Everybody knows the Christmas tradition of giving gifts, and most people celebrate it. But do you know when the first time gifts were given to celebrate Christ’s birth?
- Was it when Christmas became a legal holiday? (the first state to declare Christmas a holiday was Alabama in 1836; it became a federal holiday in 1870 under President Ulysses S. Grant)
- Was it in the 300’s AD when the church first organized the celebration of Christ’s birth?
- Or was it as early as the night of his birth in the manger (as most Nativity scenes portray?)
Let’s see if Scripture tells us…
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1-11 ESV)
This is one of those passages that we sometimes miss the facts about due to worldly influence. Most Nativity scenes display Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the stable, an angel, some animals, shepherds, and the wise men. However, this passage clearly states that the wise men did not find Jesus in a stable, but in a “house.”
This challenges the widely held concept that we see publicized around the world in Christmas scenes. Further investigation will reveal that the wise men did not find Jesus as soon as He was born, but possibly up to 2 years later (when Herod issued the order to kill all male babies in Bethelehem). Matthew 2:16 ESV: “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.”
Please don’t use this information to “dispute” Nativity scenes, and argue with others. Nativity scenes are an excellent way for us to spread the Gospel, and we need to tell the story to more people. The timing of the Wise Men is really a small piece of an excellent story.
Now that you know that Christmas started at “home,” make sure that you start the Christmas tradition by being home for the holidays. Spend time with family, give thoughtful (not necessarily expensive) gifts to celebrate the occassion of Jesus’ birth. And if you haven’t already started one, make a family tradition: maybe it’s singing carols, baking a special dessert annually, or sitting around a fireplace reading the Bible. Whatevery you choose, make Christmas special, for the occasion of it could not be more special!