Many of us will take time over the next few days to celebrate the birth of a child. A child we believe became a savior to the world.
The scene of this birth has become so familiar to us. It is a couple with a newborn, surrounded by shepherds, wise men and angels. The scene also typically includes some animals and a bright star.
While our Nativity scenes are not really biblically correct (the wise men probably didn’t come until a good time after the birth, among other inaccuracies), it is the most common way people visualize the birth of Jesus Christ.
With the familiarity of the Nativity, we probably don’t think very often about how scandalous this particular birth would have been.
The child’s young mother (probably a teenager) was unwed at the time of conception — a situation that could have led to her being stoned to death. Then she had this crazy story that it was God’s baby that I’m sure most people didn’t believe. If this had happened today, the poor girl would have probably been kicked out of her Christian high school and labeled with some pretty terrible names.
Joseph, the man with whom the young girl is engaged, could have broken off the engagement, but he didn’t — he joined her in her shame. I’m sure family and friends didn’t speak too highly of him either.
The couple had to travel to Bethlehem for a census. Bethlehem is a small town just south of Jerusalem. When it was time for the birth, the couple could not find a proper room and were forced to seek shelter in a stable. It wouldn’t have been the surroundings expected for the birth of a king. The actual stable probably didn’t look much like what we see in Nativity scenes. It wasn’t a nice, wooden structure. It was a cave, filled with animals. Imagine that smell.
Once the baby arrived, his first visitors were shepherds. Sheep aren’t the cleanest animals in the world, and these guys came straight from the fields. They were probably sweaty and stinky when they arrived on the scene. By the old Jewish law, shepherds would have been considered unclean because they had daily contact with animal carcasses. Having the shepherds as the first people to visit the Christ child would have been like a group of Hell’s Angels showing up at a hospital to congratulate a new set of parents.
The Magi, a group of foreigners, also showed up with gifts for the baby at some point. That’s another unlikely group to enter into the story.
Everything about this baby’s birth was strange. It is all sort of scandalous, and it is so weird that I can’t help but think it had to be true.
Another account associated with Jesus’ birth is typically overlooked during the Christmas season. The massacre of the innocents was mentioned in Matthew’s gospel. It was the event that saw Herod the Great order the execution of all the young male children in Bethlehem. With the events of the last week, passing over this subject shouldn’t be an option this year. While we don’t know the number of children killed in this event, historians have suggested it could have been between six and 20, based on Bethlehem’s estimated population at the time.
Was it a part of God’s master plan for these children to die? That’s a question that believers should wrestle with, because it is a question that can even be asked today about the tragic killings in Connecticut. My personal thoughts are that neither event were God’s doing or a part of his plan. A sick/evil person committed terrible atrocities in each case. In the case of Herod, he was a power hungry dictator who was paranoid the newborn “King of the Jews” could be a threat to his throne.
When Jesus was born, it was God’s way of reaching down from heaven to provide a rescue for us all. His humble start showed he was a king for everyone from the lowest shepherd to the most hypocritical Pharisee. I’m thankful on this Christmas that he came for me.
Here is one of the biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth:
Luke 2: 1-20 (The Message)
About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.
While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.
There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!
James Phillips is Editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at 205-221-2840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.