One of the things we seem to be inundated with these days is trivia nights or quiz shows on television. Indeed, there are many quiz shows that seem to have been around for years (and they probably have), and there are many new shows too. And when one of those shows fails … Well, it seems like that there is always another to take its place.

So, because trivia nights and quiz shows have become so popular, what I thought I’d do today is to give you a quiz. And today it’s a quiz based on the trivia surrounding the biblical version of the Christmas story. So here goes:

Question 1: What sort of building was Jesus born in? Was it an inn, a stable, a house, or we don’t know?

Answer: We don’t know. We know it wasn’t an inn because there wasn’t any room there (Luke 2:7). And the tradition about a stable relates to the fact that Jesus was placed in an animals’ feeding trough (Luke2:7), which could just as well have been put in a room in a house for something to put the baby in. So the answer is we really don’t know. Although a cave or a room in someone’s house are considered the most likely options.

Question 2: How many types of animals are mentioned in the biblical version of the Christmas story, and what were they? Was there one type: sheep? Were there two types: sheep and donkeys? Were there three types: sheep, donkeys and camels; or are no animals mentioned in the story at all?

Answer: Only one type of animal is mentioned: sheep. There is no mention of a donkey on which Mary may have ridden to get to Bethlehem. There is no mention of any animals surrounding the actual birth of Jesus, unlike what you see in nativity scenes. And there’s no mention of any camels that the wise men may have travelled with. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t any other animals there. But the only animals mentioned in the bible are sheep. And they were in the fields being looked after by the shepherds.

So, how are you doing so far?

Question 3: How many wise men were there? Were there 2, 3, 4, or we don’t know?

Answer: We don’t know. All we’re told is that there were some Magi, Wise Men or Kings depending upon the translation you’re reading (Matthew 2:1). The traditional number of three is a guess based on the fact that there were three types of gifts given—gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:12). However, in reality we really don’t know how many there were.

And one last question:

Question 4: Where did the wise men find Jesus? Was it in Bethlehem (at the place Jesus was born), Bethlehem (at a house somewhere else), Nazareth, or we don’t know?

Answer: we don’t know. What we do know is that the star that the wise men followed led them to Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1), and that King Herod told them that the Messiah was expected to be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5). But even though Herod sent them off in the direction of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:8), it was the star that led them to where the child was located (Matthew 2:9). If indeed it was Bethlehem, it is an indication that, by the time the wise men appeared, Mary & Joseph may have settled in Bethlehem. But it’s very unlikely that it would have been at the same place where Jesus was born.

So, how many got all four right? How many got three right? Two? What about one? And who’s brave enough to say they got none right? Well, however many you got right in a sense it doesn’t matter, because, as I said at the beginning, these questions are all about trivia. And sometimes we can be so keen on getting the little details right, that we miss the bigger picture.

Because the real Christmas story isn’t about where the baby was born, how many types of animals there were, or the number of people who came to see the baby and where the baby was at the time. The real story of Christmas is about the fact that Jesus was born, and the reason why he needed to be born at all.

And the reason that Jesus was born? It was because God had a problem, and still has a problem, with the people he created—you and me. And the problem is that we like to go our own way. We like to put ourselves before God, and before other people. As a consequence none of us are fit to live with God when we die.

It was for this reason that Jesus was sent into the world, so a baby could be born, grow up, live a perfect life and pay the price that we should rightly pay for all the times that we ignore God, and for all the other things we do wrong, or don’t do as we should.

The crunch point of the Christmas story, then, is not whether we remember the trivia, but whether we have put our faith and trust in Jesus for what he has done. Because only by doing that are we able to have our slates wiped clean. Only then can we be treated by God as though we are perfect. And only then can we live with God in eternity. So we need to remember that that is really what the Christmas story is all about.

So, how did you go with the quiz? Good, OK, not so good? Well don’t worry, it’s not the trivia that counts. What counts is what we have done with the reason behind it all. It’s what we do with the baby that matters.

Posted: 23rd December 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis