Christmas purchases account for 1/6 of all retail sales in the US. (1) Alabama was the first state in the US to officially recognize Christmas in 1836. (2) It became an official holiday in the US on June 26, 1870. (3) Each year, people in the US alone send more than 3 Billion Christmas cards. (4)
The United States enjoys a rich tradition of Christmas celebrations. During recent years, however, they have come under increasing abuse. Anti-religious assaults against public, religious, Christmas displays compel governments to remove them from public property.
Schools, once the supporter of Christmas pageants and music, now replace them with “Winter” programs. Even stores and restaurants avoid religious Christmas music and displays in deference to the small, yet vocal anti-religious emphasis.
Christians and those supportive of a Christian prominence for this special season endure the intolerance of the insistent minority. Tolerance walks a one-way street.
However, a quick survey of Biblical history boosts the spirits of those who desire the religious celebration of Christmas.
Jesus Preexisted Christmas.
Jesus did not start life at His birth in Bethlehem. Christ as the Son of God the Father exists from eternity past. Jesus existed prior to creation of the heavens and the earth. (5) In fact, Christ created all things. (6) In His preexistence, Jesus shared equality with God, being in the form of God. (7)
In truth, Christ began His physical life on earth at His birth in Bethlehem. Thus, He became a unique person, fully God and fully man. (8)
Jesus Humbled Himself To Become A Human Person.
Christ did not count it robbery to own the form of God prior to His physical birth. The Apostle Paul described it this way. (9) Therefore, for Jesus to experience humanity, he humbled Himself and took on the form of a man. (10)
Humans view themselves as superior to all creation. Yet, God transcends all of His creation. Jesus served as the One who did the creating, and surpasses it. Therefore, to become human, He humbled Himself from His exalted position with God.
Jesus Came As A Human, Sent By His Father.
Jesus came to earth to fulfill a mission from His heavenly Father. That mission included all of the activities of Christ’s life:
obedience to the Father;
His death on the cross on behalf of sinners like you and me;
His resurrection from the dead; and
His ascension into the presence of the Father.
In agreement with Jesus when the Father sent Him, the Father gave to Jesus a people to whom Jesus would manifest Himself and give to them eternal life. (11)
Joseph And Mary Get Engaged To Marry.
Before her pregnancy, Mary became betrothed to Joseph. (12)
The engagements to marry in the US do not copy the kind of engagement between Mary and Joseph. Couples in our day can and do dissolve their engagements.
Mary and Joseph’s betrothal became a legally binding agreement between them. Men and women in that day became betrothed when they were engaged to be married. This usually took place a year or more before marriage. From the time of betrothal, the woman was regarded as the lawful wife of the man to whom she was betrothed. (13)
This binding agreement caused Joseph to consider a divorce from Mary when he learned of her pregnancy. But, God intervened. (See Christmas Messages 8.)
God’s Announcement To Mary.
After her engagement to Joseph, the angel Gabriel visited Mary. He told her of God’s choice of her to become the mother of the Son of God, the long promised Messiah. He announced to her that the Holy Spirit would conceive the child in her womb without human impregnation. Mary accepted the will of God for her. (14)
Space does not permit an examination of the mysteries inherent in this visitation:
absence of human impregnation;
Son of God…
The list is endless…use your imagination.
Too often, Christ followers diminish Mary, perhaps because of some religious emphases that distort her beyond the Biblical record. None the less, she stands as one magnificent woman.
Mary Visits Her Cousin, Elizabeth.
With whom could Mary share such mysterious happenings in her life? The angel told her of God’s intervention in her cousin Elizabeth’s life, conception of a child in old age. (15)
With great haste, Mary left her home town and went to see Elizabeth. When Mary entered her cousin’s home, the child within Elizabeth, now 6 months pregnant, leaped. At that time, the Holy Spirit revealed to Elizabeth the presence and significance of Mary’s pregnancy. She extoled God and His goodness. (16)
Again, imagine the chatter between them…dreams? fears?
Mary Returned To Her Hometown.
Now, more than 3 months pregnant, Mary returned to Nazareth, her hometown. (17) What would she face? Obviously pregnant, how could she explain it? How would Joseph react? Her parents? The religious rulers? The crowds? Shame and death by stoning?
Mary prevailed as one brave, trusting woman, often lost in the hoopla of Christmas celebrations.
An Angel Of The Lord Appeared To Joseph, Mary’s Betrothed Husband.
Before Joseph and Mary consummated their engagement in marriage, Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy. (18) We presume that Mary told him of the miraculous nature of her condition. The Bible does not reveal that conversation.
However, Joseph determined to divorce Mary quietly, without any public condemnation. According to the Law, Mary could have faced stoning to death for her “illegitimate” pregnancy. But, Joseph, an honorable man, avoided that process on her behalf.
At that time, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph. (19) The angel told him that the conception of Mary’s child came from the Holy Spirit. The angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife. Further, the angel described to him the nature of the child, the Messiah, the Savior Who would save His people from their sins. The angel commanded Joseph to name the child, Jesus.
Now, Joseph’s turn for mystery…shared shame with Mary? Messiah? Virgin conception? Like his spouse, Joseph exhibited great obedience and faith in taking Mary as his wife.
Mary Delivered Her First Born Son, Jesus.
Mary gave birth to the promised son in the most unlikely of circumstances:
at least 80 miles travel from home;
no parental, friends, or family presence to aid in the delivery;
crude, rustic surroundings. (20)
Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to comply with Rome’s edict to register for taxes in the city of Joseph’s family. How did they travel? Camel? Donkey? Animal drawn wagon? Walk?
We do not know how they traveled. But, we do know that when they got to Bethlehem, they found no room in the inn. Ah, the inn. What was that?
In that day, cities built circular buildings, an inn, along the common highways. As travelers progressed along the highway and needed a place to rest, they used the inn.
Inside of the inn, stalls circled the outside walls, accessed from the open space in the middle of the inn which provided an area for animals, feed, etc. The inn had an exterior stall, called a manger, attached to it on the outside of it. This exterior stall stored the straw and other items for use in the inn.
When Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, they found the inn full, but the manger available. There, they took refuge and found a place for Mary to give birth the Jesus, her Son.
Again, the mysteries…help from the other visitors in the inn? Pain? Joy? Wonder? Provisions? Use your imagination. We do not know.
Shepherds Adored Jesus.
After Jesus’ birth, night or daytime?, angels announced His birth to shepherds who watched their flocks by night. (21) The announcement described the nature of the new born child: a Savior Who is Christ the Lord.
A chorus of angels joined in the proclamation with praises to God for His provision. The angel told the shepherds how to locate this unique child and identify Him.
They hastened to the inn and found the child as told to them. They recounted to Joseph and Mary the angels’ message. The shepherds returned to the countryside, praising God for what He had shown to them.
A popular Christmas song, “Mary, Did You Know?”, offers some ideas on what she could not have known. (22) Mary pondered the events of that unique day…birth, manger, shepherds, angels…My oh my. What did she think?
Despite the world’s attempts to abuse and reject Christmas celebrations, no one can remove from history the world changing events in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. Take refuge in the truth.
As you ponder these Christmas Messages, let their realities sink into your thoughts. Let them bring their life changing effects to you: joy to your heart and praise to God for His wonderful provision for people like you and for all who trust them.
- Gulevich, Tanya. 2000. Encyclopedia of Christmas. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, Inc.
- Collins, Ace. 2003. Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Gulevich, Ibid.
- John 1.1, 14; 17.5.
- Philippians 2.5-8.
- Colossians 1.19.
- Philippians 2.5-6.
- John 17.1-26.
- Matthew 1.18.
- WORDsearch Bible Software v. 11. Easton’s Bible Dictionary, “Betroth.”
- Luke 1.26-38.
- Luke 1.36-37.
- Luke 1.39-45.
- Luke 1.56.
- Matthew 1.18-19.
- Matthew 1.20-21.
- Matthew 2.1; Luke 2.1-7.
- Luke 2.8-16.
- Lowry, Mark. “Mary, Did You Know?”