This is an encore presentation of a December 2011 podcast episode examining the Christmas story as it traditionally gets told—looking closely at what the scriptures actually say and do not say about the birth of Christ and all the pieces of this familiar story. For instance, how do the Matthew and Luke accounts differ—even irreconcilably? What are possible motives behind the Gospel writers’ decisions to shape the stories the way they did? What about Jesus’s place of birth and the reason the family was in Bethlehem (if they were)? Was there a great tax and registration? What about “no room at the inn,” the manger, the star, the magi, the story of Herod killing all male infants under two years old? How did Christmas come to be held on December 25th?
In this episode, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Kristine Haglund, Jared Anderson, and Zina Petersen explore all these questions plus lead a fascinating tour into other parts of the Christmas story. Why are only five women mentioned in the Gospels’ presentations of Jesus’s lineage—and why are the ones listed all women with “questionable” sexual pasts? What are the Twelve Days of Christmas? What is the “Immaculate Conception” and how does it affect theology about Mary and ideas about the Eucharist and other religious devotions? How has pagan history and ideas folded into the history of “Christmas” (not Jesus’s birth but the celebration of it)? The panel discusses solstices and equinoxes, the meshing of calendaring systems, the link between carnivals and holy days, shepherds’ presents to the Christ child, and even a longstanding tradition of “ghost story” tie-ins with Christmas that Charles Dickens resurrected. Why was there a period of time in which Christmas was illegal?
The panel also talks about Christmas music and other aesthetic elements that make this season so compelling for so many. Part of that discussion answers how and why the host and panelists and many other Christians throughout history, knowing all that they know about what likely is and is not factual about traditional accounts, still celebrate Christmas and joyfully sing carols alongside those for whom the stories are less complicated. How can those who “know” we are so often during this time dealing in mythos rather than history (not only with the Christian story but also something like Santa Claus) still experience this season as spiritually enriching?
This is an episode not to be missed! Please join in the conversation below!
Some links of possible interest:
Sunstone magazine article by Stephen E. Thompson, “Away in a Manger,” exploring the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts, and giving a possible constructive framing of how to view these stories as still worth celebrating. (Mentioned by Dan a few times during the podcast.)
Kevin Barney blogpost at By Common Consent that outlines major considerations in the “When was Jesus born?” line of inquiry. (Also mentioned by Dan during the podcast.)