Since about 400 AD, Christians have celebrated the birth of Jesus. 'Christ' means 'Messiah' or 'Anointed One' - the title given to Jesus - and 'Mass' was a religious festival.
The real meaning of Christmas is often forgotten. It has become a non-religious holiday! More children believe in Father Christmas than in Jesus. Christmas Day is a time for eating and drinking too much and watching television.
But the real Christmas story is found in the Bible. We can find the story in two different books: Matthew and Luke chapters 1 and 2.
Mary says "yes"
These chapters tell how Jesus was born as a baby to Mary. This was no ordinary birth! She was not married, she was a virgin, and an angel had told her she would bear a special baby. Her husband-to-be, Joseph, did not believe her at first. Who would? Then an angel told him in a dream that it was true! Probably no one else believed it. So when they had to travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem (near Jerusalem), to register their names with the ruling Roman government, they probably heard many hard words from other people.
Arrival in Bethlehem brought worry and upset: there was no room for them to stay at the Inn. There was only space in the stable - the place where travelers’ donkeys and horses stayed.
Jesus was born that night, and as they had no bed for him, they used an animal feeding box filled with the dry grass the animals ate.
Christmas cards and pictures today make it all seem very nice. In truth, it must have been dirty and frightening for a young couple, far from their home and families. Possibly the birth was premature after the stress of the journey. This was a very poor place for Jesus to start his life on earth.
God planned that it would happen this way. It shows that Jesus came as a humble, poor person and not as a strong, rich king. The birth of Jesus was told many years before in the books of the prophets.
Five hundred years before, the prophet Micah had said,
"But you Bethlehem, though you are small, out of you will come for me, one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."
The prophet Isaiah had written,
"A child is born to us! A son is given to us! And he will be our ruler.
He will be called, "Wonderful Counsellor," "Mighty God," "Eternal Father," "Prince of Peace." His royal power will continue to grow; his kingdom will always be at peace....
He will rule as King David's successor, basing his power on right and justice, from now until the end of time."
These are a few of many prophetic words that told of the birth and life of Jesus, written hundreds of years before His birth.
The shepherds are frightened
At that time, sheepherds were seen by other people as low and of no value. Yet it was to these shepherds that the birth of Jesus was first announced in an amazing dramatic way:
"That night there were some men looking after sheep in the fields nearby. Suddenly they saw a great light. It was an angel, who said,
'Don't be afraid. I have good news for you, and for all people. Someone great has been born today. He is Christ, the great King you have been waiting for. He will save you from all that is wrong and evil. You will find him dressed in baby clothes, lying on a bed of dry grass.'"
The story of the wise men
After Jesus was born, wise men came to look for Him. Although they are often called the "Three Kings", the Bible does not say how many there were, or that they were kings. Three is only a guess because they brought with them three gifts.
Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh
They were certainly men of great education - today we would call them philosophers or scientists. They had seen an unusual new star in the sky, and knew that it told of the birth of a special king. They followed the direction of the star and eventually found the place where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were staying. To bring honor to the child, they brought rich gifts: gold, frankincense (a resin which burns with a beautiful smell), and myrrh (plant oil with a very strong sweet smell). These gifts show a picture of three key things about Jesus:
Gold: a gift fit for a King
Frankincense: burnt in worship of God
Myrrh: a sign of mortal human-ness - it was used to bury the dead
Jesus a refugee
Herod, the evil king of the area, heard about the child, saw Him as a threat, and sent soldiers to kill Jesus. But God told Joseph in a dream to take Mary and the baby and escape to Egypt. They lived there till King Herod died and then went back to live in Nazareth. We read nothing more about the life of Jesus, except for one story when he was 12, until He reached 30.
The end of the story?
Jesus was indeed "the man born to die". But that was not the end of the story. It is still going on, and you can be part of the story, if you wish.
No other person has had such an effect on human lives as Jesus. He came back to life again, and millions say they know Him today as a friend and helper in their lives. You owe it to yourself this Christmas to find out more about Him. Is He who He claimed to be? You have nothing to lose!
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
-Luke 2:1-20 (New International Version)
Dear Lord we thank you for the amazing gift. Help us to be worthy of it. In Jesus’ name, Amen