There have been many important births since the dawn of humanity. Consider the births of the scientists who have given us things that make life easier. There have been researchers who have discovered treatments and cures for diseases and ailments. Great humanitarians who, through their tireless efforts, have eased the pain of many and helped them live productive lives. The births of those who grew up to be preachers and missionaries have blessed those to whom they have ministered. However, one birth stands far above the rest. It is the most important birth there ever was or ever will be. It is the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Word became flesh (John 1:1-18)
Jesus’ coming in flesh as a man is called the ‘incarnation’, a word that means ‘in the flesh’. The clear record of the Bible tells us that Jesus is God in human form. First, we must remember that Jesus existed prior to His incarnation, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1-3, 14 ESV, cf. Colossians 1:15-17).
In one of Jesus’ prayers, He prays, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5 ESV). Clearly, Jesus did not begin His existence when He appeared as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. He had already existed from eternity past.
Date of Jesus’ birth: c. 6 or 5 BC
Briefly, historians say the birth of Jesus occurred around 6 or 5 BC. The Bible tells us that Jesus was born in the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus’ birth took place at the time in history God chose. He had promised humanity a Savior in Genesis (3:15); and then set about to prepare humanity for the Savior’s arrival. God’s providence had arranged everything to culminate in the birth of the Savior in that stable on that night. The birth of the One who would give His life to pay for our sins.
Gabriel visits Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
Luke 1:26-38 tells us the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. This must have been quite unnerving for Mary, a visit from a heavenly being telling her that she, a virgin, has been chosen to give birth to the Savior of the world. Mary was initially frightened until Gabriel told her that she had found favor with God. Gabriel explained to her that she would conceive a child by the power of the Holy Spirit. Believers rightly celebrate Jesus’ birth, but it was actually a normal birth; if being born in a stable can be called normal, that is. However, His conception was a one-time event that was unique in all of history.
The angel told Mary a few things about her soon-to-be-son:
- He was to be called “Jesus” (1:31);
- He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High (1:32);
- God will give Him the throne of David (1:32);
- there will be no end to His kingdom (1:33);
- He will be called Holy-the Son of God (1:35).
Gabriel assured Mary these things would surely take place because, “…nothing will be impossible with God” (1:37 ESV). Mary and the angel ended their conversation with Mary humbling herself to the will of God.
Angel visits Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:18-25)
At this time, Joseph and Mary were engaged to be married. In their culture, when a man and woman were engaged it was very much as if they were married, only without sexual relations. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he decided that he should divorce her without any publicity. Joseph was probably very confused about the situation. He believed he was marrying a virgin, and now he discovers that she is pregnant. People would think that Mary had been unfaithful to her spouse already. Still Joseph could have made a public spectacle of Mary, disgrace her publicly in order to preserve his pride. However, apparently, Joseph was a better man and decided to divorce Mary quietly.
However, God had other plans for Joseph. In Matthew 1:18-25, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream reassuring him that Mary’s pregnancy was a gift from God and that Joseph should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Once again, the angel included in its message that the baby’s name was to be “…Jesus, for he will save his people form their sins” (1:21 ESV). The name ‘Jesus’ is the Greek form of a Hebrew word meaning “Jehovah [God] will save”. Even the name God gave Jesus testified to His mission in life. Believing the Word from God, Joseph took Mary as his wife.
Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7)
Caesar Augustus called for a census to be taken of all those dwelling in his realm. Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, but were required by the Roman government to make the trip to Bethlehem in order to register in the census. The census was taken in order to assess the population for tax purposes. Thus, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, even though his parents’ home was in Nazareth. This fulfilled the prophecy of His birth found in Micah 5:2.
Since this was the time of the census, the city of Bethlehem would be brimming with out-of-towners. For whatever reason, Joseph and Mary could find no suitable accommodations. Then, the time came for Jesus to be born. Apparently, Joseph and Mary searched for some place that she could deliver a baby in relative privacy. Most believe that place was a stable, because the Bible says the baby Jesus was placed in a manger, which is a feeding trough for animals, at His birth.
I am purposefully avoiding too much theological pondering in this article. I want to focus on what it would have been like that night with Joseph and Mary. They had traveled roughly 70 miles from their hometown in order to participate in this census. However, that was just what was taking place on the outside. Their spirits must have been soaring, knowing what the angels had told them, knowing the time was near for Mary to give birth to God’s Son, knowing that they had been chosen to participate in this incredible plan of God’s to save mankind from sin. The hardships of the journey, and their lack of better accommodations, could hardly have made a dent in the overwhelming joy they must have been experiencing. It just seems reasonable that a loving God would bless their experience in a most powerful way. This was God coming into the world in human flesh. I cannot help picture the entire event as something blessed by God in a way that is unique to that particular time and place. What an incredible story. Truly, the greatest story ever told.
The Christmas story of Jesus’ birth has always been special to me. The warmth I feel in my heart at Christmas time is more than the hot chocolate, or the Christmas tree lights at night, or any of the other fond memories I have of the holiday season. It feels like God spreads His love on humanity a little thicker during the Christmas season. It is as if He is reminding us that the gift of His Son, that He gave us so many years ago, should convince us of His love for us. A love that we should all seek to emulate and share with others.
Christmas should be a celebration of the birth of the Savior. It is my prayer that, this Christmas season, Christians will lovingly and prayerfully take the lead in turning the holidays back into a time of reflection on, and worship of, Jesus Christ.
“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17 ESV).
Interested in reading more about Jesus and Christmas? Check out these articles:
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV)