The Birth of Jesus

The Incarnation

So many songs, movies, and poems about Christmas are not about the birth of the saviour of the World. The permeating modern theme is said to celebrate the spirit of Christmas – giving and sharing.  Fundamentalist points to the pagan origin of many of these practices and traditions like Santa clause and Christmas trees and altogether abandon Christmas celebrations.  On the other hand, if Christmas did not become all things to all men, Christmas would never have preserved the worldwide sustained following.  

In an age of Anti-God, post-Christian modernity I am grateful for a Christian Holiday celebrated by all. People in their global diversity took ownership of the God-became-flesh theme and contextualized Christmas according to their worldview.   This brings to remembrance the doctrine of the universal Christ.  All things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:3-5Ps. 33:6Eph. 3:9Col. 1:1617Heb. 1:2) Instead of abandoning the Christmas tradition, is it not the task of the church to use this opportunity to make Christ known to the world? 

Incarnation as an ACT of LOVE

In this blog, I will argue that next to the Crucifixion, the incarnation of the son of God is the greatest proof of His love for the World! 

One of the greatest tests of true love is self-control. One could lavish one’s love on all and experience countless fleeting ecstasies of unrestrained freedom but never experience true fulfilment. True reciprocal love (to love and be loved in return) requires loyalty, devotion, focus, attention, and presence to mature.  A child may grow up feeling unloved because of an emotionally, relationally, and physically absent parent.  If the love and devotion are not reciprocated by the child too, the love is lopsided and will not last. 

Reciprocal Love – Full circle 

When Jesus hence showed by His own example how to live without sin as a common man, He paved the way for us to reciprocate God’s love. In this reciprocation of our love towards God, one grows to appreciate the depth of His love. It follows the example of His Christness in ordinary things, where one awakens to the depth, height, and width of His love. Remaining at peace in times of lack, despair and disappointment. To love the unlovable. To give when you yourself experience lack is the highest expression of LOVE! 

Without Empathy, there is no true expression of love.

Hence: here is one of the most understated loving and wonderful love statements in the Bible! 

Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 5:15 NKJV).  This statement precedes the following verse of what we can expect approaching the throne of God: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 5:16).  Jesus understands humanity! For Him to understand and love us, He had to become human fully. If Jesus came only as God, he would never have had real empathy for our condition.  The mystery of how Jesus could be God and human at the same time, baffles the mind.  For this study, however, let us focus and see His humanity; how His perfect humanity without sin next to His sacrifice for our sin is one of His greatest LOVE ACTS! 

Restricted yet focussed 

Growing up as a young genius without any moral failing must have been hard.  When He arrived from Egypt in the small town of Nazareth the upright Jew Nataniel grumbled, “What good can come from Nazareth” – this makes for an epic underdog-rising-out-of-the-dust story.  Nazareth is not depicted in a positive light throughout the gospels.  They openly rejected Him when He came back preaching in their Synagogue.  It seems that He made no special mark in this small community that would have helped them also believe in Him as the coming Messiah. 

“Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there. When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?” So they were offended at Him.  But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Mat 13:53-58).  Is this also the reason that He chose no disciples from His childhood?  

Excluded and misunderstood 

Did Jesus make no close friendships during his childhood? 

For 18 years, if one subtracts the years spent in Egypt, Jesus spends His days working as an artisan.  The 3rd largest city, Sephorus, only 5 km away from Nazareth, is never mentioned in the Bible. Jesus, thus again, chose a path of obscurity instead of the fame a larger populous city would bring. This makes sense, as day labourers and artisan builders never reside in the city they construct. They live in informal dwellings close to the city, not too far, so they can reach their workplace daily without exhausting themselves. Much like today’s squatter informal settlement areas.  

Jesus’ choice of vocation is non-impressive.  This genius, clever, unblemished character young boy did not aspire to become a Scribe, Pharisee, Priest, or even the coveted High Priest position? He might not be permitted because of his artisan father’s family profession. One would guess that the impressive interaction with the scribes and priest at age 12 must have earned Him a special scholarship.  (Luk 2:41-49) He intentionally chose to remain a Carpenter or Artisan!

For the sake of us common people, Jesus restrained Himself! More so, He endured His daily humanity of no special privileges, so He can empathise with us! He wanted to personally understand how it feels to be restricted, misunderstood, rejected, and alone! Is this not the greatest act of love? In order for a King to prove his love for the girl, he gives 18 years of His life to study her hardship, struggles and weakness so that when he finally declares His love and she reciprocates the proposal, he can now serve and support her best! 

Jesus restricted himself from doing any miracles and pulpit the wrongs of people for 30 years! He could have chosen wealth, fame, and grandeur on earth. He would rather become a servant, common man, artisan, a man just like us to demonstrate that normal people can live holy, righteous, and God-pleasing lives too! This is the power of His life.  Normal people, peasants, and farmers doing normal daily things, like food collection and preparation, building and providing for their family, can become holy acts glorifying God.  Getting dirty, sleeping on the floor, and serving people was fit for God becoming flesh in human form! Jesus was not too high in status, clever in intellect, or exalted to do daily ordinary chores.    

Jesus persisted in living a simple life. He did not allow the feastgoers to make Him King or finally, when wrongfully painfully executed, called the help of 12 legions of angels.

The Son of man, his favourite self-title, could have done His greatest miracles like the healing of the dumb mute and the glorification on the mountain in public view for the world to see. Instead, He chose to reveal this only to a few. He would often sternly warn recipients of healing miracles not to tell anyone! 

God almighty, become a fragile little baby! 

Looking at the picture of the baby in this blog stirs up emotions of fragility and tenderness! To think that the almighty God once was just like this little baby boy, in need of human care and nourishment. 

The creator, omniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful, all-knowing God restricted Himself and made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phil 2:7-8

This is how much God loves us!!

What really happened during Jesus’ birth? 

Christmas has become a brand and money-making commodity! The true facts surrounding Jesus’ birth faded completely and were replaced with Santa Claus and the ice sledge drawn by deer. Even the pictures of Jesus in the stable and the three Magi are not what really happened. The trap of all these variations and distortions is that it reduces Jesus to an archetype—a myth! “Only children believe these stories!”

This brings us to the question: What really happened during Jesus’ birth? What are the true facts? What are the true events of Jesus’ birth?

Matthew 1:18-25: Conception and Birth
Matthew 2:1-12: The Magi
Matthew 2:13-15: Their escape to Egypt
Matthew 2:16-23: Herod murders the babies
Luke 1:26-38: His birth prophecies
Luke 1:39-45: Mary visits Elizabeth
Luke 1:46-56: The Magnificat 
Luke 2:1-20: Jesus’ birth in Betlehem
Luke 2:21-38: His circumcision in the temple 

Jesus: Born “Out of Wedlock” 

According to Jewish custom, their fathers would have negotiated Mary and Joseph’s marriage. By the time the angel appeared to Mary, she was already Joseph’s legitimate wife, and her father would have already received a dowry as compensation for the loss of a working relative. Maria lived with her family during her engagement, a period of one year where she was considered married in all respects except cohabitation and sexual intercourse. During this time, Joseph was preparing a place for her in his father’s house, after which he would fetch Mary as his bride. 

Jesus’ “Parents”: Teenagers 

Remember the photos and contests where Mary is an adult? In fact, Mary was between 12 and 14 years old, the common age for young women to be engaged and married in Jewish culture. 

Eastern culture considers 18 years old to be the best age for a man to marry, so it is likely that Joseph was a young adult when he was betrothed to Mary. The Bible calls Joseph a righteous man or tsaddîyq, meaning he was “known for his uncompromising obedience to the Torah, the Law of Moses.” When Joseph discovers Mary is pregnant, he knows he is not the Father. The Torah clearly states that an unfaithful woman must be put to death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), which was a painful decision for the law-abiding Joseph to make.  So he had to believe Mary that she had seen an angel.

So when Joseph faces the opportunity for legal justice, he chooses mercy. His plan to privately free Mary from their arranged marriage through divorce reveals his desire to spare her public shame and suffering rather than claim his rights (Matthew 1:19). Joseph did not allow his devotion to turn into legalism, and God revealed His divine purpose to Joseph (Matthew 1:20).

Jesus Born: Where Kings Were Born 

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
(Isaiah 9:5-6).

Jesus’ native village was a fulfilment of Messianic prophecy.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting.”  (Micah 5:2). 

Did you know, it would have taken Mary and Joseph four days to one week to walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem? “Bethlehem” is Hebrew for “house of bread”.

Jesus’ Birthday: NOT the 25th of December 

Many scholars question the accuracy of this date and doubt whether the shepherds would be with the sheep at night during the coldest time of the year.  They believe Jesus was born between Rosh Hashanah (Feast of Ram’s Horns) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). In our Gregorian calendar, it would be between September and October. 

Jesus: A Common First Century Name

When the angel came to her, he said: “I salute you, pardoned! The Lord is with you.”

But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:28-33)

If God were to become a human being, you would think He would choose a powerful and rare name. This is not the case. The name “Jesus” was the “John Smith” of the first century. When Christ walked on earth, He did not pursue prominence—and this is even demonstrated in His chosen name. But that doesn’t mean Jesus’ name is meaningless. Hidden in that common name is the truth that “Yahweh saves.” 

Jesus’ Birth: Not a Hidden Secret

The Shepherds Field

Shepherds in Palistina

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (Luke 2:15).  All of Bethlehem must have heard of this special birth. 

Not just Three Magi, and Later visited in Nazareth 

And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. – Matthew 2:11

The story of the wise men taken from Matthew 2:1-12 KJV

“The Magi took their places under – the astrologers and stargazers and monthly forecasters.” It is with such men that we should think of Daniel and his fellow exiles as connected. The office that Daniel assumed (Daniel 5:11) was probably chief of the Magi.  

Fun Fact: Magi is plural, but the singular term is Magus. They were Eastern priests trained in esoteric arts, dream interpretation, astrology, reading animal parts to predict the future, etc. They were consultants – advisors and advisers to royalty. So they were possibly more than 3.

I believe this makes it a great possibility that these Magi followed in Daniel’s footsteps (or had Hebrew roots) and had an understanding of the Messianic prophecies. This means they would have to study and be familiar with the Torah, historical texts, and the prophets. They also regarded Jesus not only as a newborn King of the Jews, but as a Deity, bowing down and worshipping Him. (Matt. 2:11)

Here is another fact to blow up the imagery of the wise men for us: nowhere does it say that they met Mary and Joseph in the manger at the birth of Jesus.  It says in Matthew 2:11, “When they came into the house, they saw the little child with Mary, his mother… They seem to have resided in a house, not in a farmstall.

“And being warned against God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they left for their own land in a different way.” They believed that God spoke through the prophets of old as they studied to see when the Messiah would come, but they also believed that God still speaks through dreams. Matthew wrote his gospel for the Jewish people. He goes into detail in the genealogy of Christ… all 41 generations! His goal is to show the Jewish people that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.  Hence the emphasis on the Jewish Wise Men.  

Meaning of the 3 Magi Gifts  

Gold: Represents Jesus as King of kings (Kingship).

Incense: Represents Jesus as God and High Priest (Deity).

Myrrh: Represents the sacrifice that Jesus would make to the point that He would die on the cross. (Suffering).

Gold

Frankincense

לְבוֹנָה lebôwnâh,-o-naw’; or לְבֹנָה lebônâh; from H3836; incense (of its whiteness or perhaps that of its smoke):—(frank-) incense. 

Exodus 30:30-34

GREAT High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Myrrh

Myrrh, which is most commonly used as incense, is also an adhesive that originated from the Myrrh tree. It starts as oil flowing from the tree but begins to harden when exposed to air. It gets its name from Marar, which means bitterness. 

Myrrh has been used in many different ways in the Bible:

Cleansing (Esther 2:12)
Anointing oil (Exodus 30:23)
Parfuum (Hooglied 3:6)
Embalming and burial (John 19:39)
Medicine & Painkiller (Mark 15:23)
Wedding & Love (Proverbs 7:17-18)

For myrrh to be grown, it must be extracted by piercing the tree’s heartwood and allowing the gum to sprout into bitter-red droplets called tears.   It is a picture of the suffering Savior who will be pierced on the cross for our sins so that we may be healed (medicine) and cleansed (cleansed) so that we can be a pure and spotless bride (wedding) to Him. Hallelujah! 

Jesus: Not Born In A Stable 

“Luke does not use the common word for hotel hostel (pandeion) that he uses elsewhere,” says Frank Viola, co-author of Jesus: A Theography with Leonard Sweet: “Instead, he uses a word meaning guest room (cataluma).”

This is the same word he later uses to describe the place where Jesus took the Last Supper! “It’s much more likely that since Bethlehem was Joseph’s ancestral home, he had relatives there,” Viola says. “And because of the census that took place at the time, none of his family members had anywhere in their guest quarters. Guest rooms were usually at the front of houses, and the animal shelters were in the back of the house or on the lower level.

It is my impression that the birth actually took place in an ordinary house of commoners, and that the baby was laid in one of stone crypts, as is still found in the dwellings of farmers in this region. Jesus is not lonely and removed in a stable that needs our sympathy. He is in the middle of the family, and all the visitors were part of the birth, think of the cramped space, and the Mom’s cries during the birth. [1]

The problem with the stable is that it may be difficult for the modern brain to relate to Him. It even places His birth in a unique setting, in some ways as far from life as if he had been born in the Emperor’s palace. However, it is the message of the incarnation of Jesus that He is indeed one of us. He came to be what we are, and it fits well with the theology that his birth did, in fact, take place in a typical, crowded, warm, welcoming Palestinian home, as did many other Jewish boys of his time.

Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?” (Matthew 13:55-56

For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
(Isaiah 53:2).

A typical house in Galilee

Jesus spoke several languages

Aramaic was the primary language spoken by Jews in first-century Palestine. And like most Jews, He would have learned to study the Torah in Hebrew.  It is likely that He spoke Greek to the Commander (Mt. 8:5–13) and Pilate (Mt. 27:11–14).  The Romans spoke in Latin, but Greek would have been how they interacted with Hellenistic Jews.  

Jesus: 4 Years in Egypt  

Because they reckoned Jesus could have been anything up to two years old, when the Magi arrived, they then fled to Egypt until Herod died, He died around 4 A.D.  This would have made Jesus about 6 years old when he returned to Nazareth.  

Jesus is for everyone

Jesus came for the foreigners, the outcasts, the despised, the rejected, the imperfect, the sick, the brokenhearted, the weak, the weary, the needy, the criminals. He came for sinners. God so loved the whole world that He sent His only Son to seek and save the lost (John 3:16). He will not reject or despise anyone who turns to Him, but freely offers His mercy and forgiveness to everyone who believes and accepts it. 

Examining the true events of Jesus’ birth strengthens our faith in who Jesus was and is. When we see and understand Jesus correctly in a human context, the supernatural world becomes more accessible.  The more we immerse ourselves in the normal humanity of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, the more real His existence becomes, and our spiritual eyes are opened to the reality of how supernaturally human He is still at work in our lives today. 

Jesus still wants to give birth to “God Emmanuel” ~ God is here with us, as a demonstration of His presence!  

Invite Him in through prayer!  “Let Your Kingdom Come and Will be done here with us today!” 

[1] https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/once-more-jesus-was-not-born-in-a-stable/

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