Episode 102: Rewiring Christmas
Merry Christmas! This week, we invited biblical archeologist and Director of EastLake Leadership College, Dr. Amanda Pavich, PhD, to help us rewire our understanding of Christmas. She shares her wealth of knowledge on what the Nativity scene would have actually looked like based on archeology and history, and she and Mingo discuss the best way to approach biblical studies.
GO DEEP INTO THE DIMES DROPPED, CONNECT WITH THE SPEAKER, AND CHECK OUT THE LINKS & RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
- I think the greater point is that the Nativity is about belonging, and it’s about family, and it’s about the idea that God wanted His Son to be with two people that had trust and tenacity. – Amanda Pavich Click To Tweet
- God has given us enough that we don’t need to make stuff up. We don’t need to embellish. We don’t need to add things to it. We can just sit quietly and allow the Holy Spirit to tell us what is the part that we need to highlight. – Amanda… Click To Tweet
- When we’re coming to this idea of teaching from the biblical text, we’re starting in the basic spot, which is starting with Jesus, starting with the Gospel, and then, what is the Gospel element in this cultural story? – Amanda Pavich Click To Tweet
- I’ve heard it said in some really great spaces that God has a keen skill for trusting people with trouble. – Mingo Palacios Click To Tweet
- That’s the great leveler of all things, when we get Jesus in front of us. Every tool, every resource, every piece of information, it shines brighter when He’s the point. – Mingo Palacios Click To Tweet
- My encouragement as a leader and as a pastor on an everyday level for the people that I shepherd is hoping that they see the joy and the discovery in what we do as a living. – Mingo Palacios Click To Tweet
About Episode 102
Dr. Amanda Pavich loves uncovering archeological secrets, particularly when they’re able to shed light on biblical texts.
She discovered her passion through a desire to learn more about Christian theology, compelling her to earn a PhD in apologetics and biblical archeology. “That’s really how this all began, and then once I started touching the artifacts and I saw that you could see, touch, taste, hear, and smell these actual stories… I just love that,” she shares. “I love to bring historical facts and things that we learn from archeology to the biblical text, really for the purpose of illumination and encouragement and fun.”
One of the challenges that archeologists face, however, is the time gap between discovering artifacts that illuminate certain narratives or biblical texts and actually bringing that information to churches. “Up until quite recently, it’s taken almost 20 years to get from the dig field to the pulpit,” Amanda says.
As a result, it can be difficult for pastors to access up-to-date historical information that corresponds with Scripture – and the Christmas story is no exception. “The Nativity is one of those areas where we have preached the same things that are not perhaps as accurate as maybe we would like them to be.”
The classic Nativity image of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a barn or a cave after being turned away by the innkeeper is not quite historically accurate, Amanda explains. In Palestine in the first century, babies were of utmost importance due to the low infant survival rate; also, we know Joseph came from David’s lineage. For these reasons, Mary and Joseph would not have been turned away when Mary was about to give birth.
Instead, they would have been in a Hebrew four-room house, Amanda says. There was no inn involved; the Hebrew word used in Luke 2:7 to describe the area that was unavailable means a space for guests. Thus, since the guest room was full, Mary would have given birth on the ground floor. This is where the animals come into the Nativity scene. In those days, it was common to bring livestock inside at night to keep them safe and to keep the house warmer.
Joseph wouldn’t have witnessed the birth itself, Amanda says, as that was a women-only event at the time, but he was there in the house. “It’s kind of cool that Joseph was there and that it is talked about that he was there, because that really shows how progressive he was in his thinking and really realizing how important it was. Obviously this was something happening that was different and outside of the cultural norms for him to even be present and around,” she adds.
What does this deeper and historically-based understanding of the Nativity story teach us? It’s more than a lesson about having faith in times of rejection or about humble beginnings. “I think the greater point is that it’s about belonging, and it’s about family, and it’s about the idea that God wanted His Son to be with two people that had trust and tenacity,” Amanda says. “Even though Joseph had historical lineage, he wasn’t anybody special. And Mary wasn’t anybody special. But they did have trust, and they were tenacious. I think that’s what God asks from us: ‘Do you believe Me, and will you stick it out?’”
Trust and tenacity can be applied in so many areas of our own lives in times when we don’t know if we can handle what God is asking of us. Just like Mary and Joseph, we may feel we’ve been separated from the people around us who don’t understand or support what we’ve been called to do. In those times, you may find that “the Savior meets you in this meek moment,” Mingo says. “It’s a quiet space,” Amanda agrees.
Amanda also has some advice about responsibly finding the narratives in biblical texts. “We can put in narrative richness,” she says, “but when we’re speaking to other people about those things, I think we need to be careful and say, ‘It’s kind of like this. It would be like that.’”
Approaching the text with curiosity and a willingness to dive deep into the culture and history behind the text is key, while being careful not to blatantly misinterpret. “Don’t try to craft into your story something that makes the story rich,” Mingo says. “You’ve got to draft out of what is there.”
Amanda agrees. “There’s enough historical fact. God has given us enough that we don’t need to make stuff up. We don’t need to embellish. We don’t need to add things to it. We can really just sit quietly and allow the Holy Spirit to tell us what is the part that we need to highlight. If there’s an area where we should study a little bit more or find some more facts, then let’s go there. But let’s allow the Holy Spirit to really lead us into those things.”
That doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun to share the stories from Scripture, though. “There’s the balance there of making it fun with creativity, but then also not mucking it up,” Amanda says.
For listeners eager to learn more, Amanda strongly recommends The Harvest History Handbook of Bible Lands, a wonderful new resource by scientists and archeologists on modern archeological findings. The book is based on the core belief that the Bible is a valid historical document.
“This isn’t for scholars,” Amanda says. “This is for everybody. If you’re wanting to be encouraged and you just want to geek out a little bit more and get a little more context, but the most up-to-date stuff, then this really is an incredible resource for you.” The book is available for preorder on Amazon and will be released on January 15th.
Another fantastic way to explore this topic is through EastLake Leadership College in San Diego, where Amanda is the director. The college offers a variety of degrees in not only ministry, but areas such as business and digital media as well. “We’re trying to train the next generation of leaders who help other people find and follow Jesus. It’s very simple, and it’s so fun,” Amanda says. “We have this incredible team of humble leaders.”
If you’ve been inspired by the podcast today, Mingo encourages you to dig deeper. “Bring two, three friends together and go after a topic, or go after a passage in Scripture, and say, ‘How much of this can we discover beyond what is presented to us?’ [My hope is that] we would roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty and we’d go and exercise our mind and our spirits. That would be a mutual growth that you could celebrate because God was leading you.”