When Tradition Trumps Theology

This Christmas season I have been really challenged by some of the articles I have been reading. I have found myself challenged, because I’ve realized a lot of what we teach our children (and ourselves) about Christmas is wrong. Now I’m not talking about the whole “should Christians do Santa” saga. I have bigger mountains to climb. I’m talking about the actual Nativity story. There are parts of the story that have been passed down through tradition that simply are not true. Some of the traditions are harmless, like the concept of the 3 kings, when there were probably many more. However, the idea that Mary and Joseph were shut out, and forced to give birth in a stable. The child King, separated and rejected from birth. That tradition can mess with how we view the scripture.

So what is the truth? And how can we begin passing down the truth, instead of tradition to our children?

Tradition vs. Truth

Because our culture and society is so different than Ancient Israel, there are misconceptions and misunderstandings that can take place in reading scripture. And to be honest, a lot of these misconceptions I have been familiar with since college. We learned about this in Bible classes. However, it’s hard to know what to do with them, because of tradition. And the truth isn’t commonly taught, again, because of tradition. This is what tradition gets wrong.

1. Mary and Joseph were probably in a Caravan

This is a concept that Sarah Quezeda has been tackling in her Advent Series: “Advent Caravan.” In the time Mary and Joseph were living, it was more safe and practical to travel in a caravan. With this concept in place, we can see that Mary and Joseph were probably travelling with family and close friends to Bethlehem.

2. An “Inn” wasn’t a hotel.

Just abaout every Storybook Bible and Christmas play has translated the “Inn” where Mary and Joseph were denied as a hotel. There was no vacancy, right? Ian Paul in his article Preaching Christmas Without A Stable paints a different picture. The Inn was actually a part of the family’s home. You could think of it as the bedroom. It was where the people slept. In Jesus’ day, people kept the animals in their homes. So there was a part of the house where the animals were kept, and a place where the family would be. When Luke says “there was no room for them in the inn”(Luke 2:7). He’s kinda saying, there wasn’t a bedroom for them, so they had to crash in the living room. This may have been because of the large amount of people that had come to visit, so there was no room. Or, that there was no room for a birthing mother and all her help in the “inn.”

3. Jesus wasn’t born in a barn

This last portion spring boards off of the last idea. We often derive that Jesus was born in a stable, because it says in Luke 2:7 “Mary wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and lied him in a manger.” Remember, there was no place for them in the “inn,” the people space. So they Mary was giving birth in the part of house where animals could be. Ian Paul continues in the same article:

So the natural place to lay the newborn is in the recess holding the animals hay—just as not so long ago we might have put a baby in a drawer—at the centre of the family’s living space and immediately part of their routine of daily life.

So what?

In the end these may seem like minor issues. But for me, the difference is significant. The traditional reading of Luke shows a lonely, desparate couple who made due with what they had. It shows a poor baby, who was ultimately separate from us from the beginning. However, if we step out of our western context, and read what the scripture actually is saying, we see Jesus was one of us. He was born right in to middle of his family. He started out apart of their lives. He came into the world commonly, surrounded by imperfect people who loved him. Just like you, just like me. And when I read it that way I see the verse “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God came down as simply a baby, to be apart of our lives. He came to identify with us, so he could save us.

How Do We Fix Tradition

I share all that, simply because I think the way we view the scripture, and preach it to ourselves effects how we pass it on to our children. It effects our vocabulary, and the lessons we choose to pass on. But now how do we share the truth with our children, when our tradition shares something different?

1. Make a Caravan

Do you have a play nativity? What about multiple nativities? Clump them all together to make one big caravan headed to Bethlehem. Don’t have multiple nativities? Have some othe favorite toys join the group. Over here, we dug out all of our Little People playsets and refer to the extras as Jesus’ uncles, aunts, and cousins.

2. Ditch the Stable

If your nativity comes with a stable, you may want to ditch it, or you could just start calling it a house. Ours is more similar to what a house may have looked like in ancient times. So instead of referring to it as a stable or barn, we just call it their home.

3. Don’t leave the story just for Christmas

Another idea I stumbled across, and just love, is leaving the nativity up year round. Acknowledge the story year-round, but just at Christmas time. The story is as relevant in June, as it is in December. Let the story of Christ coming to be with us a part of your family’s everyday, not just a special occasion. Especially if you have a play nativity, this can become a great conversation starter for talking about the Gospel on the regular.

4. Talk About It

Finally, talk about the story with your children. Don’t just read, but explain to them why there were animals. What was an inn? Jesus was born into a family. Giving your child historical and cultural context will not only help them understand the nativity story, but the Bible as a whole.

What are your thoughts on showing our children a different Christmas? Comment below!

4 thoughts on “When Tradition Trumps Theology

  1. Great research and reflection thoughts. I may to steal this and preach on it some Sunday! 🙂


    1. Thanks 🙂 yeah I wish I still had the books all the research is from. They were so informative.


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