Christmas Begins with Christ :: By Nathele Graham
We’ve made it through another year, and we are about to celebrate something wonderful. It’s up to each one of us to decide what it is we celebrate.
Stores begin putting up Christmas decorations earlier and earlier each year. They celebrate the commercial aspect of Christmas. Then, the rush to Christmas begins. Christmas gift lists get longer as our family grows. What does Grandma want? Will little Billy like a toy car? Will Susan like the doll? There are so many decisions. There are parties to attend and some to host. Everything has to be just right. Holiday baking is in full swing, with Christmas cookies, fudge, and the aroma of gingerbread in the air. Then we have to wrap the gifts. That takes time, but they are all so pretty with ribbons and bows.
What will be on the menu for Christmas dinner? Will we have a Christmas ham or a turkey? Maybe a duck or a goose. Will we just mash the potatoes or make some special side dish? How many people will be around the table?
As Christmas approaches, we become less and less cheerful as the stress begins to drain us of energy. Maybe it’s time to sit back and evaluate what exactly we are celebrating. Christmas began with the birth of our Saviour, and it seems that in all the hustle and bustle, we forget that we celebrate His birthday. Christmas begins with Christ.
Let’s take a trip back in time and think about that first Christmas so long ago. Was it on December 25? Probably not. Was it stress-free? Absolutely not. Rome ruled over the Jewish people, and their rule and taxation were very oppressive. Prophecy said that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Therefore will he give them up until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel” (Micah 5:2-3).
Young women thought about giving birth to the Messiah, and I’m sure Mary was no different. She was from the lineage of King David through his son Nathan, but she lived in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. Mary was a virgin, but did the prophecy spoken by Isaiah that a virgin would give birth really mean a virgin, or did it mean just a young woman would give birth? Everybody knows virgins can’t get pregnant, so the prophecy had to be wrong, right? Mary knew that.
“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).
Mary was a young woman, probably in her early teens, but we really can’t be sure of her exact age. Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph, also from the lineage of King David but through the royal line of Solomon. Prophecy indicated that the Messiah would come through King David.
“Now therefore so shall thou say unto my servant David, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel: and I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight, and have made thee a great name, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth. Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime, and as since the time that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel, and have caused thee to rest from all thine enemies.
“Also the LORD telleth thee that he will make thee an house. And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever” (2 Samuel 7:8-13).
That’s quite a promise God gave to King David. Not only does it confirm the Jewish claim to the land of Israel, but it also said David’s throne is eternal. These prophecies were in the process of being fulfilled, but like today, most people weren’t paying attention.
Mary and Joseph’s marriage hadn’t taken place, and Mary was a virgin, but she didn’t live in Bethlehem. It would be logical, according to man’s understanding, that Mary wasn’t the one to give birth to the Messiah. God certainly couldn’t mean what He said about a virgin birth. Or could He? Prophecy foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of a virgin, and He would bring salvation. Mary probably didn’t have any hopes of being the one chosen to give birth to the Messiah because she didn’t live in Bethlehem and would soon be married.
Signs of God moving in the lives of the people of Israel were being seen, but people just went about their daily lives. There had been a very strange event that happened to Mary’s elderly cousin Elisabeth. Elisabeth and her husband Zacharias hadn’t had any children. While Zacharias was performing his priestly duties of burning incense, he went into the temple of the Lord, and an astonishing thing happened.
“And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense” (Luke 1:11).
Zacharias was afraid, but the angel, named Gabriel, told him that Elisabeth was going to give birth to a son and they should name him John. Miracles were happening, so sometime later, when that same angel paid Mary a visit, she wasn’t quite as surprised as Zacharias.
Mary was just living her life as she always had. Probably preparing herself for married life, dreaming of the day when her bridegroom, Joseph, would come to claim his bride. What a day that would be! Joseph had been preparing a place for them to live and preparing himself to be a husband to Mary and a father to all the children they would have together. A visit from Gabriel would change their plans and cause them to look to God for guidance.
“And the angel came in unto her and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28).
That’s quite a greeting! Mary was surprised by what he said but listened to what he had to say.
“And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).
Mary was a special young lady and didn’t hesitate. Her only question was about how it would happen because she wasn’t married. There would be no human man involved in this.
“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God…. For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:35 & 37).
That’s something to remember when we study prophecy. What’s impossible for humans isn’t impossible for God. When God says something will happen, it will happen just like He says.
Scripture doesn’t tell us everything that happened in Mary’s life, but we can imagine how her parents might have reacted. Unwed mothers weren’t accepted. Was she shunned by the people of Nazareth? Mary did leave to go visit Elisabeth and Zacharias, who were well aware of God’s miraculous works. Mary had the assurance that God was with her, but her life was drastically changed. Her story about the angel and that she hadn’t been with any man was hard to believe. Then there was Joseph’s reaction. She was going to have a baby that wasn’t his. He decided to quietly break their engagement. It wasn’t an easy decision.
“But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-22).
The events leading up to that first Christmas were quite upsetting. Things would get even more upsetting. Mary didn’t have a huge dinner planned, and there were no parties to attend, but she was carrying the most precious gift ever given: Jesus Christ, our Lord.
What about the prophecy of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem? All of these events took place in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. God can use non-believers to fulfill His prophecies. Israel was under the rule of Rome, and Caesar Augustus proclaimed that all the world should be taxed.
“And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child” (Luke 2:3-5).
What an ordeal that trip must have been. I’m sure Joseph felt very protective of Mary and the child she was carrying. People had come from far and wide to pay their taxes, so lodging was difficult to find. In fact, Joseph and Mary couldn’t find a room at the local inn.
“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).
That’s when the visitors began to arrive. An angel made the most astounding announcement to some shepherds watching their flocks that night.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:8-14).
The shepherds did go and find the babe in the manger. And so, Christmas began. Christ was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, just as God had foretold! Because of Christ, the entire world has been blessed. He was called Emmanuel, which means God with us. His official name was Jesus, meaning “Jehovah is salvation.” He is the Christ, the “anointed,” the Messiah.
In modern times, we’ve turned Christmas into a very worldly celebration. This year, remember, Christmas begins with Christ.
God bless you all,
Recommended prophecy sites:
All original scripture is “theopneustos,” God-breathed.
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“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee” (Psalm 122:6).