educated in the arts – especially astrology, which helped them predict the future. They are likely from Babylon, but the only clue as to their nationality is that they were “from the East.”  (Matthew 2:1) It is not certain how they came to be known as kings such as in the song “We Three Kings,”  but its likely origin is that they gave Jesus gold and the trip to Jerusalem would have cost a fortune in those days, a fortune perhaps only a king could afford. 
9. False. The Greek word for “Christ” is Χριστος. As you can see, the first letter “chi” looks like an “X.” So Christians have used X as a shortened form of “Christ” for hundreds of years. The following is an excerpt of the histiry of usage from Wkipedia:
The word “Christ” and its compounds, including “Christmas”, have been abbreviated in English for at least the past 1,000 years, long before the modern “Xmas” was commonly used. “Christ” was often written as “XP” or “Xt”; there are references in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as far back as AD 1021. 
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the OED Supplement have cited usages of “X-” or “Xp-” for “Christ-” as early as 1485. The terms “Xpian” and “Xtian” have also been used for “Christian”. The dictionary further cites usage of “Xtianity” for “Christianity” from 1634. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, most of the evidence for these words comes from “educated Englishmen who knew their Greek”.

10. “Christmas.” Yes, I know this wasn’t a true or false question. Merry Noel to you too.

Handy dandy scale.

All 10 correct: Congratulations, you should buy yourself an honorary PhD from Ebay.

7-9 correct: You’re a regular N.T. Wright (and you probably know who he is!).

4-6 correct: You paid attention in church.

1-3 correct: You play Angry Birds while the pastor is talking.

0 correct: Even if you randomly selected your answers, the probability that you got all of them wrong is quite small. Well played, Einstein.

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Away with the Manger

Popular belief: Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

Two common misconceptions are that Jesus

1. was born in a manger

2. was born in a barn because all the hotels were full

These details are interpreted from Luke 2:6-7.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 

A quick examination of this passage of Scripture shows that Mary

1.gave birth to Jesus

2. wrapped Him in swaddling clothes

3. THEN placed Him in a manger (animal trough)

In other words, Jesus didn’t pop out of Mary and land in a dog bowl; Mary gave birth to Him and wrapped Him up and put Him in the only thing in the room that might work as a crib. Swaddling clothes were ” strips of cloth like bandages, wrapped around young infants to keep their limbs straight. A child so wrapped would be recognized as newly born.” (Marshall, NIGTC, p.106) The manger and swaddling clothes would become important when the shepherds went looking for Him with this description: “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12) Jesus would certainly be the only baby to fit that description.

Now that we have established that Jesus was not born a manger but placed in it after His birth, we can move on to the second misconception mentioned earlier. Unlike many adaptations of the Nativity Scene, Jesus was most likely not born in a barn “because there was no room in the inn.” The likely source of this misconception is from most of the Bible translations themselves. Almost every popular translation says there was “no room in the inn.” The problem is that there was no reason for a small town in an off the beaten path like Bethlehem to have an inn. Unless you knew someone there, you would not be visiting Bethlehem. And if you knew someone there, you wouldn’t need an inn; you would just stay with your friends or family at their place.

The problem for Mary and Joseph was that everyone in their family was coming to visit at the same time! This family reunion was required because of the census ordered by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1). Since they were probably among the last to arrive, they got stuck sleeping with the animals in the “guest room,” a better translation than “inn.” In “peasant homes in the ancient Near East family and animals slept in one enclosed space, with the animals located on a lower level. Mary and Joseph, then, would have been the guests of family or friends, but their home would have been so overcrowded that the baby was placed in a feeding trough.” (Green, NICNT, p.129)

What fascinates me is that Jesus might have been born in a cave! “Ancient tradition associates Jesus’ birth with a cave (Protevangelium of James 18; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 78.4; Origen, Against Celsus 1.51). A basilica was erected over a cave site in Bethlehem in the time of Constantine (fourth century) at the site of the present Church of the Nativity.” (Bock, Luke, p. 208) Further archaeological evidence shows that “caves were sometimes used to provide accommodation for animals, and houses were built near them, so that they might be used for this purpose.” (Marshall, NIGTC, p. 107) Whether it was a cave or a stable or a garage or a tool shed, the point is that Jesus was not born in a palace as the King of Kings should be, but was born in the humblest of places with a makeshift crib fashioned from an animal trough. He truly came to live among us rather than coming as a prince and living in the lap of luxury, sheltered from difficulty and unable to relate with us in our temptations and struggles. As a result, He knows our weaknesses and intercedes for us continually. O Holy Night, my favorite Christmas song, expresses this wonderfully.

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Christmas is not about taking a little time out of your busy schedule to sit down in a church service once a year to consume a bite-sized portion of some factiods about Jesus. Christmas has the potential to move Jesus from the manger hidden away in some dark corner of our souls to the throne of our hearts so our whole lives are consumed with Him. May we enthrone Him in our hearts as He rightfully deserves and do away with the manger.

Other relevant posts:

There is no such thing as Santa (or the yearzero): The Truth About Jesus’ Birthday

Christmas Quiz

God With Us: The Real Meaning of Christmas

There is no such thing as Santa (or the year zero); the truth about Jesus’ birthday

In honor of Christmas, I will be blogging daily until Christmas Day about certain elements of the birth story that have become distorted over time. I will also be engaging in my annual “prank” of rearranging manger scenes so that they are theologically correct. This is a vast improvement from others who enjoy stealing baby Jesuses from manger scenes. So long as neither is a live manger scene, I guess these are mostly harmless.
Every day I will list one “fact” about the birth of Jesus and then try to separate the truth from the misconceptions. Hope you find it informative, but most importantly I hope it will bring the coming of our Savior to life so that this Christmas “God with us” becomes a reality to you.
Jesus was born on December 25th in the year zero.
No one knows for sure when Jesus was born, but we know for sure that He was not born on December 25th and certainly not in the year zero (there is no such thing as the year 0).
What we do know is that Jesus had to be born before Herod the Great died because Herod is in the birth story. “Josephus tells us that Herod died after a lunar eclipse. He gives an account of events between this eclipse and his death, and between his death and Passover. A partial eclipse took place on March 13, 4 BC, about 29 days before Passover, and this eclipse is usually taken to be the one referred to by Josephus.” (Wikipedia “Herod the Great”)
The “star” appeared to the Magi two years prior to their visit with Herod. We can infer this from several clues in Matthew’s gospel.
First, Herod “gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2:16) Herod and the Magi understood that the appearance of the star marked the day of Jesus’ birth. Jesus was therefore about 2 years old when the Magi visited Jerusalem.
The second clue is in Matthew 2:11 when the Magi are led by the star to Jesus. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” Notice Matthew does not say “stable” or “barn” but “house” and he refers to Jesus as “the child” not “the baby.” Most likely the Magi visited Jesus in His hometown of Nazareth (Luke 2:4) about two years after His birth, placing Jesus’ birth around 6BC.
“Magi” is the root of our word for “magicians,” but they were not known for sawing beautiful women in half or pulling rabbits out of their hats. Magicians appear frequently in the Old Testament (Genesis 41, Exodus 7-9, Daniel 1,2) and were expected to interpret dreams, turn water into blood, turn sticks into snakes, and predict the future. The Magi were indeed “wise men” in the sense that they were very well-educated in the arts – especially astrology, which helped them predict the future. So there must have been something quite unusual about the star that made them travel thousands of miles to pay homage to Jesus.
Since the Magi went to Jerusalem,  they must have ascertained from the star that a new king had been born in Judea. What made them think that? Michael Molnar has an interesting theory. “lunar conjunctions (close approaches) with Jupiter were one condition for a king’s birth in astrology. I looked for the closest conjunctions, namely occultations (planets eclipsed by the moon) in the time frame biblical scholars claim as likely for the birth of Jesus. I quickly focused on the occultation of April 17, 6 BC after realizing that Jupiter was also “in the east” in the constellation Aries. “In the east” is mentioned twice by Matthew because astrologers such as the Magi said this was the most important time for Jupiter to produce future kings. Moreover, the Moon’s incredible nearness to Jupiter amplified that power. Jupiter “in the east” in Aries was the Magi’s star.” (http://www.eclipse.net/~molnar/)
Molnar seems to bring together evidence from the Bible, astronomy, astrology, archaeology, and history in a way that fits the right timeline and conditions.
  • Jesus was probably born around 6BC (two years before Herod’s death).
  • Jesus was probably born in the spring when shepherds are more likely to be “keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8).
  • A heavily-pregnant Mary would also be better able to travel during the spring rather than try to make the trip during the more extreme weather of winter or summer.
  • A sign in the heavens in the spring of 6BC happens rarely enough that astrologers would definitely take notice.
So why do we celebrate Christmas on a day Jesus was not born? December 25th used to be a popular festival before Christianity became the official religion of Rome. Rather than eliminate the festival, the Church decided to replace all of the festivals with Christianized forms of similar festivals (kind of like trying to celebrate “Jesusween” instead of Halloween). So Saturnalia combined with Bruma and the winter solstice to create Christmas. I’ll let Sheldon Cooper explain it in his own special way. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqiiCOFR0Y8
So should we petition the government to change Christmas to April 17th? No, that really isn’t necessary and it is not an absolutely certain date. The point of Christmas is not to be “right” about everything and get all upset when someone writes Merry Xmas. The point of Christmas should be to realize that God became a helpless baby when the world seemed to be without hope and full of darkness. And with this realization, we can live our lives generously giving to others just as graciously as God gave to us His one and only Son. No longer would we give our “gifts” out of obligation or cultural practices, but we would give our time, money, labor, and anything else we can think of year round even to those who don’t deserve it because we know we don’t deserve it either.
Other relevant posts:

A three letter word that could change your life

“Now he had to go through Samaria.” John 4:4

Usually my blogs address a commonly misunderstood passage of Scripture, but this verse is more often overlooked than misunderstood. At first glance, it seems like it serves as a transition sentence, indicating that Jesus was leaving Jerusalem in Judea to go north to Galilee. However, there are a lot of issues at play.

First, the Jews and Samaritans hated each other. The Jews thought the Samaritans were half-breeds who had betrayed Judaism by creating a new religion with a new temple on a different mountain. “Strict Jews, like the Pharisees, disliked the Samaritans so intensely that they avoided their territory as much as possible.” (Morris, NICNT, p.226) So when John writes that Jesus “had to” go through Samaria to get to Galilee, he is not saying there was no other way to get there; many Jews chose to go around Samaria even though it added several days to their journey.

The phrase “had to” is a translation of the Greek word δεῖ (pronounced “day”), which in the past tense generally means “had to” or “it was necessary.” Josephus uses the same word ( δεῖ) to describe the same route through Samaria, saying “it was necessary for rapid travel.” If you look on the map below, it is clear that this is the case. It would be much easier and faster to go through Samaria than to try to go around it on the other side of the Jordan River to the east.

Some say John used this word to express the urgency that Jesus “had to” go through Samaria so He could get back home to Galilee as quickly as He could. If that is true, then why would Jesus stop and talk to one of the Samaritans and wait for her to bring back her neighbors? Clearly something deeper is happening.

Jesus did not have to go through Samaria. He could have done what many others did and gone around it. Heck, He could have spoken into existence a toga jet pack or a speed boat to fly over or go around Samaria. But since He “had to” do the work of God, it was necessary for Him to go through Samaria. I think Jesus explains it best in John 9:4-5. “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Based on this passage, Jesus “had to” go to Samaria for several reasons.

1. Jesus understood that He didn’t have any other choice: He had to do the work of God, shining the light of truth in a world filled with darkness.

2. Jesus understood that He didn’t have much time. It was urgent that He not waste any time going around Samaria to avoid conflict when His mission was to be a light to the whole world and not just the Jews.

The key element to understanding δεῖ is determining what made the action necessary. In other words, some type of compulsion prompted the need for action so that Jesus “had to” do it. Was it a sense of duty? Was it complying with the law or cultural norms of the day? Arndt and Gingrich’s Greek-English Lexicon lists these, but perhaps the most fitting is this: the compulsion of “divine destiny or unavoidable fate.” In other words, Jesus went to Samaria because He was divinely compelled to do so. God’s prompting was irresistible to Him and He had to act just like someone with OCD has to wash their hands repeatedly. The difference is that Jesus acted out of a compulsion fueled by love rather than anxiety.

So what is God compelling you to do? Change careers? Foster care? Go away to school? Go on a missions trip? If it is God, it will be too big for you to handle on your own and it will wreck your life – but maybe life as it is isn’t life as it should be.

Whatever it is, God won’t let up. It is your divine destiny. You will always sense frustration and dissatisfaction until you give in. Until you feel “it is necessary” and that you “have to” do it, δεῖ will be just another word to you. But if you let God’s will become irresistible to you, it will change your life forever. Seize the δεῖ.