Not the 2,000 years from Christ’s birth to AD 2022, but from the 2,000 years prior to Christ’s birth. It’s a story for the ages. ◊
The Christmas Story of the birth of Jesus is familiar to children and adults alike as we’ve all heard, read, or sung songs about Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem and she giving birth to Jesus and placing him in a manger or food trough for animals.
Additionally, there were angels giving advanced warning to shepherds in the fields outside the small town. Plus strange visitors from the east who came seeking to pay homage to the child their scripture studies had claimed would one day be a king.
And finally, there was cruel and violent opposition by the current national king (Herod) who was threatened by a would-be rival, even a newborn child.
New Testament – Matthew and Luke
The fascinating details of these stories are presented in only the first two chapters of both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament.
Matthew Chapter 1 starts out with a summary geneology of Jesus starting with Abraham shown to be racially mixed with Gentiles as well as Hebrew ancestors, and then there’s a short review of Joseph’s reaction and angelic dream which allows him to deal with learning that his betrothed wife, Mary, is pregnant by the Holy Spirit of God.
Matthew Chapter 2 covers the visit of the wise men from the east who travel through Jerusalem first and meet with king Herod. They reveal to him that the are seeking the newborn king of the Jews who is to be born “in Bethlehem of Judah” (Micah 5:2). Note: Bethlehem was about 6 miles outside of Jerusalem. The wise men greet the newborn child and are warned to not return to Herod but return home via another route. Likewise, Joseph is warned to move his wife and child to Egypt for safekeeping until Herod is dead. Sure enough, when Herod realizes he had been tricked by the wise men, he sends soldiers to kill all the male babies under the age of two. It is estimated that about 40 to 50 children were killed during this slaughter.1
Luke Chapter 1 lays out all the surrounding background of the birth of God’s prophetic harbinger, John the Baptist, including the fascinating story of his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth. The rest of the chapter includes the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary of her upcoming pregnancy, her beautiful reaction, and songs or prayers of Mary and then Zechariah after the birth of John.
Luke 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 includes the circumcision of Jesus after 8 days and his presentation to the Lord God in the Temple where Jesus is poignantly blessed and adored by Simeon and Anna. 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.
Incidentally, the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John do not include any parts of the Christmas story. Mark begins with the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of an adult Jesus. John begins deeply with the stated deity of Jesus and then His connection with John the Baptist as the one sent to herald and bear witness of His coming.
Old Testament – Abraham, Genesis Chapter 12
While the Christmas Story occurs in the New Testament and details the birth of Christ, the story begins actually 2,000 years earlier in Genesis Chapter 12 with a God-given promise to Abraham:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
Abraham (born circa 2000 BC), the first Hebrew, was promised from God that through his future descendants would come a wonderful blessing for all the nations of the world.
The blessing referred to in the promise was Jesus Christ.
Of course, this blessing was not fulfilled in Abraham’s lifetime, nor in any time soon thereafter. This fantastic promise of a future hope was carried forward from generation to generation. Little Hebrew children grew up hearing all about the stories associated with this God-given promise. Little children of Gentile nations did not.
It was fulfilled in the Christmas Story 2,000 years later.
God Keeps His Promises
The covenental promise was documented in the Jewish Torah by Moses who lived 500 years after Abraham. As we now know in reading the Old Testament, the next years and centuries for these chosen people, who were to be the vessel by which all peoples on earth will be blessed, were fraught with ups and downs including fierce chastisement by God for their wayward disobedience to Him over the years.
But God is a faithful and Convenant-keeping God.
It was the hopeful words of the great promise that kept the nation alive. Israel’s Old Testament 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.
400 Years of Silence – and then Christmas
But the prophets then died off and the Jews experienced 400 years of silence from God. The Book of Malachi written in the 5th century BC is the last book in canon of the Old Testament,
Now consider living in and around Jerusalem after those dark and quiet centuries as a young Jewish girl (Mary) betrothed to a young Jewish man (Joseph), or a Jewish priest (Zechariah) and his aging wife (Elizabeth), or even lowly shepherds or exalted wise men from afar. Each of these experience supernatural encounters with the angelic realm and are touched and led by the Holy Spirit of God.
But now a child is born (John). And then another child (Jesus).
Promises made long ago are being kept. God is proven to be faithful, steady and in control of human history. Perhaps not 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.
This blessing involved the defeat of evil, the end of injustice, and the reigning of peace for all time.
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 Harper Study Bible, Revised Standard Version, Note 2.11, p. 1439.
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