The Christmas Story You Haven’t Heard
It is fascinating how we grow up accepting certain beliefs, usually without questioning them, only to later discover that somebody just made them up.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I believed in Santa until I was 8. Talk about being niave. Well, this actually served me because once I found out that Santa wasn’t real, it caused me to take a more objective look at a lot of things. This is the case with the whole Christmas story, so let’s rollback the pages of history, and see the exciting account of what actually happened.
Prophecies of the Time Give the Background to the Story
Because of certain prophecies, the King and religious leaders of the day knew they could expect the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem. It was the talk of the time that the Messiah should soon appear because of a prophecy written in the Old Testament book of Daniel, chapter 9 that is referred to in the New Testament.
John 7:42, “Has not the scripture said, that Christ comes of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” This reference confirms that Jesus was descended from David and born in Bethlehem that was the city of David.
Obstacle #1. In order for the prophecies to be fulfilled it was necessary that Joseph and Mary be in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth. The apparent obstacle was the fact that they lived in Nazareth which was about 100 miles away and in those days that is quite a distance to travel.
Luke 2:1, “…there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” The nature of the decree was that every person was required to go to the city of each family’s origin. Therefore, Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem. And so the first obstacle was surmounted, and Mary and Joseph were on their way to Bethlehem.
Obstacle #2. The next obstacle was how to let the world know that the Messiah was born? Joseph certainly could not do it. Can you imagine Joseph going around telling people that he was the father of the Messiah? It would even be more difficult for Mary to say, “Hey, I am the mother of the Messiah, and I am a virgin.”
How this problem was resolved is found in Luke 2:8, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Verse 9, “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them…” Verse 11, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
Verse 15, “…the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” Verse 16, “And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” Verse 17, “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.”
3 Facts the Story Tells Us
First of all, the season of the year. It was not winter. It was more like September or October at the latest. Winter in Palestine was a rainy season during which flocks were kept inside. Song of Solomon 2:11, “For, lo, the winter is passed, the rain is over and gone.” The Adam Clark commentary admits, “As these shepherd’s had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that consequently our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields, nor could he have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night.” (Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 368)
The second interesting thing that happened was the angel did not give the exact address. This forced the shepherds to ask a lot of questions of the people of Bethlehem. They undoubtedly told of the Angels announcement and this would have created a great deal of interest and discussion among the local people.
Third, the announcement of the birth of the Messiah had to reach the authorities and nobility. The gospel of Matthew holds the key — taking up where Luke leaves off. Mathew 2:1, “…there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem,” Verse 2, “Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. So the announcement was made to the Kings by wise men coming from the East.”
Who Were These Wise Men?
The fact that the wise man asked for “The King of the Jews,” might indicate that they themselves were not Jewish, but if not, who were they? All of the wise men, the priests of the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians were referred to as Magi.
Daniel was said to be 10 times wiser than all of the wise men. Daniel 2:48, “Then the king made Daniel a great man… and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon.” In verse 48, the word translated “wise” is Magi. The wise men who came to see the newborn Messiah were from the East. East of Palestine means east of Arabia. We know this because Arabia is referred to by name in the Bible, so if the Bible meant Arabia, it would have said Arabia, but it said, “East.” The wise men came from the East and it had to be the Parthian Empire, or perhaps as far east as India.
More than 3 Wise Men?
We are all familiar with a little nativity scenes which includes the statues of Mary, Joseph, some shepherds, some angels, a few oxen, a stable with the baby Jesus in a manger, and three wise men. The fact is, however, that there are no grounds for assuming there were only three. It is quite logical and likely that there were many more than three individuals, as a journey of this distance would have required a caravan.
When Did the Wise Men Arrive?
Now let’s consider the time element. According to Matthew 2:1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. This tells us that the wise men came first to Jerusalem not Bethlehem. After inquiring as to where the Messiah had been born they were summoned before King Herod, who sent them on to Bethlehem.
“And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.” Verse 11, says when they came to the house (the Greek word is “residence”), they saw the young child with Mary, his mother. Matthew 2:11, “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother.”
So now Jesus is in a house, not a manger or stable and he is referred to as a young child and not an infant. Matthew 2:13, “And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt…Verse 14, “When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt.” Verse 16, “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.”
Herod ordered male children two years old and less to be murdered. This indicates that some time had passed since the birth of Jesus in the manger.
What About the Star?
Now let’s look at the issue of the star they followed. Every year there are news articles speculating as to what the star was. Some people think it was a comet, others think it was a super nova; Some think it was planets in conjunction, others think it was a flying saucer.
There is some interesting information in the book of Matthew in this regard. Matthew 2:7, “Then Herod, when he had privately called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.” Verse 9, “When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”
What Kind of “Star” Is This?
Verse 9 emphasizes that the star stood over where the young child was. If the star were a comet, super nova, conjunction of planets, or anything else outside of the earth’s atmosphere there would be no possible way to follow it to an exact location, or for it to stand over any place. If you don’t believe that, go outside at night when you can see the moon and try to follow it–and the moon is much closer than any super nova, comet, or planet has ever been. You will follow it clear around the world and still be following it.
Whatever the “star” was had to be in the earth’s atmosphere since it moved ahead of them through the atmosphere, probably not all that high either since it stopped over a particular location. I’ll leave it up to you to speculate on what you think it was.
Where’s the Peace on Earth?
You find it on Christmas cards, floats in parades, in songs, and on many people lips. “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” This is often quoted as the words the angels supposedly said, but there has been little peace. Were the Angels wrong? No, the problem lies in an inadequate translation of the phrase. Most modern versions correct this. It should read, “Peace on earth among men of goodwill.” Peace was promised by the Angels among those of goodwill. Indeed, Jesus said, John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you…” So the angels were giving a promise for those on a spiritual path that they would have peace.
What are We to Conclude?
There are only three chapters in the entire new Testament devoted to telling the story of the birth and childhood of Jesus. The emphasis on his birth should not take second status to the message he came to bring. May you and your loved ones find peace and love during the holidays and throughout the coming year.