IN 2-3 BC,1 in the rural town of Bethlehem, eight kilometres southwest of Jerusalem, God fulfilled His promise. If you’d like to read the story in the Bible, you’ll find it in the gospels of Matthew and Luke (click on these links to go there). Matthew’s telling of the story is short and to the point; Luke provides a greater amount of detail.
Here’s a highlights package with a few reflections along the way:
- Mary’s surprise visit from an angel: The prophecy given to David a thousand years earlier was about to be fulfilled: the Son of David and Son of God was coming! He was to be named yēshūa’ (Jesus), a contemporary form of Joshua—exactly in line with Zechariah’s vision. And, as prophesied by Isaiah, He would be born to a virgin—the sign of Immanuel. Notice how quickly Mary surrendered to God’s will despite the possibility that she would be treated as an adulterer.2
- Mary’s excited visit to her elderly relative Elizabeth: How about the reactions of Elizabeth and her unborn child to Mary’s unexpected greeting?
- Mary’s song: A heartfelt celebration from a young mum-to-be of God’s rich blessing upon her, together with a commentary on God’s way of working: He lays low the proud and uplifts the poor. Her words were on track with Isaiah’s prediction that the Son of David would deliver justice to the earth’s poor (Isaiah 11:4).
- The birth of Jesus: Jesus was born in Bethlehem, precisely as Micah had predicted. How humble were the circumstances into which the Son of God came? Born in an animal compound. Wrapped in pieces of cloth. Placed in an animals’ feeding box. What was God saying about His own humility and His empathy for the poor?
- God’s angelic birth announcement to some unlikely shepherds: The news that ‘a Saviour has been born to you’ (Luke 2:11) was consistent with the meaning of Jesus’ name, ‘The LORD is salvation.’ Imagine being graced with a special performance like that! How delightful were the words sung by the company of angels? What was God saying about Himself that He had chosen to give a personal birth announcement to some low-class nomads commonly regarded as unclean?
- Simeon’s prophecy in the temple: Look for a clue that Joseph and Mary were poor.3 Also notice the wonderful, yet ominous, quality of Simeon’s words.
- Jesus is visited by some wise men (magi) from afar: What was God saying about Himself that He had spoken to some far-off people from another religion by means of a sign in the cosmos—one that they could understand? How excited these men must have been at the prospect of seeing with their own eyes the Messiah, ‘the one who has been born king of the Jews.’ Allow yourself to be moved by their humble worship and their precious gifts. Do you know what these gifts signified?4
The ancient prophecies about Jesus’ birth had all come to fruition. The King that the Israelites had rejected was with them to save them. They had wanted a human king, and now, as never before, they had one. His splendour and power were well hidden, but don’t be fooled; they were shining brightly beneath the cloak of His ordinary humanity. ‘Father,’ He would one day pray, ‘glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began’ (John 17:5; see also John 8:58). And when asked, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ (Mark 14:61-62), He would reply, ‘I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’ (Mark 14:61-62).
In adulthood, Jesus fulfilled all the other prophecies previously mentioned:
- He crushed the serpent’s head. On the night before Jesus died for the sins of the human race, He said: ‘Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world [Satan] will be driven out’ (John 12:31; see also 1 John 3:8; Revelation 12:10; 20:10). He then died a death that the apostle Paul would describe as a triumph over ‘the powers and authorities’ (Colossians 2:15)—a reference to Satan and his evil angels.
- He gathered, taught and fed His followers like a shepherd (Matthew 9:36; 14:19-20; 23:37). Jesus declared Himself to be ‘the Good Shepherd … [who] lays down His life for the sheep … I know My sheep and My sheep know me’ (John 10:11,14; see also Matthew 25:32).
- He saved many people from their sins (Matthew 10:22; 19:25-26; John 3:16-17; 4:42). Jesus described His mission this way: ‘The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10). Later, He paid the full debt of our sins to rescue us back to God.5
- He was (and is) our High Priest. Jesus is depicted in Scripture as ‘a great high priest who has ascended into heaven’ (Hebrews 4:14). He became our brother, identified with us as sinners, destroyed our sin and our broken humanity, created a new humanity that we can share in, and entered the holy inner sanctuary where He now ‘lives to intercede for us’ (Hebrews 7:25) as our human representative.
- He is building God’s temple today. Scripture presents the church as a temple of ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:5) that is being built by none other than Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18). Whoever wants to find God need only go to where He lives—right in the midst of His faithful Christian community.
But let’s not be in too much of a hurry this Christmas to take Jesus out of the manger. Let’s just appreciate the wonder of who He is. Draw near to this little child and hear His shallow, rapid breaths. Touch the palm of His perfect little hand and let Him wrap His tiny fingers and thumb around your index finger. Look into His as-yet-uncomprehending eyes and know that they have since closed in death for your sake, and in eternity will look into your eyes and love you. He has come for you. He has come for us all. He is God with us, in this age and in the age to come.
The jolly old fellow in the red suit is looking a little shabby, don’t you think?
- The year of Jesus’ birth was calculated by Dionysius Exiguus, a Roman monk and mathematician, in AD 525. Our calendar was then formulated with Christ’s supposed birth year as 1 BC. Later, however, it was discovered that Dionysius had made an error of 1-2 years. Sadly, our calendar couldn’t be corrected. Jesus’ most likely birth year was therefore 2 or 3 BC.
- The Seventh of the Ten Commandments forbade adultery (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18). Suspected adulterers were deemed to be in disgrace. According to the Law of Moses, anyone found guilty of this offence was to be put to death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22-24), a sentence most often carried out by stoning (see John 8:3-5).
- When Joseph and Mary went to the temple in Jerusalem so that Mary could be cleansed after giving birth, they gave ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’ (Luke 2:24). Presumably, this was because they could not afford a year-old lamb as stipulated by the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12:6,8).
- The gifts given by the magi to baby Jesus were each a statement about His identity or mission:
- gold: a hint that Jesus was a King (it was a precious metal fit for royalty)
- frankincense: a clue that Jesus was a priest (it was used as incense in the temple)
- myrrh: an indicator that Jesus would die a significant death (it was used in medicine and burial).
- Immediately prior to breathing His last, Jesus said, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). This statement was customarily spoken when a debt had been paid in full.