For example, a few years ago an atheist group erected a billboard in New York City. It depicted three kings, complete with crowns, following a star to a stable with baby Jesus in a manger. The headline read You KNOW It’s a Myth: This Season, Celebrate REASON! (I'm not adding a link to the billboard here, because I dont want to give them the publicity.)
Christians were up in arms about it. But when I looked at it, my first thought was "I hate to admit it, but those atheists are mostly right."
Before you report me for heresy, let’s deal with it piece-by-piece:
KINGS – Nope. There were no kings in the Nativity story (except Herod). They were Magi, wise men, astrologers. The first-century version of scientists.
THREE – No again. We think there were three Magi because there were three gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh. There’s no mention of how many Magi there were.
STABLE – Sorry. Luke tells us there was no room in the inn, but doesn’t tell us what kind of shelter they did find. A stable is assumed because of the manger – an animal’s feeding trough. But in first century Bethlehem, they were more likely to have found refuge in a cave than a stable.
MANGER – Yes, but no. Yes, there was a manger when the shepherds showed up. But not by the time the Magi showed up.
STAR – Of course there was a star in Matthew’s account. But it didn’t appear over Bethlehem on the evening Christ was born. It led the Magi to Bethlehem about two years later when the family was living in a house.
Once you remove the non-biblical inaccuracies, we have Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Everything else on the atheist billboard is a post-biblical myth. That wasn’t their intent, but that’s the reality.
Why do these details matter? It’s simple. If Christians can’t be trusted to get one of the basic Bible stories story right, why should we be trusted on anything else? Besides, the actual biblical text gives us a better story, anyway.
3. Dig One Layer Deeper
There’s a great story beneath the story. And you don’t need to dig very deep to find it.
Use an online Bible website to do a word wearch on manger, Magi, Bethlehem, or any other aspect of the story. A whole treasure chest of new sermon material will fall in your lap. Everything you uncover can add a new depth, and a sense of discovery to the story we all think we know.