FamilyLife This Week®

Christmas Fact and Fiction

with Paul Maier | December 25, 2021
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Does your knowledge of the Christmas story come from traditional Christmas songs or Scripture? Paul Maier gives us the historical background for the Christmas story, dispelling some popular myths perpetuated by artistic license. We'll also hear some Christmas hymns, and the biblical account from the Gospel of Luke.

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  • Michelle Hill

    Radio has been ingrained in Michelle for most of her life. This love for radio has taken her to various radio stations and ministries in places like Chicago, Alaska and other snow covered terrains like her hometown in north central Iowa. In 2005 she landed on staff with Cru/FamilyLife®. While at FamilyLife she has overseen the expansion of FamilyLife Today® internationally, assisted with the creation of Passport2Identity™-Womanhood and is now the host of FamilyLife This Week®. For the last 15+ years Michelle has been mentoring young women and is passionate about helping them find their identity in God. She also has a fascination for snowflakes and the color yellow. Michelle makes her home in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Paul Maier gives us the historical background for the Christmas story. We’ll also hear some Christmas hymns, and the biblical account from the Gospel of Luke.

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Christmas Fact and Fiction

With Paul Maier
December 25, 2021
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Bob: And would they camp out each night as they came to a stopping place?

Paul: Either that or come to a caravansary—or the equivalent of the ancient motels or something—they had those also.

Bob: Okay.

Dennis: What were those?—tents?—or were they permanent facilities?

Paul: I assume it would be tent colony for protection—not/they wouldn’t simply pitch a convenient tent along the roadside somewhere—because you do have bandits, and highwaymen, and so forth.

Bob: And then, when they got to Bethlehem, about how long did they have to stay for the census?  Do we know?

Paul: We don’t have that information. And by the way, it is not automatic that Mary would have had to come along; Joseph could have done it for the family. But there are two reasons why she came along. One, you’ve all heard of; and that is, of course, she was of the house and lineage of David. And the Davidic Messiah had to be born, you know—with the census there in Bethlehem, I should say—rather than Nazareth.

And the other reason is that—in a sense, there’s a hurry-up baby on the way—and how do you explain that to the nosey neighbors in Nazareth?—you see.

Dennis: Right.

Paul: It’s a very human, beautiful explanation of why it was very simple then to get out of town, as it were. You really killed two birds with one stone, and that’s the reason she came along.


Michelle: That’s Dr. Paul Maier shedding some light on just the beauty of how God is weaving everything together/has always been weaving everything together. Remember, the prophets Isaiah and Daniel—and just how they foretold Christ and all that was coming to pass—that’s exciting stuff!

You know, something else that helps teach us is music. There’s something powerful about how words are put to music. You may remember, last year at this time, we played hymns of Christmas or carols of Christmas. I want to do that again today.

Here’s Andy Gullahorn and Jill Phillips with Once in Royal David’s City, putting some melody behind those lyrics.

[Once in Royal David’s City Music]

Michelle: Once in Royal David’s City—okay; so you’re there, right now; right?—you’re in Bethlehem; you’ve, at least, got the picture?—let’s continue on with this story in

Luke 2:

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first-born, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

Suddenly, a great company of heavenly hosts appeared with the angel, praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Michelle: Talk about awe and wonder. Can you imagine what the shepherds were saying to each other?

[While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks by Night Music]

Michelle: That is Andrew Peterson with a beautiful non-traditional arrangement of While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks by Night.

Have you ever wondered about those shepherds?—or about the angels?  How about we ask Dr. Paul Maier?  He probably has an answer for us.

[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]

Paul: The shepherds might have been regarded as your common blue-collar laborers today, in terms of probably, you know, having a/what might be regarded, at the time, as a menial occupation. And yet, don’t forget King David started out as a shepherd.

And these shepherds may have had a rather special responsibility because the Talmud tells us that the sheep that were used for temple sacrifice had to be out on the range all year long. And they preferred sheep from the Bethlehem area; so it could have been they were training up the sheep for temple use, later on.

Bob: They, obviously, had the night shift.

Paul: They had the night shift—[Laughter]—that’s right. [Laughter]

Bob: And they’re out watching. Would they have been acquainted with astrology, the way the magi were?  Or did they just see something bright in the sky?

Paul: The star of Christmas had nothing to do with them;—

Bob: Ahh.

Paul: —it was primarily the angelic appearance and so on, as I recall.

Bob: Okay; so they’re on the hillside. The angels pop up and deliver a message to them. And by the way—I just have to throw this in, because this is kind of interesting—the Bible doesn’t say that the angels sang; it says that the angels said,“Glory to God in the highest.”  All the singing angels?—well, we just have romanticized that a little bit.


Michelle: Yes; you’re right, Pastor Bob. The text doesn’t clearly say that they were singing. However, Christianity is a faith-based religion; God gives us the faith to believe. And there’s a part of me that wants to have the faith to believe that the angels were so excited about this one event, that was going to change the course of history forever!  They would want to sing about it; right? And they would sing songs like this, Bob:



[Hark the Herald Angels Sing Music]


Michelle: That’s Pentatonix singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

And you do know that I was just joshing with Bob a little bit ago. He is my boss; so no letters, please.

Hey, we need to take a break; but when we come back from break, we have more music and more history; so stay tuned.

[Radio Station Spot Break]

Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. We are spending some time today retelling the Christmas story. We heard about the journey to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, and the shepherds.

And my phone is blowing up; because remember, just before break, I said something that I disagreed with Bob, maybe a little bit? Well, here’s the thing—is that songs are beautiful; they move us; they stir our hearts—but Bob’s point: it is good for us to remember that, when a song slightly goes away from the text of the Bible, the Bible should always rule. Like this song:

[We Three Kings Music]


Michelle: You recognize that song; right?

Let’s continue on with our Christmas story, and let’s turn over to Matthew 2:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, some magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the One who has been born? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”

They went on their way, and the star that they had seen, when it rose, went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Michelle: Okay, Maestro, play it again.

[We Three Kings Music]


Michelle: Wait!  In the words that I read from the Bible, did you hear the word, “three”?—or the word, “King” anywhere?  I wonder what Paul Maier has to say about this.

[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]

Paul: They weren’t kings; they were magi—wise men, literally—they were more/we don’t know if there were three or not. They didn’t come from Japan or China/the Far East. [Laughter]

Bob: One line—

Paul: —one line—but it’s alright: continue to sing it; just explain it correctly.

Bob: What does it mean, “wise men”?  What/what is that?

Paul: Well, the magi were a very famous cast of very well-educated doctors of the law, history, medicine. They were—

Bob: They were college professors; weren’t they?

Paul: Well, I/this would be the equivalent of ancient college professors—[Laughter]

Bob: In all humility, you want—[Laughter]

Paul: —in all humility, yes—but we’re not Renaissance people as they were. They had to be specialists in quite a few different fields. And among those fields would have been history and religion. And so, they would’ve been rather well-equipped with Jewish predictions of the Messianic figure and the star symbol.

You know, so often, critics come across to the Christmas story, and they say, “Well, it’s impossible. They wouldn’t have traipsed across a desert after a star. How’d they know it had any religious significance?”

Well, they knew Numbers and Daniel and the reference to the Star rising out of Jacob. And to prove that—to prove that Matthew didn’t invent that—I give you the case of

Bar-Kokhba; this was the last Jewish rebel in 132 AD, even after the destruction of Jerusalem. Bar-Kokhba was led through the streets of Jerusalem on a white horse by the great Rabbi Akiva, at the time; and he said, “The Messiah has come!  The Messiah has come!”  And the guy’s name was not Bar-Kokhba; it was Simeon Bar-Kosiba. But they changed it to Bar-Kokhba—why?—“Son of the Star.” The star motif was very big among the Jews at the time, the magi would have known this.


Michelle: Dr. Paul Maier giving us some scholarly knowledge as we enter into Christmas Day. I’m feeling pretty good about the fact that, for the children’s Christmas at church, we’re going to be singing We Three Kings. But I’m going to go armed with the truth, and maybe share with the kids a little bit more than just the awe and wonder.

[We Three Kings Music]

Hey!  Coming up next week on FamilyLife This Week, we are going to be talking about your New Year’s resolutions; but it’s a good thing. Actually, I’m excited about this show; so you’ll want to make a resolution to tune in!

I want to thank the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. And a big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Father Christmas himself—Keith Lynch—and to all his elves: Phil and Marques, Justin and Megan. None of what you heard today could be possible without this outstanding team of people, or is it elves?

Our program is a production of FamilyLife Today, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.

I'm Michelle Hill, inviting you to join us again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week.


[Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending Music]

©Song: Once In Royal David's City

Artist:   Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn

Album: Christmas ℗ 2010 St. Jerome Music

©Song: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

Artist:   Andrew Peterson

Album: Behold the Lamb of God: 10th Anniversary Edition ℗ 2009 Rabbit Room Press

©Song: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Artist:   Pentatonix

Album: That's Christmas to Me ℗ 2014 RCA Records, a division of Sony Music


©Song: We Three Kings

Artist:   Harvard University Choir

Album: 102nd Annual Christmas Carol Service, Dec 2011 ℗ 2012 The President and

Fellows of Harvard College


©Song: We Three Kings

Artist:   Dolly Parton

Album: Home for Christmas ℗ 1990 Sony Music Entertainment, Inc.

©Song: Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending

Artist:   The London Fox Singers

Album: Hymn Styles: Praise Ensemble ℗ 2007 Classic Fox Records



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