- What actually happened?
look at the Biblical Accounts
Events of "Christmas"
following are the key parts of the Christmas accounts:
The Birth of John the Baptist
& Elizabeth are promised John by an angel
Mary is promised
Jesus by an angel. Joseph is told in a dream, by an angel to take Mary
as his wife.
are required to go to Bethlehem
for the census
where Mary has her baby, Jesus, in a stable.
shepherds are guided by an angel to come and visit the new born baby.
Joseph take Jesus to the Temple
Wise men come with gifts
Back at Bethlehem
down and wise men come bringing gifts
Flight & Return
a dream, is warned to take his little family to Egypt
them. Some time later, after a further dream they return to Nazareth
let's look in detail at what took place. Under each heading we'll consider
the Biblical texts that apply and what took place, and then also make
comment on it.
The Birth of John the Baptist.
details of the birth of John the Baptist are as follows:
Zechariah, an elderly, childless priest, was serving in the innermost
part of the Temple
an angel appeared to him. (Lk 1:5-10)
He was told that his wife will have a son who is to be named John,
who will eventually bring many people back to the Lord. (Lk 1:11-17)
Zechariah had trouble believing this so the angel said Zechariah
would be dumb until the child was born. (Lk 1:18
When he returned home Elizabeth
pregnant. (Lk 1:21
Later after John had been born, Zechariah confirmed the name and
immediately started to speak and prophesy about him. (Lk 1:57
& Elizabeth were good people (Lk 1:6) yet they were still
had not spoken to Israel
over four hundred years so perhaps it wasn't surprising that Zechariah
was both frightened at the angel's appearance (Supernatural Event
1) and found it difficult to believe. Yet he was chastised for
his unbelief and dumbness acted as a constant reminder to him
of what had happened (Supernatural Event 2).
to have conceived quite naturally yet the miracle was that previously
she had been unable to (Supernatural Event 3).
voice was only restored when he acted obediently confirming the
name (Supernatural Event 4)
baby, John, was to become John the Baptist, who was to prepare
the people in the years to come to meet Jesus.
Jesus' forerunner came by supernatural means
details of Jesus' conception are as follows:
Six months into Elizabeth
the angel appears to a young girl, Mary.
He tells her she will conceive and bear a son called Jesus (Lk
She asks how this can be as she is only engaged to Joseph and
hasn't known a man, and is told it will be with the help of God
the Holy Spirit. To this she assents
When Joseph found out, he determined to separate from her, but
received a dream in which an angel told him to marry Mary, because
her son will save his people from their sins. This he does (Mt
Mary went to visit her relative, Elizabeth, and when she arrived
confirmed to Mary what had happened (Lk 1:39
In response Mary breaks forth in prophetic response (Lk 1:46
Mary stayed on with Elizabeth
the next three months (Lk 1:56
is betrothed our equivalent to engaged to Joseph.
arrival of the angel (Supernatural Event 5) troubles her but she
is reassured. It is possible that she had heard about Zechariah's
angelic encounter and wonders what is coming.
she is told, her only concern is how this can be as she hasn't
a husband yet and the thought of having sexual relations with
Joseph before marriage was unthinkable.
when she is reassured, she assents to God's will. She thus becomes
pregnant (Supernatural Event 6).
struggles to believe but being both righteous and compassionate,
determines to divorce' (end the betrothal) Mary. But then he
has an angelic dream (Supernatural Event 7) that is so real he
does what he is told when he wakes.
used to confirm to Mary the rightness of what has happened (Supernatural
Event 8), and the Spirit of God obviously enables Mary to prophesy
(Supernatural Event 9)
conceives only by God's enabling.
events surrounding Jesus birth are as follows:
The Roman emperor required a census be taken of all his subjects
throughout his empire
One of the requirements was that everyone had to go to his own
home town to be counted. Thus Joseph had to go with Mary to his
home town, Bethlehem
Mary was just expecting Jesus and when they arrived in Bethlehem,
there were so many others there to be counted that the baby had
to be delivered in the stable of the inn (Lk 2:6,7)
often comment that the dating of the census seems difficult to
pinpoint. Someone has commented that in all other aspects Luke
is shown to be an excellent historian, and so until further details
come to light we'll simply have to trust his accuracy. It is unclear.
comes from the line of king David, and Bethlehem
David's home town. The Messiah, humanly at least, is seen to come
from the line of David a royal family.
later John the Baptist was to herald Jesus as the Lamb of God
It was fitting that a lamb was born in a stable!
Pressed by circumstances out of their control, the couple find
themselves fulfilling prophecy (see below).
The Welcoming Shepherds
events involving the shepherds are as follows:
On the hillside near Bethlehem
were looking after their sheep when an angel appeared to them
and proclaimed that the Christ had just been born in a stable
Just then a whole angelic choir appeared singing praise to God
When the angels left, the shepherds hurried down and found Jesus
as described and spread the word of what had happened. (Lk 2:15-18)
were virtually outcasts, living outside of society, looking after
sheep on the hills. God reaches down to the lowest to include
them in the celebrations.
angel explains that this is the Christ who has just arrived (Supernatural
angelic choir declares the wonder of what has just happened (Supernatural
breaks though in joy and gives lowly shepherds the honour of being
the first ones to welcome the Son of God.
events of the dedication are as follows:
Remaining at Bethlehem, eight days later Jesus was circumcised
according to Jewish Law, and given the name, Jesus (Lk 2:21).
Forty days after the birth, almost certainly staying in Bethlehem
took Jesus to the Temple
offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving (Lk 2:22
When they arrive in the Temple
are greeted by an elderly man, Simeon, who has been led by the
Spirit to be there awaiting their arrival (Lk 2:25
Simeon took the baby in his arms and prayed and prophesied over
him, and over them.
There was also an elderly widow, Anna, there who also came and
confirmed these things about the child (Lk 2:36
things become obvious here.
Mary & Joseph, as good Jews, seek to comply with the Law of
Moses at all points. Thus they:
Circumcised Jesus after 8 days (Lev 12:3)
Dedicated him after 40 days as the first born son (Ex 13:12
they would have almost certainly remained in Bethlehem
that next month, rather than travel all the way back to Nazareth
then back again.
law of hospitality would have meant that the local community would
have taken this young family in so that they would be staying
in a house and no longer the stable.
is clearly Spirit led and prophesies over them (Supernatural Event
conforming to the Law, the couple find themselves in a place of
revelation where all that has happened is confirmed and they are
reassured (in the face of what is about to happen).
Wise Men come with Gifts
events involving the 'Wise Men' are as follows:
Some time after Jesus was born, Magi from the East arrived at
Jerusalem, guided by a star, searching for one just born who was
king of the Jews (Mt 2:1,2)
Herod was upset when he heard of this and enquired of the religious
leaders who told him it was prophesied that the Messiah would
come from Bethlehem (Mt 2:3-6)
Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem
them to report back to him. They went to Jesus and presented the
family with 3 sets of gifts. Receiving a warning in a dream they
returned home avoiding Herod (Mt 2:9-12)
are possibly a priestly caste of Medes, traditionally referred
to as wise men'. The text does NOT say they were kings. It does
NOT say there were 3 we assume that from the number of gifts.
has been much speculation just how they were guided there but
whatever else, we DO know:
acknowledged Jesus' divinity by worshipping him,
provided very valuable gifts that could be sold and provide for
this family for a long time.
dream seems to have been from God (Supernatural Event 13)
strange means God provides materially for this young family.
Flight and Return
After the Magi had left, Joseph had a dream in which an angel
warned him to take his family to Egypt
the family moved to Egypt
When Herod realised the Magi had not returned he ordered that
all children in the vicinity of Bethlehem
the age of two be killed.
After Herod died (4BC) Joseph received a further dream saying
to return home but, fearing the new king, they went back to Nazareth
again directed them to ensure their safety (Supernatural Event
14) to go to Egypt
later to return home (Supernatural Event 15)
relies on Joseph's willingness to respond to dreams to protect
Did the Wise men come to Bethlehem
sometimes disagree on where Joseph, Mary & Jesus were when the Wise
Men arrived because of them coming to the house (Mt 2:11
). The suggestion
sometimes made is that the little family returned to Nazareth after
the birth and it was there that the Wise Men came and it was there that
Joseph received the dream to flee to Egypt.
following are reasons often given why it is likely that they stayed
birth and fled from there to Egypt
prophetically as the place of birth (Mt 2:5,6)
Herod sent the Wise Men (Mt 2:8)
the children were killed (Mt 2:16
The family had to stay on there for 40 days for Mary's purifying and
the baby's dedication in the Temple
6 miles away
. In that
forty days waiting, they would have almost certainly found a house in
which to stay it is possible being Joseph's home town there were distant
relatives, and as a carpenter he could have found work.
If the dream had come in Nazareth
have been more logical to be told to flee north away from Jerusalem
, rather than
go down to Egypt
to pass by the area of danger.
When they returned, it is clear that they intended to go back to Bethlehem
,22) but it
was only when they heard of Herod's son reigning (with an equally bad
reputation) that they decided to go back to Nazareth
Why does Luke omit the Egypt
Matthew's account and Luke's, where Luke (Lk 2:39
) says they
returned to Nazareth
dedication, is not difficult.
simply omitted the Egypt
it didn't feature highly in his understanding and so was simply left
out. Matthew saw it as yet another prophetic fulfilment [Matthew emphasised
the prophetic fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies as he was writing
with the Jews in mind.]
Why are there constant prophetic references in Matthew but none in Luke?
need to understand the different characteristics of the two Gospels
that have all the Nativity accounts in.
was for the Jews and therefore constantly referred everything back into
their history, especially their prophetic history. There were over 300
prophecies in the Old Testament referring to the Coming One or Messiah.
these to point out fulfilments in respect of:
birth (Mt 1:22
place of the birth (Mt 2:5,6)
being linked to Egypt
of the young boys (Mt 2:17
(Mt 2:23 )
also feature quite highly in the Old Testament, and so it is no surprise
that Matthew draws out God's use of dreams to:
to marry Mary (Mt 1:20
warn the Wise
men to avoid Herod (Mt 2:12
to go to Egypt
to return to Israel
the other hand, writes with the Greek population in mind and therefore
doesn't bother with the same Jewish links. He does explain adherence
to the Law (Lk 2:22
,23) but mostly
he seeks to show God's power and thus we find the references to the
angelic messengers (Lk 1:11
2:9) but even more to the activity of the Holy Spirit:
John to be
filled (Lk 1:15
Mary to conceive
filled (Lk 1:67)
& moved (Lk 2:25
Why did God use angels to speak to some, dreams to others and the Holy
Spirit to another?
simple answer has got to be that God knows who will respond to what
had direct angelic guidance but needed a backup sign.
the shepherds had direct angelic guidance and responded positively.
the Wise Men received dreams and responded positively.
simply prompted by the Holy Spirit and responded positively.
Nativity accounts are re-enacted year by year in schools and read year
by year in carol services, but most people ignore the incredible divinely
supernatural elements that fill these stories:
3 direct angelic
conception with a man
conception without a man
1 man guided
by the Holy Spirit
outbursts under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
we so often forget, because it challenges our intellects, was that somehow,
this little baby was the Son of God who has just come from heaven residing
in this tiny human form. It was only years later, as John the Gospel
writer reflected back on those years with the perspective of old age,
that he remembered and realised the significance of Jesus' words about
having come down from heaven (Jn 6:32,33,38,41,50,51,58)
these accounts we have seen the Son revealed:
as one who
will save his people from their sins (to Joseph Mt 1:21
as king of
the Jews (to Wise Men Mt 2:2)
as one worthy
of worship (to Wise Men Mt 2:2,11)
a ruler, a
shepherd king (through O.T. prophecy Mt 2:6)
as Son of
the Most High' (to Mary Lk 1:32
a ruler of
an eternal kingdom (to Mary Lk 1:33
as the Son
of God (to Mary Lk 1:35
as a Saviour,
the Christ (to shepherds Lk 2:11
, to Simeon
as God's salvation,
a light for the Gentiles, the glory of Israel
is no ordinary child, this baby born at Bethlehem,
this is The Son of God, The Saviour of the World.