Christmas Errors

Worship on the Lord’s Day
1st Sunday after Christmas
10:00 am January 01, 2023
Onsite & Online (Mixed Presence) Gathering as a Worshipping Community
Led by the Rev. Bradley Childs
Music director: Binu Kapadia     Vocalist: Lynn Vaughan
Elder: Heather Tansem

We gather to worship God

Music prelude

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
P: and also with you.

Lighting of the Christ candle
Welcome and announcements
Silent preparation for worship

Call to Worship
L: I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord
P: Look at all that the Lord has done for us
L: You are Salvation
P: Let us worship God together

Opening praise: Great are You, Lord

Prayers of approach and confession

Our God we come to you in awe. You have made these past few weeks a blessing. You have inspired us to share our blessings with our families, friends and also with people we have never met. You have given us a giving heart. And yet we confess that while we could make every day a blessing for others, we choose not to do so.

We Christians are in many ways lost in contradiction. On Sunday’s we come together to worship a homeless man but then on Monday we ignore those like him. All around the world we buy silver WWJD bracelets and mugs to proclaim a man with no possessions. This year we Christians bought a record number of “Make Poverty History” T-shirts, made by kids in sweat shops. Though we are called to play the Good Samaritan on the many roads of life, caring for the abused and mistreated… we seldom stop to ask how we might transform the road to prevent the problems in the first place.

While we might go so far as to teach a man to fish (as the old proverb goes) rarely will we ask the bigger question (Who really owns the pond in the first place). Our God… it is not that we are evil or bad people. It’s just that our world is complex and difficult to navigate. We err, we sin, we make mistakes. Help us Lord to do your will and forgive us when we falter. -Amen

Response: I will trust in the Lord

Assurance of God’s forgiveness

As C.S. Lewis says of his Christ Figure Azlan… “He is not a tame Lion”. Our God in Jesus Christ is no meek and mild. He is judgment itself. And yet… he is also mercy and has promised to forgive our debts. This is the Good News; Thanks be to God.

We listen for the voice of God

Song:  We three kings (173)

Scripture readings (NRSV): Psalm 148; Matthew 2:1-2; 9-11; Luke 2:1-11

Response: Behold the Lamb of God

Message: “Christmas Errors”

Christmas traditions are different all over the world.

In Argentina Father Christmas’s boots go out on the front door to let him know your home and a boot sits on the top of the tree as well.

In Brazil Pappi Noel comes from Greenland and wears silk.

In Holland Santa Clause is a thin, ex-bishop of Turkey who arrives by boat and pretends to kick children who have been naughty and puts them in a canvas sack.

In his honor the Dutch open presents on Saint Nicholas day (which is December 5th in case you’re wondering).

Still Santa Clause isn’t the only tradition that’s different. In The Egyptian Orthodox church everyone puts on new clothes to celebrate the birth of Christ (which as we all know – was on January 7th).

In Iran, Christian children see giving gifts as pagan and celebrate Christmas instead by observing 25 days of fasting which sounds terrible to everyone except the kids in Russia – they fast for 39 days.

In the US and Canada we do the opposite of fasting! We eat chocolate.

In Romania the children make painting and slaughter a pig and they sing blessings upon each other (well, except for the people they don’t like, then they sing Christmas curses on them).

In France nativity scenes are sometimes composed of hundreds of clay figures. The figures are often metal smiths or other traditional trades people.

In most countries the people open their presents on Christmas Eve.

In Alaska children eat smoked salmon and travel from home to home singing carols while carrying stars on long poles high above their heads.

In Bethlehem a giant star is put up in the city square. The Nativity scene there is acted out in live action and takes days. In Portugal it takes 3 weeks.

As with much of the world these two nativity scenes includes an “old man” character standing with Joseph far off from the manger and looking away from the baby Jesus. The old man is supposed to represent the devil (or doubt). If you have a strange figure in your nativity set that you’ve never been able to identify, it’s probably the devil.

In Naples they make thousands of nativity scenes which usually include footballers and other celebrities. Last year Elvis was a popular character. This year U.S. President Barrack Obama was a big one.

But what should the nativity scene really look like? Although traditions do depend on what country, city or town you’re from, it seems that most Christians around the world hold very similar Christmas traditions. The nativity scene is perhaps the most universal though I don’t remember seeing David and Victoria Beckham standing in as Mary and Joseph this year. Still people from every country on earth set up nativity scenes. But unlike here in the West, the vast majority of Christians around the world put it up over a number of weeks.

Most popular is to set up the stable on December 12th. Mary and Joseph are usually added by the 16th and baby Jesus on the 24th, while only the shepherds arrive on the 25th. Although the often added characters (like donkey’s, sheep and angles) do vary a bit as to when they appear the Three Wise Men are always added last, usually appearing on January 5th or 6th.  In much of the world nativity scenes are left up until one of two dates (the Sunday following the Epiphany – or at the end of the Epiphany season in early February.)

Over the years it seems that every country and region has added its own little twists and traditions to the actual biblical story of Jesus’ birth and has its own particular way of celebrating. To be honest, I find that quite comforting and quite beautiful. But it does beg the question… do we even know what the Bible actually says the nativity looked like?

For starters there is the date. Throughout history, calendars have been dated according to important historical events. Our calendar is dated in relation to the birth of Jesus. “B.C.” = ‘Before Christ’. “A.D.” = “Anno Domini’ = ‘in the year of our Lord’.

But how did they come up with this date? Well, in 46 BC, Julius Caesar came up with the “Julian Calendar,” with 12 months and 365 days. It was based on the founding of the city of Rome. In 1582 AD, it was revised by Pope Gregory, because it had fallen behind by 10 days. So one day the Pope just declared that October 5th was all of the sudden October 15th and that created the first Leap Year.

Our current calendar is called the “Gregorian Calendar.”. It is slightly more accurate, but it’s still off by 26 seconds each year. That’s not bad considering it will take over 3,000 years to build up the one single day that will throw us off course.

Our calendar too, is based on the birth of Jesus (except for one thing). Pope Gregory was off by 4-6 years. See, we are told that Jesus was born when Herod was King. He reigned for 37 years. But the bible also tells us that Herod died while Mary, Joseph and Jesus were hiding from him in Egypt (Matthew 2:14-15). In Luke we are told that all of this happened while (Kur-inius) Quirinius was governor of Syria (which he was, though not in year 0 – it was 4BC). (Luke 2:2)

We celebrate Christmas on December 25th. But why? In 180 A.D., Clement of Alexandria wrote that the birth of Jesus was thought to be on April 21 … or April 22 … or May 20. The truth is that no one really has anything more than a guess, but the summer guess is pretty good considering Luke tells us about “certain shepherds out in their fields” and shepherds were only out in their fields at night for the hot summer. (August is the hottest month in this region.)

In the 4th Century, the Western Church set the date as December 25th. Well, it’s actually based on a mathematical calculation within the Julian Calendar. However it didn’t hurt that there was also a pagan holiday on that date. This way the people could still have a party and not get angry with the government for taking away their festival; but do so Christianly instead of paganly.

One of the more colorful parts of our modern story includes the inn keeper who refuses Joseph and Mary and sends them out to the stable with the animals. But there is a small problem with this. You see, in Luke 2:7 it does says that there was no room, but the word sometimes translated “inn” is actually kat-al-uma and can have three meanings.

1) a caravan (kind of like a mix between a modern day truck stop and a circle of old west covered wagons with empty cloth tents for rent)

2) a roof top space often reserved to guests or

3) a dinning room (in fact the only other time anyone in the New Testament this word kat-al-uma appears is when Jesus and the disciples eat the last supper. So much for the Best Western!

In any case there is no room in the —– whatever it was—- and so Mary and Joseph go outside to the stable. Right??? Well… perhaps. In Bethlehem the houses were boxes stacked on top of each other like a modern ghetto with carved out caves in the back for animals. Still most of the first floor houses recently excavated show evidence that the animals actually stayed inside many of the homes. The homes seem to have an “animal room” that kept them from being stolen. In any case the bible doesn’t say anything about a “stable” because it actually doesn’t say anything about the structure at all. It only says that Jesus was laid in a manger (or a food trough) which could either be a section carved out of the cave wall outside or a small food box on the floor. In any case by the time the wise men reach Jesus is not in a manger anymore anyway.  In Luke 2:11 we’re told that the Magi visit Jesus in an oi-kē’-ä or “house”.

And that brings us to the Three Kings (?).

Although “We Three Kings” is my favourite Christmas song… the bible doesn’t say anything about Kings or Wise Men for that matter.

What it does talk about are “Magi.” Magi were a religious group of people that interpreted dreams, told fortunes & read the stars. They were probably from as far east as Babylon because they had a Jewish settlement there, which would explain how these magicians knew prophecies about a Jewish Saviour.

In any case the Magi are blessed by God and shown something in the stars and so they set out to worship the Christ-Child. (I love this by the way. It’s like a little side-note in the story that says,  maybe the Messiah isn’t just for one ethnic group).

But that makes for another problem with our nativity scenes. Not only are there no “kings” but the Bible doesn’t even tell us how many “magi” (or magicians) there were. It only tells us that they brought three gifts. All we know for sure is that there was more than one; (the word “magi” is plural). It’s always possible that three could be the correct number but most theologians believe that wealthy people such as the magi would have travelled with at least two servants per “magi,” as was their custom. Also it appears that “magi” generally travelled in groups of 10.

In addition to this it should be noted that the shepherds from Luke’s story and the Magi from Matthew’s story never meet one another. In fact, while the shepherds greet the new-born Jesus, the Magi seem to show up around 2 full years later. By the time the Magi get there they visit Jesus “in the house where Jesus was” and not “the place where he was born”. Moreover, by this time, Jesus is referred to as a “child” (Pie-De-On) paidion and not a (Bref-aus) brephos “baby” (like in Matthew 2:8; Luke 2:12). *As a side note just in case the wise men in your nativity scene are riding on camels you should also know that magi rode horses.

So, there you have it. I’ve officially ruined Christmas for everyone!… Or maybe not. Perhaps the image that popular culture gives us today is not that completely biblical. Perhaps we’ve added a few details here and there.

Perhaps the scene we set should just be Mary and Joseph standing by a wooden box filled with hay until Christmas morning. Perhaps no snow would be on the ground. Perhaps it was August. Perhaps the angel had been long gone and appeared to people far away from the manger. Perhaps the shepherds would come in from the field right away, and the magi wouldn’t arrive for years. Maybe our nativity sets are a mishmash of three different gospel stories all combined into one.

But then again… perhaps the vision we see in our heads or on our coffee tables isn’t really about the magi, the star or the donkey any more than it’s about the tinsel and the presents beneath the tree. Perhaps it is about you. Whether you are the single parent, or the adoptive father, the humble shepherd, or the wealthy giver, the local or the foreign born… perhaps what is really important about the nativity scene is just the birth of Jesus, and the fact that you (whoever you are in this story) have been invited visit the scene; to look into the face of God… because God has come (Emmanuel… God with us) to be with you. -Amen

Sources include

  • The First Christmas by John Crossan and Marcus Borg
  • The Eerdmans Bible Commentary
  • The Word Biblical Commentary Matthew
  • The Word Biblical Commentary Luke
  • The Anchor Bible Commentary Matthew
  • Gundry’s Commentary on Matthew
  • Seasons in the Spirit
  • Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology
  • Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus
  • The story “Six to Eight Black Men” by David Sedaris
  • and
  • Examining Christian Traditions by Ray Scott

Additional Information

  • The inclusion of Herod in Matthew’s gospel harkens the Jewish reader back to Ballack the wicked king of Moab who wanted to kill Moses (and all baby boys to get to him).
  • The Magi in Matthew remind us of Ballum (Nub 22-23) who was a great wizard from the east. He would normally (like Magi) curse the Israelites but in this case would bless them.
  • Bethlehem is a five mile walk from Jerusalem but the Magi seem to have been off course. They go first to Jerusalem and are then called by Herod.
  • Magi were 1) Persian / Babylonian priests 2) magicians 3) deceivers 4) astrologers. Magi we non-Israelite pagans and must have been in contact with Jewish writing or a Jewish community due to their use of the word “Messiah”. They were most likely Zoroastrians.
  • The Magi were “from the east” which could mean 1) Parthia 2) Babylon 3) Arabia 4) Egypt – most likely Babylon is the correct answer for these particular Magi being that there was a Jewish settlement in Babylon and the magi are searching after a Jewish “messiah.”
  • We are told in Matthew 2:2-3 that “all of Jerusalem with Him (Herod)” was “troubled” by the news of a child born “King of the Jews”. This is most likely due to the people’s fear of Herod’s reaction rather than a fear of the Christ-Child.

Song: O Lord, our Lord, how majestic Your name is (409)

We respond to serve God

Reflection on giving: We have been giving faithfully since the beginning of the pandemic and we are committed to continuing the ministry and mission that define Dayspring – using the ways described below. Thank you all for your support of our shared vision and mission.


Prayer of gratitude, and for others and ourselves

Our God, as we cross the threshold into the new, we take time to give thanks to you. Through us this year you have done great things. And we have been clothed and fed by your gifts to us. When faced with fear we see your triumph. When confused we have your spirit.

Yet as we offer you thanks for past mercies we seek future guidance. In a land that abound with resources, there are still many who are poor and without hope. Let the prophet’s vision of promised abundance become read to them through our ministry here. Keep us firm and insistent that it is you whom we serve and you alone. When decisions are to be made, let us first seek your will. When we are met by challenges, stay by our side. When we enter the unknown, be our confidence and strength. And wanting for nothing, may we service others with the fullness of new life you have promised in Christ the son.

Our Lord accepts these gifts offer in response to your love shown to us in the tiny eyes of a new born child. They are but a token of the great love we have for you.


The Sacrament of Holy Communion


According to Luke, when our risen Lord was at table with his disciples, he took bread, blessed, broke it and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

This is the Lord’s Table. Our Savior invites all those who trust him to share the feast which he has prepared.

Song: Joy to the world vss 1, 2, 4 (153)

We affirm our faith: The Apostles Creed (539)
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer (469)

Communion Prayer
The Lord be with you.
And with you also.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Creating father we thank you for the gift of life and for the gift of all creation. All that is praises your name. Providing one, we are forever grateful to you for the unending gifts you bestow upon us and entrusted to us. Your faithfulness and mercy astound us. God of sacrifice, You are our rock and our shield. Your compassion and grace know no end.

We thank you, Almighty God, for the salvation you offer and we give complete control of ourselves to you and call You “Lord”. Help us to know your ways, To share them with others and to forever seek after your divinely hidden face.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Precious Lord, we thank you for the gift of salvation sent through your son Jesus Christ. We thank you for the incarnation, as you made yourself low and brought yourself down to be a vulnerable human being. And from this blessing we were given instruction but also freedom.

Our god it is completely beyond our understanding. How you could send Christ to live among us, love us, and know that he would died at our hands. Such love is too far above us. And through him you the author of salvation have also shown us what it means to rise to new life.

And so together now proclaim the mystery of faith:

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

Father God we also thank you for the gift of your spirit. It is by your Spirit of glory that we find comfort and council. We praise you also for the works of the divine Spirit in both creation and our holy scriptures. We praise you for that the same Spirit which empowered the holy conception of our Lord also empowers us today. By your spirit we are called to service for your divine will. Let none of us remain in conflict with one another but instead bring as peace that passed understanding… both now and forever. Amen

Sharing of the bread and wine

Institution (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ESV): “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’“

The Fraction (minister breaks the bread): When we break the bread, it is a sharing in the body of Christ.

The pouring of the Wine (minister pours the wine): When we bless the cup, it is a sharing in the blood of Christ. In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

The Elevation (holding up the bread and cup): “The gifts of God for the people of God.”

Distribution of the Bread and Wine: “Take; eat. The Body of Christ broken for you.”

Distribution of the Cup:  “Take; drink. The Blood of Christ poured out for you.”

(The people come to the front of the sanctuary (those who are able) to receive the elements. Then, when all are served, we commune together.)

Song (sung as the Bread and Wine are served): Here is bread, here is wine (546)

The prayer after Communion

Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Grant that we may go into the world, in the strength of Your Spirit, to do just as you have done, to give ourselves for others. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord – Amen.

Song: The Blessing

Sending out with God’s blessing

And now go out into the world, knowing the simple truth. All Christ’s children carry the blessing of the Messiah as he makes the invitation of faith and reconciliation (the greatest of all blessings).

Response: Auld lang syne (led by Ryer and Marlene McAmmond)

Music postlude


Numbers in brackets after a song/hymn indicate that it is from the 1997 Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Those and other songs are being used in accordance with the specifications of Dayspring licensing with One Licence (3095377) and CLC (A735555).

The Rev. Brad Childs retains the copyright (© 2022) on all original material presented by him. As far as Brad Childs is aware, all of the material presented that has not been attributed to others is his own creation or is in the public domain. Unacknowledged use of copyrighted material is unintentional and will be corrected immediately upon notification being received.

Posted in Recent Sermons.