In approximately 7 B.C. during the reign of King Herod (also referred to as ‘Herod the Great’) who ruled over Judea, Zacharias, (a priest – also translated as Zachariah or Zechariah) was visited by an angel by the name of ‘Gabriel.’
Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth (she happens to be a cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus) were very old and childless. Still, they were righteous and faithful, and never gave up hope that God would bring them a child.
Gabriel tells the priest that he and his wife’s prayers are answered, and that the child would be a son. He told Zacharias to name him ‘John.’ (The name means ‘God has shown favor.’) And, John would be special:
“For he will be great in the sight of the Lord…He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Lk. 1:15 – 17. NKJV
Thus, John (to be known as ‘John the Baptist’ in adulthood) would be driven by the Spirit of God Himself, and he would preach powerfully in the manner of Elijah, the Old Testament prophet.
John the Baptist reconciled many people, turning them to pursue righteous behavior and positioned them to receive Christ – fulfilling yet another Messianic prophecy.
When Elizabeth reached her sixth month of pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, to reveal His will to Mary – a woman engaged to a man named Joseph. Gabriel speaks:
“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” Lk. 1:28 NKJV
Indeed, Mary was chosen to be the carrier of the Salvation of the Earth. What this scripture does not mean, is that she should be worshiped in any way. That would violate the first and the second of the Ten Commandments.
Mary was beside herself but Gabriel assuaged her fears; and then he makes a phenomenal earth-shaking declaration:
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Lk. 1:30 – 33. NKJV
The name ‘Jesus’ finds its roots in the Hebrew word Yhowshuwa, translated as Jehoshua or Joshua, and from the Greek word Iesous, meaning ‘The Lord is salvation.’
So, Jesus is revealed as the Son of God, who will reign over God’s children eternally.
Mary protests, thinking it impossible in her virgin state. She was thinking small:
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.” Lk. 1:35 ESV
This is a one-time only event in all of history – a Holy Spirit-facilitated conception, whereby the Spirit of the Son of God is transferred into flesh.
(The Koran refutes this scripture, as it interprets this event to mean that God was involved in some carnal act, but it was nothing of the kind. It was a transformation.)
Gabriel went on to tell Mary that God had rendered her cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias fertile so that they were now bearing a child. How did God do that, knowing that the couple was so advanced in age? Gabriel reminds us:
“For with God nothing will be impossible.” Lk. 1:37 NKJV
After Mary’s encounter with Gabriel, she rushed over to Elizabeth’s house. As soon as she entered it, the unborn John the Baptist leaps in his mother’s womb and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit – who reveals to her the miraculous transformation of her cousin. Elizabeth shouts:
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Lk. 1:42, 43. NKJV
The answer was that Elizabeth was being rewarded for her faith.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth until just before John was born. When he is born, Zacharias is filled with the Holy Spirit, and he bursts forth with prophecy concerning his son:
“And you child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Lk. 1:76 – 79. NASB
At that time, Mary was three months’ pregnant. Joseph knows that the child isn’t his, so he is considering not marrying her. But in his dreams, God sent Him an angel who enlightened him:
“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Mt. 1:20, 21. ESV
This is yet another fulfillment of Messianic prophecy – one where Isaiah told of the virgin birth of Christ 400 years before it happened.
Joseph married Mary, but he did not have marital relations with her until after the birth of Jesus.
Near the time of Jesus’ birth, Caesar Augustus was the emperor of Rome, and he ordered a census be taken so that everyone would be registered for the purpose of taxation.
Everyone had to register in the city where his or her ancestral records were kept. For Joseph and Mary, that meant a trip to Bethlehem. When they got there, there was no available lodging, so they had to stay in a manger (translated from the Greek word phatne, meaning ‘stall’).
And that’s where our Lord was born.
Simultaneously, an angel appeared to a group of shepherds who were tending their sheep at night in a nearby field, declaring:
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Lk. 2:10, 11. NKJV
Immediately after this declaration, the angel was joined by a multitude of other angels, who burst into praise:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Lk. 2:14 NKJV
(The fact that the shepherds were in the fields at night would suggest a warmer time of year than that of winter. So, we don’t really know the correct date of Christ’s birth.
One of the earliest references to December 25th says that in 354 A.D. the Catholic Church picked that date, as both Christ’s birth, and for a ‘Christmas’ to celebrate it.
Christmas has a storied past. It has been denounced as a Catholic invention to give the pagans a ‘holy holiday’ to celebrate – instead of reveling at winter solstice festivals or at celebrations used to worship a god named Saturn; i.e. ‘Christmas was believed to be some form of ‘conversion tactic.’
The early American colonists were against it because the holiday was too ‘English’ for them.
Many of the early Protestants were in opposition to celebrating it as well, because some people used the holiday for drinking and cavorting. Some even went so far as to call ‘Christmas’ evil, because it wasn’t biblical and because the only two examples of ‘birthday celebrations’ in the Bible were associated with evil outcomes.
Yet to me, that’s like saying that if someone died of a poisoned apple in the Bible, that all people should stop eating apples.
I believe that if a true follower of Christ wants to proclaim Christmas for the purpose of exalting the Savior and to celebrate God’s gift to us through the earthly incarnation of Christ, then they should be able to follow their own heart.)
Returning to our biblical narrative:
The angels left and the shepherds went to see the baby Jesus; and word began to spread about this Christ child.
On the eighth day, Jesus was circumcised and formally named. After approximately 40 days, He was dedicated to God in the Temple. At that time, there was a man named Simeon, whom God had directed to the Temple by the Holy Spirit (to fulfill an earlier promise that He had made to Simeon – a promise that he would get to see the Messiah before he died). Simeon picked up baby Jesus and said:
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, for glory to your people Israel.” Lk. 2:29 – 32. ESV
Thus, Christ is the Savior for all of God’s children around the world – Jews and Gentiles alike.
Simeon (still filled with the Holy Spirit) turned to Mary and said:
“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed – and a sword will pierce even your own soul – to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Lk. 2:34, 35. NASB
So, Christ will be the eternal Savior of those who follow Him but He will be the harbinger of death to those who stand in opposition. And Mary’s heart will be pierced at the crucifixion of her Son, as the full impact of who He is and what He’s done, is acutely felt…
News of the birth of the Messiah traveled fast and far – even reaching the ‘East’ (a term generally used in the Bible to refer to Arab lands). And so it was, that ‘wise men’ (which can also be translated as philosophers or astrologers) from the East came to Jerusalem to find the Messiah. (The Bible never says that there were three of them by the way.)
The wise men inquired:
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Mt. 2:2 AMP
King Herod got wind of this, and he began to worry about his rule being usurped. He gathered together his priests, who, in answer to his demand, tell him that the Old Testament says that the birthplace of the Messiah-King will be in Bethlehem.
Subsequently, the king gathered the wise men of the East to him and asked them to return to him after they find the Messiah, to tell him of His whereabouts so that he can worship him as well. (In reality, Herod wanted to kill this ‘Christ.’)
The wise men followed a star to where Jesus lay, and worshiped Him and presented Him with gifts. Afterwards, God sent the wise men a vision in their dreams – warning them against returning to Herod. Wisely, (pardon the pun) they returned to the East by another route.
Immediately after the wise men left, an angel came to Joseph in a dream and presented him with an urgent task:
“Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” Mt. 2:13 NKJV
After the wise men fail to return to King Herod, he figures out that he’s been duped. Using the approximate time of Jesus’ birth, (as was relayed to him by the wise men, before they found Jesus), Herod retaliated by having every male child in Bethlehem, aged two and under, slaughtered. His act is commonly referred to as the ‘Massacre of the Innocents.’
When Herod died, (approximately 4 B.C.) God sent another angel to Joseph – this time instructing him to bring his family back to Israel.
They returned to find Herod’s eldest son Archelaus ruling over Judea. Archelaus’ rule was oppressive, so Joseph takes his family to live in the region of Galilee (which was under the rule of Archelaus’ half-brother, Herod Antipas – who apparently ruled with a softer glove). Within that region, they settled in the city of Nazareth.
And the Bible tells us:
And the Child continued to grow and become strong [in spirit], filled with wisdom; and the grace (favor and spiritual blessing) of God was upon Him. Lk. 2:40 AMP
That’s the true Christmas story. Tell a friend…