The modern secular American Christmas celebration – when it includes any reference at all to the source of the holy day – usually mixes together several historical people and events to make a single story centered on materials gifts exchanged by friends and family and held on December 25th. On the other hand, Americans with traditional Christian faith practices still separate three main threads:
- the generosity and concern for the poor and needy of Saint Nicholas, a real-life Christian Bishop of Myra (in modern day Turkey) who lived from 270 – 343 AD;
- the birth of a physical baby named Jesus to Mary in Bethlehem in the days of a global census commanded by Roman Emperor Augustus, who lived from 63 BCE to 14 AD; and
- the arrival – about 2 years after the birth of Jesus (see Matthew 2:1, 11, and 16) – at the home of Mary and Joseph of three wise men/magi/astrologers “from the East” who had followed a very special star and bore precious and symbolic gifts of gold (kingship), frankincense (divinity), and myrrh (burial) for the Child foretold in their prophetic writings.
The celebration date or dates vary, with most Western churches celebrating Christmas on December 25, and many Eastern churches in America celebrating 13 days later, on January 7. Denominational traditions may incorporate the giving of presents among beloved family and friends on St. Nicholas Day (December 6/19), on Christmas Day, and even on the 12th Day of Christmas/Epiphany/Theophany (January 6/18). Two examples of this last tradition are Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day) and Befana ( an old woman in Italian folklore who delivers gifts to children and is named after the Feast of the Epiphany) . Regardless of specific traditions, however, the central focus of all Christians at Christmas is on the birth of the Child Who is both God and Man.
OLD TESTAMENT PROPHESIES OF THE CHILD
In this week’s post, we will go through what the Bible says about this unique and wonderful birth: God’s Gift to humans. There are many prophesies in the Old Testament about a special Child/Messiah sent by God to deliver His people from lucifer/satan/the devil/the evil one, but the three prophesies cited below are anchors. The Scripture verses are taken from “The Orthodox Study Bible”.
Genesis 3 (Genesis was written in the 13th century BCE during the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness after they left Egypt and before they arrived in the Promised Land) –
The relevant story is this: Despite God’s commandment to the contrary, the first woman, Eve, ate a bite from an apple from the Tree of Life. She was persuaded to do this by “the serpent” (representing the evil one), and she persuaded the first man, Adam, to eat as well. Their “eyes were opened” to the knowledge of good and evil, and they became afraid of/separated from their prior intimate relationship with God. When God asked Adam how it happened, he blamed Eve. She in turn blamed the serpent. What follows are two verses (Gen. 3:14, 15) that include the oldest prophesy regarding the virgin birth:
Thus the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this. You are cursed more than all the cattle, and more than all the wild animals of the earth. On your breast and belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed [unbelievers] and her seed [first, Jesus Christ; then, His Church – believers in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and born to Mary in the Flesh to bring humans to saving belief]. He shall bruise your head [Jesus will destroy the evil one through the Cross], and you shall be on guard for His heel.”
Isaiah 7:14 (Isaiah was written by Amoz, the nephew of King Amaziah of the tribe of Judah, sometime between 745-680 BCE) –
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel.
Isaiah 9:5-6a –
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. His name will be called the Angel of Great Counsel. For I shall bring peace upon the rulers, peace and health by Him. Great shall be His government and of His peace there is no end.
NEW TESTMENT VERSES ABOUT THE CHILD AND HIS COMING IN THE FLESH
Matthew 1:18 (Matthew was one of Jesus’ 12 disciples during His earthly ministry; this gospel was probably written over a period of time after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD while Matthew was in Antioch) –
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit [meaning that God the Holy Spirit – not Joseph or any other man – was the originator of Mary’s pregnancy].
Luke 1:26–38 (Luke was a physician who traveled with the later apostle Paul and probably wrote this gospel from either Greece or Asia Minor during 70-80 AD; he is believed to have used Mark’s gospel as a source) –
Now in the sixth month [of the pregnancy of Elizabeth, wife of the priest Zacharias and cousin of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ/God in the flesh] the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary [which means ”exalted one]. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women. But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “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. Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man”? And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, the Holy One Who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 2:1-20 –
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “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. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us. And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
WHY DID GOD THE FATHER SEND GOD THE SON/JESUS IN THE FORM OF FLESH?
Christians believe that death is the absence of God and true life can be found only in His presence. After thousands of years of human history with only stories or writings about God available to the few with access to them, the Father sent the Son as Jesus (Man) to show humans by example how to be fully alive in time and how to prepare to continue that life in eternity.
Before God the Father sent God the Son into space and time to be with humans on Earth, humans knew that there was a Most High God. They called that God by many names (and usually added many other gods), and individuals believed in many different paths to get to know Him. Most humans did not listen to the prophets that God sent as His messengers to them, so they were often overtaken by hatred, anger, bitterness, immorality, greed, and more. That hasn’t entirely changed in the two millennia since Jesus walked as a Man. What did change with the coming of the Child and His time in this life was that anyone who would ever again seek to know the Most High God would have the example of the Way. This Way (Jesus) would be the model for how to listen to, obey, and communicate with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; how to treat others; how to think, speak, and act; and how to have hope for an eternally good future regardless of current life circumstances. This Way went through earthly life experiencing everything that a human would: gestation and birth through childhood, education, work, human relationships, false accusations, betrayal by close friends, and a very cruel physical death by torture. By willingly undergoing such a life when He had no sin and no need to expose Himself to its effects, this Way opened the spiritual door – that had been closed because of the offense of the first created man, Adam – for humans once again to have intimacy with God, an intimacy that could be present immediately, in all places and times, and forever.
Hebrews 2:10,14 (many believe that the apostle Paul was the author of the letter to the Jews explaining Jesus in the context of Judaism; it was written about 70 AD) –
For it was fitting for Him, for Whom are all things and by Whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation [Jesus Christ] perfect through sufferings [voluntarily taking on a fleshly body to experience all human emotions and physical sufferings and perfecting that human body through death]. Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil [evil one].
Hebrews 9:14 –
But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
Philippians 2:5-7 (the apostle Paul wrote the letter to the church in Philippi, probably while he was under house arrest in Rome about 61-63 AD)–
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of man.
Romans 5:15–21 (the apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Romans explaining Jesus to Gentiles, probably in 55-57 AD during the latter part of his third missionary journey and most likely while he was in Corinth) –
But the free gift [of God’s saving grace/salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ] is not like the offense [Adam’s disobedience]. For if by the one man’s offense many died [the consequence of sin in the fallen world], much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgement which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:1–2 (the apostle Paul probably wrote the letter to the church in Ephesus from Rome during his imprisonment in 61-63 AD) –
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air; the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience…
Two unequal kingdoms are at war. Each is spiritual in nature; each stamps its image on its subjects and required strict obedience. Yet they are opposites. The king of the lesser realm is a created being, satan. His dominion is “of the air”, neither fully of earth nor fully of heaven. He is the author of disobedience, rebellion. The beginning of his rule is spiritual death. The desires of his subjects are lustful, of the flesh and of the mind. Their deeds are trespasses and sins. The result of his rule is wrath and, hence, eternal death. The King of the other Kingdom is uncreated, God the Father. His realm is the heavenly places. He rules by mercy and love. The beginning of His rule is redemption to eternal life. The desires of His subjects are thankfulness and glorifying God. Their deeds are righteous, as is proper to those who reign with Christ. The result of His rule is exceeding riches and kindness and, hence, eternal life.
1 Peter 1:18–20a (this letter was written by Peter, one of the 12 original apostles of Jesus during His earthly ministry, from Rome sometime between 50-67 AD; tradition says that Peter was martyred in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero c. 67 AD) –
…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God…
This is the Good News that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds and that Christians have been celebrating for more than 2000 years:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)
The celebration is about God’s free Gift to all who will receive Him. It is not about gifts that we give to each other. The gifts we give to each other are a human affirmation that giving gifts is an act of love, our heart-felt imitation of God’s love for us. The most important gift that we can offer is the one we give back to God: living our lives as little Christs, even in a year as difficult as 2020. It is how we show that God is, indeed, with us.
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