Christmas With the Guys


Christmas. It’s arguably the most recognizable holiday in the world. All of us, at some point, have heard the story about how Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room in the inn. But it’s just that: a story, passed down from generation to generation, and as anyone who’s ever played a game of telephone can tell you, stories can change very quickly. So let’s take a step back and reconsider where this all came from (hint: it’s the Bible). It’s time to celebrate a Biblically-accurate Christmas.

It all starts easily enough, right? After journeying to Bethlehem with Joseph, Mary gives birth to Jesus on December 25 in a manger becau—actually, hold off on that. When was Jesus actually born? It’s certainly not December 25; that date was fixed way later, which is a very technical way of saying centuries later. It’s not like it was easy to try and figure it out: by the time people remembered to write these things down, everyone had forgotten already. However, there’s one detail in Luke’s gospel that saves us: Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father. Luke recounts that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth conceived John right after Zechariah finished his duties at the Temple in Jerusalem. Since Zechariah was a priest of Abijah, his time off would have started in June. Fast forward six months until Mary’s annunciation, then nine more to actually carry Jesus, and we have him being born in . . . September. Which makes sense, with how the grazing season for sheep ends in October and we all know about the “shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Given how no one can agree on any particular date, however, I think I’ll stick to celebrating on December 25 for now.

Speaking of the shepherds, what were they doing? Well, they were vibing with their sheep when “the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round them.” Well, here we go: biblically-accurate angels. Despite being such prevalent figures in the Bible, angels are rarely described in great detail. That is, until you get to the Book of Ezekiel. He spares no expense in describing angels in great detail, and the results, as the memes have made clear, are quite trippy. You start simple enough: the body of a man. Except that man’s body is made out of fire, and in addition to his “normal” head, he also has a lion head, ox head, and eagle head. Surrounding the four-headed fiery figure are four massive wings, each covered in dozens upon dozens of eyes. Surrounding all of this mess are giant floating wheels, stacked inside one another, also on fire, and also covered with eyes. If you’re having trouble picturing that, well, above I’ve already provided you with a rendition pretty darn close to what Ezekiel saw.

Bible readers wonder why angels always lead with “Do not be afraid!” Heck, who wouldn’t be afraid? Imagine being one of those shepherds on an ordinary night when a bunch of these pop out of nowhere. The angels probably had to delay their announcement of the Good News until the shepherds stopped freaking out.

Moving on to more wholesome sights, we have the manger scene. Mary and Joseph are adoring their newborn baby, the shepherds are looking on with wonder, and the Three Wise Men are bestowing their gifts. Or are they? After all, if Jesus was born in September, wouldn’t it be several months until January 6th, when the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem? Yes. Yes, it would. So while everyone cozying up together is a nice picture on a Christmas card, it probably didn’t turn out quite like that. After all, the Gospels make it pretty clear that the shepherds were there Christmas night. When the Wise Men meet the Holy Family, though, the Bible describes Jesus as a “young child,” explicitly avoiding other words like “newborn” and “infant.” Though often lost in translation, it’s pretty clear that Jesus wasn’t still in the manger during the Epiphany. When Jesus was actually born, the Wise Men were probably still making their way through the middle of the desert.

Between a winter holiday actually happening in the fall, a bunch of scary messengers who just want to spread the Word, and some important guests who arrive really, really late to the party, the first Christmas was quite different from our modern-day view of it. But while it’s fun to nitpick, Christmas—in the end—is still about taking some time out of our lives to celebrate the birth of Jesus. While the story might be a bit stranger than people are used to, it just makes the most wonderful time of the year that much more interesting.

Happy Holidays.