“Hallmark Christmas” and the Incarnation

Did you know that Jesus was born in a beautifully quiet, warm barn, in Northern Europe somewhere? I didn’t. But I could swear that this is precisely how we think about our Lord’s birth.

You see, when we enjoy our “Hallmark-Christmas“, everything is calm, warm and peaceful in the stable where Jesus was born.

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. The little Lord Jesus lays down his sweet head.”


No mention of the pain that Mary was surely still enduring after the birth, and no mention of the blood our baby Saviour was covered in when he was born.

“The cattle are lowing, the poor baby awakes. But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”

No mention that the goats smell really terrible, and probably are bleating and breaking wind. No mention of cow dung. No mention of rodents which might have scurried around under the hay and straw on the floor of the stable.

“Silent Night, Holy Night; All is calm, all is bright! ‘Round yon’ virgin, mother and child; Holy infant so tender and mild.”

No mention of Jesus’ birth being an illegitimate one to a teenage girl. No mention of his adoptive father, who was likely feeling confused and scared. Imagine how mum felt. All is calm, all is bright. Yeah right.

Lets be honest; some of our Christmas carols don’t quite do the whole event justice. Don’t get me wrong – I actually really enjoy carols, especially when they’re sung like this, or like this. I think that some carols are some of the best Christian songs getting about. I do also think that we Christians have followed the rest of the world into the Hallmark world of blonde Swedish baby Jesus, lying peacefully amongst doe-eyed cattle and sheep (and sometimes reindeer!), being cradled by a perfectly calm and clean Mary and Joseph. The reality would have been quite different. The measure of the Saviour’s love can be partially seen in the humble beginnings of his incarnation. What a God, who would make himself a bloodied baby, born in a gritty Middle-Eastern stable!

Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6,7)

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Photo Credit: © artisticco – Fotolia.com

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5 responses to ““Hallmark Christmas” and the Incarnation

  1. You’d expect the King to be born in a palace amid spectacular grandeur. It’s a powerful point: God became flesh and dwelled among us in humility. Because of our sin God had to lower himself that far to save us. Trying to sanitise the stable really misses the point!

  2. You touched one one of my biggest beefs with the romanticized Disneyfied version of Jesus’ birth. I personally find it more powerful and moving that the Great I AM humbled Himself and was born to a poor unwed teenage girl among filthy straw and filefish cattle, wrapped in ragged cloth scraps, hair matted and tiny helpless body covered in blood and afterbirth. That moves to awe and worshipful worshipful wonder far more than any pristine, cutesy, Caucasian-inhabited nativity scene ever will!

    • Thanks Denita. Obviously, I couldn’t agree more. As you’ve said, the idyllic nativity scene softens the whole event into a scene from a children’s film. The reality of the fantastic humility of our God is displayed in his incarnation should cause us to worship him all the more. I suppose if we remember that the Nativity actually happened in time and history, and that it took place amongst real people, in a real place, we are more likely to grasp the magnitude of it. If we only have the “Hallmark” image of it in our minds, it has zero impact on us as Christians, and even less impact on the unbelieving world.

  3. Hi Simon. There is lots that you have written that I agree with – the blood and pain of childbirth, the fact that Jesus would have cried….

    But there are other aspects where I think you have also bought into the western assumptions of Christmas – the animals, dirt and manure. I’ve just been reading about the story of Christmas in “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” by Kenneth Bailey who has lived, research and taught theology in the middle east for over 40 years. (Its an excellent book and well worth a read.)

    He suggests that middle eastern village homes were one roomed houses (ie if you light a lamp it will give light to the whole house Matt 5:14-15). He suggests that at one end of the room there would be a lower section where animals would be kept overnight (warmth in winter and secure from theft). First thing in the morning the animals would be untied and taken out of the home (Luke 13:10-17) even old testament stories talk of animals in the house (1 Samuel 28:24 “had a fattened calf in the house” or Jephthah assuming an animal would be the first thing to come out of his house in Judges 11:29-40).

    So the long and short is – I think that without a fuller understanding of the culture that Jesus was born into we will continue to make significant errors in our understanding of the Christmas story…..

    I now think that Jesus was born in the family home of someone Joseph knew and was laid in a manger in the house (animals were probably tied up outside that night).

    So what about “no room in the inn”? Bailey discusses that here the word for inn is a word used to describe the guest room in a private house (in arabic bibles the word is translated as “no room in the house”). The greek word translated inn is a competely different word to the word also translated “inn” in the parable of the good samaritan – which does refer to a commercial inn. In this case the greek is the same word as translated as “guest room” in Luke 22:10.

    Sorry for such a long winded comment – but I thought it is interesting and throws a different light on the Christmas story. Jesus born in the home of people who welcomed a heavily pregnant teenager rather than assuming that no one in Bethlehem would be prepared to care for them.

    • Hi Michael, thanks for your insights. I wish I’d consulted Bailey’s book before writing this blog. At the same time, this has served to further illustrate the disparity between our assumed understanding of the event, and the reality of it. I appreciate your myth-exploding comment. And no need to apologise for the length of it.

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