Mysteries make us curious. We want to know what happened, how, and why. But you say Christmas is not a mystery? It’s about the birth of Jesus. We know how it happened. We can read the story in Luke 2, and the rest of the Bible points to Jesus coming to earth as our Savior. The truth is simple, yet there is something mysterious in it. Put on your detective hat, collect the information on this case, sort out the false leads, and see what you find out about the mystery of this day we call Christmas.
Find the Truth
There are two statements in each group. One is true, and one is false. Can you pick the one that is true?
- Early nativity plays were called “mystery plays” because they spoke of God’s mysteries.
- Early nativity plays were called “mystery plays” because people did not know the endings.
- The church stopped mystery plays because they became more about entertainment than teaching the Bible.
- The Church stopped mystery plays because they became too expensive to produce.
- In North America, about 150 years ago, it became popular to have children in Christmas pageants. It started after a church featured children playing the parts of the shepherds going to Bethlehem to honor the Christ Child.
- In North America, about 150 years ago, child actors became popular in Christmas pageants because they were cute and charming, making everyone want to come to the programs.
Detectives sort through facts in order to solve mysteries. But unraveling years of people’s ideas about shepherds and angels does something different. It brings you closer to the original mystery—the mystery of God coming into this world through a baby. This mystery makes you wonder about God selecting simple shepherds to see God’s glory in the sky. It lets you wonder what it was like to bow down to the baby Jesus. And you can wonder about the angels. Let the mystery amaze you.
Like the shepherds, angels are important in the story of Jesus’ birth. But what do we know about angels? A lot of what we think about angels comes from pictures. However, the artwork showing angels often teaches about the symbols of angels and not actual angels:
- The first paintings of angels showed ordinary men.
- Soon, however, artists in Rome began painting angels wearing white robes similar to Roman togas. Togas in Rome represented power and dignity.
- 300 or more years later, artists added wings to pictures of angels. The idea of wings might have come from the image of a Greek goddess who represented victory.
- Next artists added a golden circle behind the heads of angels. This halo stood for holiness and spiritual power.
- Finally, Western artists showed angels as chubby children or winged figures with harps or other musical instruments to represent praising God.
THINK: What symbols of angels help you understand the angels who appeared to the shepherds? What angel images take away from real angels who told of glory to God?
Unscramble these letters that tell you the biblical purpose of angels: RESSEMENGS
Find the Truth
Have you ever walked into a room to find something but even though it was right there you didn’t see it because of all the other things in the room? Circle the things in this picture that could distract you from the miracle of Jesus coming into this world.
The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly when Jesus was born.
For the first 300 years after Jesus was born, Christians did not celebrate any birthdays. Birthday festivals were for the gods invented by people—or for people who liked to think they were gods, such as the pharaohs or kings.
By the fourth century, church leaders decided it was important to rejoice in the miracle of God sending his Son into the world as a baby. Now they had to pick a day to celebrate. People were suspicious of anyone who claimed to follow Christ, so they needed a day that wouldn't bring too much attention. They picked December 25. It was the time of year when everyone else was celebrating festivals for their sun gods.
Christians backed up their choice of selecting sun and light festival days by using Bible verses. The Messiah is described as “the sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2), and Jesus calls himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12).
Clues in Luke's story might lead to a different time of year for Jesus' birth. Luke says the shepherds were in the fields at night, watching over their sheep. That would have been unusual for the wintertime. Normally shepherds only stayed in the fields at night during lambing season. Lambs were born in the springtime, not in the winter.
December 25 was first called the Feast Day of the Nativity, not Christmas. Christians gathered to hear the story of Jesus' birth. Because many people could not read, the biblical accounts were presented as plays.
One of the first recorded nativity plays was told like this: A choirboy played the part of an angel and announced the birth of Christ to actors dressed as shepherds. The choir sang, "Glory to God in the Highest." The shepherds hurried over to a curtained area. The curtain was pulled back to reveal a stable and a statue of Mary with the baby Jesus. The shepherds bowed in front of the scene. Then they walked away, singing, "Alleluia."
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