By Beth Demme
Several Decembers ago I was at a Christmas party with a bunch of really wonderful Baptist women. We were all eating cookies, wearing our pajamas, and sipping sweet tea.
Yes, we were all grown women who had, by choice, gone out in the evening wearing pajamas instead of evening gowns. Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) do this sort of thing; it’s a different culture where ideas are heavily influenced by spending endless hours with toddlers.
At the time, I had very little Biblical knowledge. I had not yet discovered the motivation or curiosity to read the Bible. I had my childhood Sunday school foundation, and I attended church every week where I heard Scripture readings, but the Bible itself did not appeal to me.
My pajama-clad friends, however, were Bible-reading-regulars. I may have put them on a bit of a pedestal. Although none of them claimed to do this, I thought they rose each day before dawn and spent a minimum of 45 minutes reading the Bible. Their reading seemed almost redundant since I assumed they had most of the Bible memorized. They certainly had more of it memorized than me (and still do).
Despite the Grand Canyon of difference between my own Biblical knowledge and theirs, there was one part of the Bible I was confident about – The Christmas Story.
When we gathered in the living room to play a rousing game of Christmas Bible Trivia, I was ready. R‑E‑A‑D‑Y. Finally, a Bible-related game where I could hold my own! This was going to be MY night!
I knew the Christmas Bible story because the church where I grew up did a Christmas play every year. The details never changed, so I was pretty sure they were reliable.
Plus, I’ve never* missed a Christmas Eve service. I convinced my husband we should have a Christmas wedding (Dec. 23), but then we spent the first evening of our honeymoon visiting a church. It was actually pretty great. The pastor was a hugger and I, like Olaf, love warm hugs.
Surely after thirty years of Christmas Eve services I knew the Christmas story!
So there I was, enjoying a fun evening with my Bible-smart friends, gearing up to dominate at a game of Christmas Trivia.
Except I didn’t dominate.
I didn’t even hold my own.
Within minutes I was rendered completely silent.
I quickly learned that my understanding of the Christmas story was only loosely Biblical.
The question that still haunts me all these years later is the one about how many wise men came to see Jesus.
I recalled my mother’s beautiful Nativity set. I remembered how she carefully inched those three little guys closer and closer to the stable until Epiphany finally came, twelve days after Christmas.
I thought about those Christmas plays from my childhood. Weren’t there always three wise men?
I started humming the tune to “We Three Kings.”
I was absolutely positive the Bible said there were three wise men.
And I said so that night, from the comfort of my red and green pajamas.
When my answer was wrong, I experienced a sinking feeling. Were these people calling my mother a liar? Did I grow up in a heathen church? Could a song be wrong?
Fortunately, several women had the same reaction. My friends were truly friends and no one belittled my mistake. Our hostess pulled out her Bible and we looked it up together. We could have used the Bible app on our iPhones, except it was Twenty-naught-five (2005) and we all thought an app was something you ate before dinner.
It turns out, the Gospel of Matthew says wise men came, but it never says how many. Three gifts were presented, but we don’t know how many people presented them.
My certainty that the Bible said there were three wise men is a testament to how little time I spent reading the Bible.
Even though the Bible is central to our faith as Christians, we aren’t all that good at reading it.
Instead of digging into the pages and pages and pages of funny names, strange places, and ancient customs in the Bible, we feel overwhelmed or even disinterested. Instead of reading it ourselves, we get lazy and let other people tell us what it says.
The Christmas story, as a story of birth and fresh beginnings, might just be the best place to start reading. You might want to launch (or relaunch) your Bible study by reading about the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 2:1‑20.
If nothing else, you’ll be prepared for this season of Christmas Bible Trivia.
Has the Bible (or your lack of Biblical knowledge) ever embarrassed you? Have you read the Christmas stories recently? Am I right about the wise men? Which parts of Matthew and Luke match (or contradict) your favorite Christmas carols? What surprises you? Tell me about it in the comments, by e-mail, or on Facebook.
*One Christmas we arrived in Russia on December 24. The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 6, so we visited a church on January 5, keeping the streak alive!
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