Celebrating the Birth of Christ
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Lk 2:14
The greatest event in history was the coming to earth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and, it was divinely accomplished according to God’s plan and perfect will. God the Father, out of infinite love and grace, sent his Son Jesus Christ to fulfill His plan to reconcile mankind to Himself. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, was proclaimed by the Spirit in ancient biblical oracles and prophecies and His miraculous coming was heralded by angels’ songs of joy and celestial signs of wonders. The first and only virgin birth continues to be proclaimed throughout the world; nothing would ever be the same again—God made flesh in the Child Jesus, our Savior. Over 2000 years later, we still celebrate this miraculous event of hope and joy that has come to be known as Christmas.
The Old Testament contains some three hundred prophecies of the coming Messiah. The probability of all these being fulfilled in one person as merely coincidence is beyond comprehension and, for all practical purposes, mathematically impossible. All of these ancient prophecies were fulfilled in the one person of Jesus Christ, and they provide solid confirmation for: His credentials as Messiah, His claims as the Son of God and Savior, His unique life in comparison to all the other religious leaders of the world, and our hope and confidence that truly Christ alone is the one to whom we must look for salvation and meaning in life.
This Christmas, let’s journey back in ancient time to reflect more fully on God’s purposeful word of providence that caused and guided this historical and divine event—God’s greatest gift to mankind. We begin with the Book of Genesis where God spoke out in oracle against the original sin of Adam, then to oracles and prophecies of the Old Testament, and finally to the Good News of the Gospel. As we do so, it is fitting that we give thanks and praise to our Sovereign God and Father for His blessing to us of the wondrous birth of Our Holy Redeemer, Jesus Christ our King. Scripture will guide us in our journey to Christmas.
God’s Oracle of the Coming of Christ Jesus.
"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Genesis 3:151
This prophecy, known as the Protevangelium, was written by Moses and is the oracle that the Lord pronounced when He found our first parents, Adam and Eve, guilty of sin. Our Redeemer would not be a man's seed; a virgin would miraculously conceive the Christ Child, so that He would be free of sin. The woman's seed has been proclaimed from the dawning of time as the coming victor over Satan. Jesus, the Messiah would someday crush Satan from His Cross.
Balaam’s Fourth Oracle
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob…" Num. 24:17
This prophecy written by Moses some 1400 years before Christ, tells of the coming Messiah. God’s purposeful word spoken to Balaam by an angel caused that sorcerer to bless Israel’s camp rather than curse it, much to the chagrin of King Balak. In Balaam’s oracle, the coming Christ Jesus is prophetically called a Star and a Scepter; He is glorious like a star, and has all authority to rule, as pictured by a scepter. This prophecy probably convinced the Magi of the East to travel hundreds of miles to worship the Child of God. Mt 2:2
Over seven hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah enlarged upon the Protevangelium.
"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14
The name Immanuel means, "God with us." Isaiah is appending to Genesis 3:15 the information that the virgin-born conqueror of Satan would be God Himself in the flesh.
"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, and The Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6
Note: God’s immeasurable and loving gift of Christ to a world undeserving of peace is One with the everlasting Father. God Incarnate in the Christ Child. Only Christianity can make that claim of their King!
More than a hundred years after Isaiah, the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah uttered another prophecy of Christ's virgin birth.
"How long wilt thou go about, O thou backsliding daughter? For the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth, a woman shall compass a man." (Jer. 31:22 KJV)
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land." (Jer. 23:5)
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14)
Virgin” is the Hebrew, `alma, which means “a mature, young, unmarried, and chaste woman.” `Alma . . . represents a young woman, one of whose characteristics is virginity. Immanuel” is not a name, an appellation; it was instead a designation, a title or a description of who this Child would be--God with us in the flesh, both God and man.
"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:1-2, 6)
The single Old Testament prophecy that specifies the birthplace of Jesus appears in a Messianic vision of Micah, a prophet who lived in the eighth century B.C.
"But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times." (Mic. 5:2)
Daniel’s “Seventy Sevens speaks of the Messiah, observing that His death would come at the end of 69 weeks. (Dan. 9:25-26)
"Then take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest; and speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD: Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both." (Zec. 6:11-13 KJV)
Zechariah was a prophet active shortly after the people of Judah returned from exile in Babylon and reestablished regular worship at Jerusalem. In one of the visions recorded in the Book of Zechariah, the Lord instructed the prophet to take crowns and set them on the head of the high priest at that time, a man named Joshua. The words of the Lord on this occasion connect Joshua the high priest with the figure known in prophecy as the Branch. Who is the Branch? He is the coming Christ.
Angelic and Spiritual Proclamations
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” …Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. “ ..the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will over shadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:28-32, 35)
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lukk 1:41-43)
Mary’s response to her cousin Elizabeth is a song often called the Magnificat, in which she glorified God for what he was going to do for the world through her. Lk 1:46-55 Her praise is personal;her soul and spirit offer praise with words to acknowledge his goodness and bring the world's attention to him. (Ps 34:3; 69:30). She approaches him recognizing her humble state as his servant and thus acknowledging him as sovereign Master...His name will be greatest in all the world. (see also v. 38; 2 Kings 14:26; Ps 9:11-14; 25:16-18). Yet though she addresses God as the Mighty One (Deut 10:21; 34:11; Ps 44:4-8; 89:8-10; 111:2, 9; Zeph 3:17), she knows that she has nothing to fear from his power, because He also is her Savior (Ps 25:5-6; Is 12:2; Mic 7:7). All these titles reveal Mary's humble spirit and gratitude. God owes her nothing; she owes God everything. From His hands come all acts of grace.2
Zechariah, immediately upon naming his son John (The Baptist) was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied of the coming Messiah, the Child Jesus. What followed was to be called the Benedictus: Zechariah’s song of praise to God which also proclaimed the later ministry of John the Baptist. “…for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him…” (Luke 1:67-79)
The legacy of the angelic proclamation of Christ the Infant lives in us today. For many years now, people all over the world have sung songs of the Christmas such as “Silent Night” and “O Little Start of Bethlehem,” and “Gloria in Excelis Deo.” We celebrate the Christmas Season with this beautiful music that proclaims the Christ Child and fills our homes and shopping malls with sounds of joy and expectation. Men and women imprisoned behind steel and concrete also sing these glorious songs of praise; some in deep reverence of their King and others, unknowingly, whose hearts are yearning for comfort that comes only from the Christ Child. It is awesome to think that those songs of proclamation also fill the minds of non-believers and skeptics around the world; their glorious words and melodies are almost inescapable! Perhaps Christians should pray that the malls and shopping centers would be constantly filled with non-believers being bathed in the sweet sounds of Christmas. Could it be that the Holy Spirit is at work? After all, it’s His job to point us to Jesus! “O Holy Night!”
But let us return to our journey: Just imagine the cold, dark, star-filled night of Bethlehem. Dim candlelight was seen here and there in the windows of homes, taverns and inns. Oil lamps, scarcely used by street vendors who sold goods to visitors the like of Joseph and Mary had already been extinguished. Travelers, merchants and animals were bedded down for the night; the Roman-ruled world was a rest. At some early hour, the Holy Child’s cry for life’s first breath broke the silence of His manger; life's most precious breath that forever changed the world.
“and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.” (Luke 2:7)
Joseph and Mary must have gazed in great wonder at the holy infant. We are left to imagine their first look of inexpressible joy and their humble words spoken quietly to their God as they held Him in their arms. Our God, made flesh with infant eyes not yet able to see their faces, was responsive to their warm touch and the familiar sounds of their voices. The Christ Child was encountering the first two humans on planet earth! Just imagine the inexpressible warmth of the Child God that filled their hearts. Mary surely sang an infant’s lullaby to our King. Joseph and Mary made our Lord secure in the manger as best they could. They would have wanted a better birthplace for Jesus but our Lord’s presence among them in that simple manger overshadowed their concern for the place of His humble beginning. All of heaven looked down on two humans bonding with Creator of mankind, and unseen angels stood nearby, silently watching over the holy family. As Mary laid their God to sleep in a bed of hay, there came a sudden awakening to shepherds in nearby fields; a heavenly messenger was at work.
"An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in the cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:9-12)
"Suddenly a great accompany of heavenly hosts appeared with the angel, praising God and saying “Gloria to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14) Today, this is known as the song “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (Latin for "Glory to God in the highest")
At this angelic proclamation, the lowly shepherds eagerly rose and went to worship the Child of God. These humble men of the field gazed in awe upon the Christ Child who had come to dwell in humble hearts. “An angel sent us here to see your child,” they said. "We heard the angels singing just for him. Could you tell us what the angel meant when he called the baby a Savior?” Perhaps they also said, “We could spare a lamb to keep him warm.” And Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Lk 2:19
"He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him." (John 1:11) “That there was no room for Jesus in the Inn was symbolic of what was to happen to Jesus. The only place where there was room for Him was on the cross.” (Author unknown)
Why was Bethlehem the birthplace of our King? It was at Bethlehem that Ruth (a Moabite of Gentile blood), the daughter-in law of Naomi, gleaned in the fields of Boaz; it was there that Boaz looked upon her, and she bowed herself before her lord; it was there the Lord blessed their marriage and Boaz became the father of Obed, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David, king of Israel and Judah. Jesus was born in the year of Caesar Augustus, who by his whim and decree, yet by the divine will of God, caused Joseph and Mary to “…travel to Bethlehem to register Mary, who was pledged to be married to him, and was expecting a child” (Lk 2:5) because Joseph belonged to the house of David." And there, in the town of David, crowded with travelers paying taxes, they found shelter only in a manger. And in that simple manger, fourteen generations after the Jewish Exile from Egypt, Almighty God in the body of the Christ Child was born in the birthplace of kings. Faith was born in Bethlehem.
The word Bethlehem has two significant meanings, “the house of bread” Jesus is the Bread of Life! The Word Ephratah means “fruitfulness” or “Abundance”; for whence cometh my fruitfulness and any fruitfulness, my brother, but from Bethlehem? Our poor barren hearts ne'er produced one fruit, or flower, till they were watered with the Saviour’s blood.3
“On the eight day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.” (Luke 2:21)
Joseph and Mary took the baby Jesus to the Temple, where they encountered two people who were led by the Holy Spirit. The first, Simeon and old man, prophesied that Jesus would have a profound effect on Israel; some would rise and some would fall because of Him. See Isa. 8:14-15 and Mal. 4:2 Simeon also foretold Mary’s future agony at the suffering of her son, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Lk 2:35 (His prophecy spoke of the 1st Advent and 2nd Advent of Christ. Likewise, Anna, a prophetess about 100 years old, spoke of the child Jesus to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Lk 2:38
There came a celestial sign.
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob;” (Num.24:7)
They had traveled by camel caravan several hundred miles to worship the Child Jesus, guided to Bethlehem by a supernatural celestial phenomenon foretold in the Scriptures. These were the three Magi, wise men who advised kings, and would have understood the meaning of God’s word. Thus they followed the bright star in the east that “…went before them until it stopped over the place where the child was.” Mt 2:9 The boy Jesus was then about two years of age.
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasurers and presented him with gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.”
These were gifts symbolic of Christ’s identity and what he would accomplish: gold was a gift for a king; incense, a gift for deity; and myrrh, a spice for a person who was going to die. Did Mary allow young Jesus to touch these gifts or to be held by the strange visitors? Did Jesus gaze through young eyes and point with curiosity at the entourage of soldiers riding camels that accompanied these wise men? What might Mary and Joseph have told them about our Lord, and what message of hope did the Magi spread to others as they traveled their long way home? The ancient Scriptures would never be the same to them again. They had seen prophecy of their King fulfilled.
Ironically, the theologians and scribes of Herod’s court did not believe the Scriptures. Herod did, that’s why, when the Magi failed to return to the king with information of the whereabouts of the Child Jesus, he sent butchers to Bethlehem to slaughter young males, in hopes of destroying Christ’s throne.4
Our journey to Christmas, to the Infant God ends here, as it does in Scripture. This season, let’s truly celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings. Amidst the noise and chatter of our busy days of celebration, we should remember that Our Savior came to the hearts of humility; to the broken hearts and low in spirit who would receive him. He came in divine, incomprehensible love for the redemption of our souls; for the glory of God the Father. The Christ Child grew to complete His ministry; His obedient and selfless work of soul-saving grace upon the cross to reconcile mankind to God. When we put Christmas into this perspective, is simply doesn’t matter what our personal station in life happens to be. Rich or poor, healthy or ill, free or imprisoned, we can and should enjoy the spirit of Christmas for its true meaning. It’s all about Him!
He was born in a manger and the world has no place for him. Will we find room for Jesus? That’s all he asks, room to dwell. Our emptiness, our nothingness, our lack of goodness, our lack of grace—all these will be room for Him. It is a splendid act of Divine grace, that He should take us, who were heirs of wrath, and make us heirs of God. This Christmas, may we let Christ in to clean out the mangers of our hearts— to make room for Him to dwell in us richly, in the Spirit and through the word of God— to change us so that we desire an ever deeper and lasting relationship with our King.5 God's greatest gift to mankind came at Christmas.
(© 2010 John Miller – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)
1 Bible verses are from the Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan, unless otherwise noted.
2 Mary's Hymn of Praise: Magnificat, BibleGateway.com
3 C.H. Spurgeon, “Christ’s Incarnation, the Foundation of Christianity”, Google Search, Internet
4 Daniel B. Wallace , Th.M., Ph.D., The Birth of Jesus Christ, www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=656
5 Credit in large part to: C.H. Spurgeon, “Christ’s Incarnation, the Foundation of Christianity”