Reading this title might have led you to think, “What happened last Christmas?” You might have remembered baking holiday cookies, going to look at Christmas lights, opening presents, or attending a Christmas Eve service at your church. “Baked” into our tradition during this season is a lot of “hustle and bustle,” but at its core, Christmas is a time to pause and remember the birth of Jesus. But there was also a lot going on at the “first Christmas” when Jesus was born. Let’s take a look at some of what happened during the very hectic time of the first Christmas.
Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem
Today, we often travel to see family and friends during the holidays. Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, were the first to travel for Christmas because of a census that was being taken of the entire Roman world (Luke 2:1-2). This meant everyone had to return to their hometown to register.
Mary and Joseph would travel from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea because Joseph belonged to the house and line of David. Jesus descending from the line of David is prophesied in Isaiah 11 when the Scripture says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [the father of David] from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1 NIV).
This approximately 90-mile journey likely took a week. In our modern times of planes, trains, and automobiles, that’s a serious time commitment, but this journey fulfilled the prophecy of Micah 5:2 (NIV).
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler.”
A baby was miraculously born
Regardless of how commercialized the Christmas season in our culture has become, at the root of Christmas is the birth of Jesus. It’s in the name of the holiday. It’s impossible to ignore.
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7 ESV).
That sounds simple. However, it was anything but that. To get to this point, Mary and Joseph had to complete their journey to Bethlehem and find a place for him to be born (Luke 2:6-7). The baby born was Jesus, who was born of a virgin, Mary. How is that possible? In Luke 1:26-38, we read how an angel of God appeared to Mary to reveal to her that she would give birth to a son conceived by the Holy Spirit. Then, Matthew 1:18-24 details how an angel also appeared to Mary’s soon-to-be-husband Joseph to tell him that Mary was pregnant with a baby but to not be afraid.
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20b NIV).
Obviously, this was no ordinary baby. He was the Savior that had been prophesied about for centuries.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 NIV).
The world would never be the same.
A star announced Jesus’ birth
The gospel of Matthew is the only account that mentions a “star” signifying the birth of Jesus. But this celestial light helped guide the magi, commonly called wise men, to Jesus, as they were looking for the king that had been born according to the star. In Matthew 2, we read how these wise men first stopped in Jerusalem to inquire about the new king, which was news to King Herod who was ruling Jerusalem at the time.
Herod wanted to know who this new king was, but the wise men were warned in a dream not to return to tell Herod. This caused Herod to become infuriated and issue a decree to kill all the boys under the age of two in Bethlehem and the vicinity. An angel warned Joseph, and he and Mary fled to Egypt. This fulfilled the prophecy of Hosea 1:1 saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
The gospel began
What is the gospel? Simply put, it’s the “good news.” But the good news about what? The gospel in the context of Christianity is the good news that Jesus came to earth as a man, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and conquered the grave by rising three days later.
To start this gospel story, Jesus had to first come to the earth and become human.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NIV).
By coming to earth, Jesus took on flesh, so he can empathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). He followed the path laid out by God and sacrificed himself for us to allow a way for salvation, saving us from our sins.
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6a NIV).
The cross drew nearer
Sometimes in fantasies or stories of heroes, the protagonist enters the story, defeats all their foes, and basks in their victory. Jesus’ story takes a route that defies that convention as he submitted to death on the cross (Philippians 2:8) to then be resurrected three days later (1 Corinthians 15:4).
For some, it still might seem like the story of Jesus’ life is a fairytale, too convenient to be true, or as if God has to pull a rabbit out of a hat at the last second to conquer death. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The cross, Jesus’ death, and resurrection were always part of God’s plan from the beginning.
It is foreshadowed and foretold throughout Scripture, including Isaiah 53:3-4 and Exodus 12.
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4 NIV).
In Exodus 12, we see the story of Passover, the need for a spotless lamb, and the blood of that lamb that allowed the destroyer to pass by their door. In the same way, Jesus lived a perfect life and died in our place for our sins, so his blood that was shed on the cross enables us to stand firm in the one who “took up our pain and bore our suffering.”
The birth of Jesus was just the next step to fulfilling the prophecies leading to the cross.
Christmastime started on a very busy note, but out of that chaos came a miracle, a Savior. As you take time during this season to reflect on the birth of Jesus, the meaning of that for your life, and the impact of that birth on the world, remember how everything that happened during Jesus’ birth was prophesied to happen exactly as it did. We can trust in a God that has a plan and a promise for the world.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).