I remember a ceramic nativity scene my mom would place on a table in our living room every year. As a kid, I wanted to move the wise men across the room somewhere, recalling that Matthew says they arrived when Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were living in a house, which, I reasoned, must have been sometime after the birth of Jesus. The star wouldn’t yet be above the stable then, since it moved along before the magi. And I had heard at church that the stable was probably a cave, since barns as we think of them today were rare in ancient Judea. I may have been an odd child, but the details of the story were important to me. Jesus is real, so we ought to get his birthday right, I concluded.
I began to critique my mother’s crèche, I had begun to memorize Bible verses at school, the first being 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (NIV). If God breathed out every word of Scripture, then every word is important. We’re missing out if we gloss over certain points or ignore how God himself tells the story. No matter how comfortable and familiar our nativity scenes may be, we’re only cheating ourselves if we hold on to tradition at the cost of truth.