Angels, shepherds, wisemen, Jesus lying in a manger–we know the story so well. But it's been sweetened up, romanticized, censored, stripped of its violence and desperation through the years. It's good to go back to the original sources and renew our appreciation of the extreme drama of the story. Here are 9 questions to challenge you and your children to worship a God who would orchestrate such an amazing story to draw us back to himself. (You might enjoy using one each night as a conversation starter at dinner. You can even include these questions in a larger game of Advanced Christmas Trivia to share at Christmas gatherings with additional categories like music and history using this free download.)
1. What four women are mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus?
2. In what way does the Christmas story include murder?
3. Besides “being born in Bethlehem” and the slaughter of the innocents, what is one other Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in the Christmas story?
4. Which of these Christmas Story events is not in chronological order? Gabriel announces Jesus’ birth, Caesar Augustus’ decree, Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem, Mary gives birth to Jesus, angels appear to shepherds, shepherds find Jesus in a manger, Mary and Joseph go to Jerusalem to offer a temple sacrifice for their firstborn son, the magi follow the star to find Jesus, Herod orders all baby boys 2 and under in Bethlehem to be slaughtered, Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt.
5.In Luke’s words, how many angels appeared to the shepherds?
6. In addition to these angels, and beginning with Luke 1, how many times did angels appear to help guide the unfolding events of the Christmas story?
7. According to the Bible, how many wisemen came to worship Jesus?
8. What Hebrew prophet may have given the wisemen the idea to watch for Jesus?
9. According to Simeon’s prophecy, what two things was the child Jesus appointed for?
1. The tfour women mentioned by Matthew in his genealogy are: Tamar who disguised herself as a prostitute to entice Judah to fulfill his patriarchal obligation to her (which he had shirked).
Rahab, a prostitute and a foreigner in Jericho, who sheltered the Hebrew spies and believed their God.
Ruth was not only a foreigner, but a foreigner from Moab, an enemy of Israel. God seems quite intent on showing his grace toward sinners, victims and outsiders by including them in the family tree of Jesus."
The wife of Uriah the Hittite." That would be Bathsheba, who committed adultery with King David. The genealogy emphasizes how she was another man's wife. David saw her bathing and took her. As king he had all the power in the situation. We don't know if Bathsheba had much choice. But God redeemed her shame and guilt by choosing her to be the mother of David's successor, Solomon, and the one through which the line of the Messiah would come.
2. The slaughter of the innocents. The magi told Herod exactly when they had seen the Jewish King's star appear. When they deceived Herod and did not return to Jerusalem, he became furious because he intended to kill the child. Starting from the time the star appeared, he did the math and ordered the slaughter of any child in the Bethlehem area age two or under. Matthew 2:17-18 17 tells us, "Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more." (Jer 31:15)
The Christmas story is not all peace and joy and light. Joy is the point, as the shepherds told everyone who would listen. But joy is opposed. In this fallen world Christmas was also an invasion. A war. A wicked king was seeking to devour Jesus, venting his murderous rage on infants and toddlers. Real blood flowed in Bethlehem. Real moms held their dead children and sobbed.
3. Other Old Testament prophecies of Christ's birth include: Messiah would be born from the line of David. Born of a virgin. His throne would last forever. Messiah would be called out of Egypt. (Hosea 11:1); Num 24:17-one day a king of Israel will rise like a star.
4. None of these events are out of chronological order. The picture we have of the shepherds and the magi all worshiping at the manger together is the product of dramatic license, compressing the story to get the "best parts" in. And censoring the bad parts (the slaughter of the innocents) out. It creates a tight narrative for drama and art, but it isn't the way things really happened.
The reality creates a higher drama–The magi arrive after the family has settled into a house. (Matthew 2:11, "And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him." Being warned in a dream they returned without telling Herod where Jesus is. Joseph and Mary escape by night to Egypt. Furious, Herod slaughters the innocents.
The Christmas story does not end at the manger. It ends with the shepherds telling everyone the good news, the magi deceiving King Herod and Joseph and Mary fleeing, running for their lives.
5. A multitude. Heaven cuts loose. God is up to great things beyond imagining in a small town. The shepherds get a glimpse.
6. Angelec visitations: Luke 1: Gabriel appears to Zechariah, foretelling the birth of his son, John the Baptist.
Luke 1: Gabriel appears to Mary to announce Jesus' birth and God's provision of a friend and fellow traveler for Mary in her cousin Elizabeth, now six months pregnant in her old age with John the Baptist.
Matthew 1: An angel assures Joseph that Mary's child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and this son, to be named Jesus, will save his people from their sins.
Luke 2: No room in the inn, no midwife to help, Mary wraps this Son of God in swaddling clothes and lays him in a feeding trough. How reassuring then, when shepherds appear telling them a multitude of angels filled the sky and told them where they would find this babe. (But don't count them in your answer.)
Finally, after the magi leave, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 2:13) warning him that Herod wanted to kill Jesus and that they should flee to Egypt.
Once they leave for Egypt that seems to conclude the Christmas Story of announcement, birth, shepherds, temple sacrifice and magi. In which case there were four angelic visitations.
The angel of the Lord also appeared to them in Egypt, telling them when it was safe to go back and once more, telling them not to settle in Judea. Instead they went to Nazareth.
God works through circumstances, through influencing hearts and minds to accomplish his great redemption. But when the danger is great and the stakes are high, he calls in his angels.
7. It doesn’t say. It mentions 3 gifts: gold frankincense and myrrh—probably the source of the church tradition of the three magi.
8. They came from the East and studied the signs of the stars. Prime candidate: Babylon. Daniel probably shared with the other court magi the prophecies of the future Jewish Messiah, and his teachings may have been preserved among those who assiduously studied the stars.
9. Simeon told Joseph and Mary that Jesus was appointed to be the fall and rising of many people and for a sign that is opposed. (And that a sword would pierce her own heart as well.) Can you imagine? Fast forward 33 years to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus…Mary knew better than anyone that Jesus was the Messiah, the very Son of God. She could remember where she was and what it felt like to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and conceive a son without an earthly father. What must she have felt to see the priests and elders of her people deny that sacred reality? How could they oppose him? No doubt a sword did pierce her heart.
Like in our own stories, in the Christmas story we see such danger, loss, and heartbreak and such joy, peace, and overcoming, No other story inspires such soaring beauty and hope. The fleeing and hiding from evil, the loss of loved ones–it's not the end of the story. God is still at work doing things beyond imagining in our time, in our lives. May we be like Mary, opening ourselves up to him in confident expectation that we are safe in his hands and that he is working everything out for our joy and his glory.