When the Christmas story is told, it is seldom told in chronological order. That bothers me as I am a detail person and I always want to know the exact order of things. I thought everyone was this way, so one Christmas Eve service, I told the real Christmas story, in the order of the events. Little did I know it would upset my congregation to have their Pastor deviate from the old traditional account. One visitor said she would never come back to our church again.
I know we all have our favorite Christmas traditions. Even Jesus said, “you make the Word of God of none effect through your traditions” (Mark 7:13). The Word of God has to be preached as accurately as one can preach it. That is what I’m striving to do here with hope that the reader is enlightened and blessed.
The Announcement (Luke 1:26-38)
God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth (about 200-300 people) to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from King David. His name was Joseph and the young girl’s name was Mary. Upon entering, he said, “Good Morning! You are beautiful with God’s beauty, inside and out! God is with you”. Mary is stunned at such a greeting, but the angel reassures her by saying she has nothing to fear and that God has a surprise for her. He tells her she shall become pregnant with a son and He is to be named Jesus. He also gives her some more details of this Son. Mary is a “favored one”, even though she was likely about 14 years of age, uneducated and illiterate, yet rich in the Word of God.
Mary tells Gabriel she has never been with a man and doesn’t understand how this can happen. Gabriel explains that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the power of the most High God will hover over her, and the child she births will be called Holy Son of God.
As soon as Mary sees this and bravely says yes by faith and God’s grace to this proposal, conception happens. Gabriel then leaves.
The Birth of Jesus, the Human-Divine One (Matthew 1:18-25)
Joseph finds out Mary is pregnant and assumes she has been unfaithful to their betrothal vows. He is very upset, but a righteous and good man who still loves her and doesn’t want her publicly disgraced, and possibly stoned. He thinks he can quietly get out of the marriage, and as he is pondering this dilemma he falls asleep and has a dream. God’s angel appears to him in this dream, and tells him the truth about how this happened and that the child is of the Holy Ghost, and is to be named Jesus (God saves), because He will save His people from their sins. This is the sign the prophet spoke about (Isaiah 7:14). The angel of the Lord also tells Joseph not to be afraid to wed Mary.
When Joseph awakened, he did exactly what the angel told him to do. He and Mary got married, although he did not consummate the marriage until after the baby was born. Joseph named the baby Jesus.
The Journey (Luke 2:1-7)
About that time, Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there, and of course took Mary his espoused wife who was great with child. It was a difficult and dangerous journey (people usually traveled in groups for protection, and probably took pack animals to carry provisions). Bethlehem was about 100 miles from Nazareth, and since they had to camp at night, it took about 4 days to get there.
While they were in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped Him in strips of cloth and laid Him in a manger because there was no room at the inn (Gr. A lodging place or guest chamber…some historians say they would have stayed at a relative’s house. Because of other out-of-town relatives staying at the same home, and Mary's condition, they were perhaps put in a private basement-type area, where special animals were sometimes kept).
An Event for Everyone (Luke 2:8-20)
There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood, (probably not in December because of the cold) and had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly God’s angel stood in the midst of them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel told them not to be afraid, and that he was there to announce a joyful event that was meant for the whole world. A Savior who was the Messiah and Master had just been born in David’s town.
He also gave them a sign as to what to look for…a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.
At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic troop singing God’s praises.
When the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over and decided to get to Bethlehem as fast as they could and see for themselves what God had revealed to them. They left running, and they found Mary, Joseph and the baby. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the shepherds were impressed.
Mary kept all these things in her heart, holding them dear, deeply within herself. The sheepherders returned, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told.
Scholars from the East (Matthew 2:1-12)
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Judah territory, during Herod’s kingship, a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem. They asked around “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on a pilgrimage to worship him”. When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified…and also all of Jerusalem. He wasted no time in gathering the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked where the Messiah was supposed to be born. They told him the prophet Micah, wrote it plainly…Bethlehem, Judah territory.
Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. He told them to find the child and leave no stone unturned. He said as soon as they found Him to send word and he would join them at once to also worship.
Blessings (Luke 2:21-39)
When the eighth day arrived, the day of circumcision, the child was officially named Jesus, as instructed by the angel, before He was conceived. Then when the days of purification were complete, according to the laws of Moses, his parents took Jesus up to Jerusalem to offer him to God as commanded in God’s law.
Let us look at this law in Leviticus 12:1-4. It says if a woman gives birth to a male child, she shall be unclean for seven days. He is to be circumcised on the eighth day, and she shall not be able to go to the sanctuary until forty days are fulfilled, as only then can she be "cleansed from the issue of her blood", when the priest makes atonement for her.
Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are no longer in Bethlehem…we do not know when they left. Perhaps they stayed with Joseph’s relatives until Mary was able to travel…we are not told. We only know that Jesus was over a month old when they took Him to the temple in Jerusalem.
The purpose for the trip was to present the child, as "holy unto the Lord", as well as for Mary's purification. The law read that a lamb should be given to the priest for a purification sacrifice, but if the couple was poor, then they could offer two doves or pigeons…one for a burnt-offering and one for a sin offering. That is what Mary and Joseph offered.
Obviously, the wise men had not seen them yet, nor delivered their gifts, or Mary and Joseph, would have had the gold to buy a lamb for the offering! So much for the tradition of the wise men coming into the “stable” bearing gifts for the Christ-child!
A man (not a priest) named Simeon was in the Temple that day when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus in, and took the baby into his arms, blessed him, praised God, and gave a prophecy to Mary. The parents were stunned. At the time when Simeon was praying, Anna, an elderly prophetess who lived at the temple, broke out into an anthem of praise and spoke of Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
After all things were performed according to the law, they "returned" to their home town of Nazareth…which indicates that is where they were before coming to Jerusalem…not in Bethlehem!
The Wise Men (Matthew 2:9-12)
After Herod told the wise men to go to Bethlehem to find the Child, they departed. We are not told where all they went or how long their journey took. Evidently, only the wise men could see the star, and that was not all the time. It led them from the east over to Jerusalem and then disappeared. If Herod could have seen the star, he would not have told the wise men to come back and tell him where the baby was. Nor did the star hover over the baby Jesus, or Herod would have seen it when the Holy family came to the temple in Jerusalem, (which Herod rebuilt and the same one in which Jesus later ministered). It doesn’t say how long the wise men wandered around before the star reappeared, but it says they were delighted! They had finally found Him!
Verse 11 says they entered the house, (again, not a stable), and saw the “young Child”, (not a baby), with his mother, and they worshiped Him, and presented gifts of gold (royalty), frankincense (representing temple incense), and myrrh (a burial spice) all referring to Jesus as our Sacrifice, great High Priest, and coming King.
The wise men are warned in a dream not to report back to Herod. They worked out another route and left the territory without being seen and returned to their own country.
The Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)
“When the wise men departed” God speaks to Joseph in a
dream telling him to get up and take his family to Egypt, and stay there until
he is told it is safe to return home…that Herod will (future) seek to
destroy the young child. (One might assume the gift of gold was put to
good use, as Joseph didn’t have time to save up money for the trip into Africa,
or to set up housekeeping for his family, and have money to live on until he
Joseph immediately did as instructed, leaving in the middle of the night, and stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod. The prophet Hosea’s words would later come to pass…”Out of Egypt, I have called my son”.
Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocent (Matthew 2:16-18)
The Bible doesn’t say how many Wise Men there were. It is assumed three, only because of the three different gifts. Anyway, when Herod realized the wise men had tricked him, he flew into a rage. He ordered the slaughter of all the males in Bethlehem and surrounding hills, two years of age and under. He determined that age from the information he had previously gotten from the wise men, calculating from when the star first appeared, and their travel time from the east, and how long it had been since his meeting with them. The prophet Jeremiah had foretold of a time when “Rachel would be weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they were not”.
The Return from Egypt (Matthew 2:19-23)
After Herod died, the Lord once again spoke to Joseph in a dream and said, “Arise and take the child and his mother and return to Israel. All those who sought the young child’s life are dead”. Joseph obeyed and returned to his hometown, Nazareth…thus fulfilling the prophecy, “He shall be called a Nazarene”.
“And the child grew, and waxed strong in Spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon Him”. (Luke 2:40).
The Silent Years (Luke 2:41-52)
The Scriptures give us no information on Jesus childhood, except for an incident when He was twelve years of age. He had accompanied his parents to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover…and ended up teaching in the temple. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”.
The next time we see Jesus is at age thirty, when He first encounters His cousin, John the Baptist, (their mothers were cousins, and pregnant with them at the same time). John was baptizing in the river Jordon. Jesus came down to be baptized and the Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove (and remained) and a voice was heard from Heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3 13-17).
And thus, Jesus' public ministry began…and continues unto this day, and shall continue throughout eternity!
I hope you have been blessed by the REAL Christmas Story...Amen!
Merry Christmas to All,
(Scripture quotations are taken from the KJV and The Message Bible. There are some details not included in this article. Please go back and look up the Scriptures for yourself, and gather those nuggets!)
W. O. W.
Have a great "Holyday", and a blessed New Year!