Christmas is only the beginning of the climax of a larger story that goes back hundreds of years before the time of Jesus. Even after 400 years of silence. ◊
We are all familiar with the Christmas Story of the birth of Jesus as presented in the Bible’s New Testament, specifically in the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke. Chapter 1 lays out all the surrounding background of the birth of God’s prophetic harbinger John the Baptist, and the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary of her upcoming pregnancy.
Chapter 2 describes the traveling of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem and the manger scene with the shepherds in their fields being alerted to the birth of “Christ the Lord” by an angel followed by a host of angelic multitudes singing God’s praises. The chapter finishes with a profound story of Jesus at age 12 astonishing his parents and the teachers in the temple in Jerusalem with his maturity and wisdom.
It’s a lot to grasp.
Even so, it’s only the beginning of the climax of a larger story that goes back hundreds of years before the time of Luke. To fully understand the meaning and significance of Christmas, we have to connect the events and dynamics with what came before.
The Ancient Promise
The ancient people of Israel were given a promise. Given to their forefather Abraham, the first Hebrew, the promise from God was that through his future descendants would come a wonderful blessing for all the nations of the world. This blessing involved the defeat of evil, the end of injustice, and the reigning of peace for all time.
This fantastic promise of a future hope was carried forward from generation to generation. Little children grew up hearing all about the stories associated with this God-given promise.
Years of Long-Suffering
The next years for these chosen people however, even decades and centuries, would be fraught with ups and downs – many wins and many defeats to the enemies around them. And much chastisement by God for their wayward disobedience.
It was the hopeful words of the great promise that kept the nation alive.
Israel’s old storytellers – prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and Micah – kept reminding the people of what God had said, and of what the promise was:
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. (Isaiah 52:7-9)
The people used these messages to remind themselves of a future hope in spite of dire circumstances throughout many generations.
Still a Longstanding Hope
Though they strayed from God at times and suffered great trauma, they waited, watched, and hoped that God would remain faithful. They still noted the ongoing prophetic messages, particularly that when God came to make it right for Israel, He would also make it right for the whole earth:
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)
But even great hope, given a long time of unfulfilled promises, can fade and be in danger of dying.
400 Years of Silence
And that’s what was happening by the time the Christmas Story was played out as told in the Gospel of Luke. A strong and cruel empire controls the tiny nation of Israel, lording over the land, imposing large taxes and oppressing the people.
The prophets of Israel had now for four centuries gone dead and quiet.
But now there are claims that a light is shining in the darkness. A child is born. And then another child. Promises made long ago are being kept. God is proving to be faithful, steady and in control of human history.
Perhaps just not as predictable as Israel or all of us across the nations of the world would have wanted or designed.
Good News for All Mankind
But now good news of great joy is heralded. Jesus, the Messiah child is born, the Great Redeemer for all of mankind has come. He is the manifestation of the Promise first made to Abraham 2,000 years earlier, now 4,000 years ago.
He came in a manner no one suspected. Israel and the nations just didn’t quite understand what was happening until it happened. Some are still caught unaware.
Yes, it has been said that “the history of our life on earth is too good a story not to have been written.” 1 What if it has, in fact, been written?
Whether living in darkness, fading hope, or in the bright light of fresh and thriving love, may you this Christmas season find your purpose and place in that wonderful story.
Do you know the whole Christmas Story?
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. – Luke 1:1-4
1 The Story of Christmas, Prologue, 2001, by IBS Publishing.
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