There are many historical events that have become shrouded in legends, many of which have no basis in fact. Nowhere is that more true than the birth of Jesus Christ. Much of what we believe about Jesus’ birth and much of what we celebrate at Christmas time has little to do with the incarnation of Jesus, who was God manifested in human flesh. The list of inaccuracies is far too long to recount in today’s message but suffice it to say that there was no jolly elf in a red suit accompanied by a tiny sleigh and eight reindeer, one of which had a glowing red nose–at the birth of Jesus.
If you were to walk through Bethlehem’s neighborhoods, you would find no colorful lights on houses, no Christmas trees standing in windows and no crowds of people trying to purchase last minute Christmas gifts. No one was busy preparing food for Christmas dinners and no one was traveling to be home by Christmas. In fact, to the people of that time, it was simply another average night and, as far as they knew, nothing of any importance would happen. They went about their daily routines and prepared to do the same the next day.
Nearly all of the information we have about the birth of Jesus is found in just a few verses in Luke’s gospel. I think it is wise for us to strip away all of the glittering trappings that have become attached to Christ’s birth and look at it simply from the reality of what really happened. I am confident that Luke’s information, preserved through the ages for us in the Bible, came from a personal interview with Mary, who was part of the early church and was present with the apostles many years hence on the Day of Pentecost. We should pay careful attention to the truth Luke gives to us.
THE TIME OF JESUS’ BIRTH. (Luke 2:5)
When Was Jesus Born? Was Jesus born on December 25? There has been much discussion over the centuries about the date of Christ’s birth. It is virtually impossible for us to know the exact date. Many point to the fact that leaders in the early centuries of the church did point to that date because of a pagan holiday. The pagan holiday was known as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (“The birthday of the unconquered sun”), which was celebrated each year on December 25. That festival celebrated the sun gods. Church leaders chose this as Christ’s birth in order to compete with this celebration.
The problem was that nobody celebrated Christ’s birth in the early church. There is no mention at all in the Bible of anyone celebrating His birth. It appears that they chose not to cele-brate His birth in favor of celebrating His resurrection. To the early church, this day was more important, and they celebrated Christ’s resurrection every Sunday. So, we have no biblical infor-mation that tells us about the date of Christ’s birth. None what so ever.
The Shepherd’s Clue. I do not think there is a problem in celebrating the birth of Jesus. The Bible has much information about the Incarnation, and I think it is good for believers to contemplate and meditate on Jesus, the Word, becoming flesh and dwelling among us. I think when we sing about Immanuel, we should remember that we are singing about God with us.
We do have a few clues that will help us. The statements from Luke 2:8-20 about the shepherds guarding their sheep at night offers us a window for Christ’s birth. Palestine had early and late rains. It rained heavily in the autumn but stopped near the end of November. It would begin raining again in February and rain through early April. The shepherds would not likely be camping out on the hillside during the rainy seasons. Starting with Passover, many of the sheep would be sold for worship at the temple (about six miles away). That period would last from April through October (there were several periods of celebrations). So, I think Christ was born between late November and late January. However, as far as I am concerned, it really does not matter which date you acknowledge as Jesus’ birthday as long as you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Believers In Christ Should Celebrate His Birth. It is possible that Jesus was actually born closer to November 25 than December 25. I do not think anyone alive today knows with certainty when Christ was born. I see nothing wrong with celebrating Christ’s birth on December 25th. I do think that in our materialistic and self-centered world we take the time to emphasize for our families that we celebrate the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. It is more than just a time to give and receive gifts and to be with family, it is a time to reflect on the coming of Christ into this world and consider the great salvation He purchased for us. It is important that we read the Christmas story.
THE PLACE OF JESUS’ BIRTH. (Luke 2:6-7)
While They Were There. Many people think that Joseph and Mary entered the city of Bethlehem in great distress late at night and found there was no room for them. With Jesus’ delivery immanent, they settled in the only place available. That’s not exactly what happened. Joseph and Mary made it to Bethlehem and went about their business registering for the census. They had a place to stay in the village. It was while they were already there that Jesus was born.
She Wrapped Him In Cloths. Although he was a physician, Luke did not give any details about Jesus’ birth. How long was Mary in labor? We don’t know. Usually first-born children cause long labors and deliveries. Evidently, Jesus’ actual birth was so ordinary that there was nothing for Luke to report.
Luke had undoubtedly helped many women in the birthing process. However, he does not record a single word of anyone helping Mary. While there were no hospitals with maternity centers in those days, there were midwives who assisted women with birth. Yet there is no mention of a midwife or anyone else helping Mary. In fact, we find that she was the one who, after delivering Jesus, cleaned Him and wrapped Him in the cloths–all by herself.
The swaddling cloths of the first century were very similar in size and composition to infant blankets today. The main cloth resembled a thin blanket and was in the shape of a square. The newborn was placed diagonally on the blanket. The bottom of the blanket was folded up over His feet and tucked in along His side. The left side was folded over and tucked in on His right side and finally, the right side was folded over and tucked under His back. Depending on the temperature, two or more additional blankets were used. They were folded over and then wrapped around the infant from the waist down and then another folded blanket was wrapped around His chest. The purpose of swaddling in the first century was for warmth and to keep the arms and legs straight.
Placed In A Feeding Trough. We find that Mary laid Jesus in a manger. It no doubt had been a very exhausting day and Mary needed some rest. The newborn was evidently asleep, and Mary carefully placed Him in a makeshift crib. “Manger” is a very polite word for an animal’s feeding trough. Constructed out of roughhewn wood and designed to contain fodder, it was the only apparatus available that would serve as a temporary crib for the infant. So that is where He was placed.
No Room In The Inn. We have all heard the traditional legend that Mary and Joseph barely made it to the inn and stepped up to the counter to register. The mean and gruff inn-keeper told them there was no room so they had to leave. So, they went outside and found a stable.
But, that’s not what happened. There was no inn (as we know it) and the Bible does not mention an innkeeper. There is a Greek word for “inn” but Luke does not use it here. In the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, the proper words for “inn” and “innkeeper” are used. Luke uses neither of them here. The word he does use is translated “upper room” in Luke 22:11. In normal usage, the word means “guest room”.
It was typical for homes to have a guest room in first century Palestine. There were inns, but they were on main roads and Bethlehem was not on any main road. Luke has already told us that for Joseph, Bethlehem was where his family was from. Joseph and Mary had been staying with relatives. We already know that both Joseph and Mary had relatives in the area because Mary had just returned from visiting her relative Elizabeth who lived in the same area.
But the guest room was already occupied by another of Joseph’s relatives and they were forced to stay in the part of the house that would have given shelter to their animals in inclement weather. It was physically attached to the house and would have had a stone floor and would have provided a little privacy. You will notice that Luke does not mention any animals present nor does he speak of any people. Some have conjectured that Jesus was born in a cave, but I think that unlikely because that is a detail Luke would have included if it were true.
THE WONDER OF JESUS’ BIRTH.
God With Us. I want to be perfectly clear. The Lord Jesus Christ, born as an infant and placed in a feeding trough was and is and has always been God. I don’t mean He was almost God and became God when He was older. I mean that the newborn infant resting in the manger was God.
The baby lying in the manger was the great Creator of the universe. As an infant He still possessed all of the glorious perfections of God. The baby was infinite, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. We sing a Christmas carol that says, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Trinity!” Even while a tiny baby, Jesus was still maintaining and controlling the entire vastness of the universe.
The baby in the manger was filling His lungs with air He had created. He created the materials of the blankets that kept Him warm. He created the gravity that held Him close to the manger in which His mother had placed Him. He was God and He is God and He always will be God.
He Was Mary’s Firstborn Son. Luke could have used the words “only begotten Son” to describe Mary’s relationship with Jesus. The apostle John used those exact words to describe God the Father’s relationship with Christ. But Luke did not use those words.
Instead he used the words “first born” that indicate this was the first child Mary delivered. It implies that Mary had more children, but that Jesus was the first. I believe Luke used this word to indicate that Jesus was the heir to the royal status that descended upon Him from David through Joseph. Jesus was born the King. He is the King not just of the Jews, but of everyone.
He Humbled Himself. (Philippians 2:5-8) What an amazing portrait! The God of the universe is laid in an animal’s feeding trough. There is no glory in that. Jesus temporarily set aside His independent use of His attributes and powers through humility. He became just like us except He had no sin. Before glory there is humility.
Why did Jesus the Savior do this? It is because only in humbling Himself by becoming human and by becoming a Servant and by giving Himself to death, even death on the cross, could our souls be saved. Jesus and only Jesus can save your soul. Luke will later record that “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” He is talking about us–about our own souls.
I am always amazed by the ordinary way Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into the world. His birth had long been prophesied by Isaiah, Micah and others, yet on the night of His birth, there was no fanfare, and nobody outside of the tiny village of Bethlehem celebrated. God came into the world and the world went on with its business as if nothing important had happened. But something important had happened! The Light of the world had entered this darkness. The God of peace arrived in this world filled with conflict. The Great Healer and Physician made a house call to this disease- ridden world.
His mother placed Him in a makeshift crib made with wood from trees He had created. He knew who cut the tree down and who fashioned it into a feeding trough. He knew its owner and He created the animals that had fed from it. He also knew that there was another tree. As an infant lying in the manger, He knew He was on earth for a mission–the mission of saving souls. He knew that in His own future, men would cut down another tree and form it into a cross. He already knew the men who would condemn Him to death and the men who would execute Him. He knew He would be nailed to the cross and lifted up. He knew that His death would be the only way men and women, boys and girls, could be saved. He knew He would give His life as a ransom for many.
Have you received Jesus Christ? Have you called upon Him to forgive your sins and to give you everlasting life? I urge you to do that this morning.
Updated by Pastor Vernon Welkner 12/10/2018