During the holidays, you see, hear, and read of the Christmas-Nativity story as we’ve come to know it and love it, but the holy scriptures do state some things about the birth of Jesus clearly. Over the centuries, many folks around the world have, shall we say, “interpolated” a few details into the story that cannot be found in the Bible. Let’s see what the Bible actually tells us.
The best place to start is to read four Bible chapters: St. Matthew 1 & 2, and St. Luke 1 & 2. It won’t take much time, and it will be worth it.
The two verses that head this article come from St. Matthew 1 and they explain clearly and directly just what Christmas is about and why Jesus was born. The name Jesus is a form of the name Joshua and that name, like so many others, means something. It means: “The Lord saves.” Does that indicate every boy or man named Joshua will save as the Lord Jesus did? No, but this one born of Mary certainly would.
A few years ago, I mentioned that we don’t know the exact day of Jesus’ birth, the month, or even the year. One who heard me was absolutely horrified and stated he was always taught that Jesus was born on Dec. 25. That is, in fact, the date upon which we mark his birth.
But where in St. Matthew or St. Luke (or anywhere else) do we read of such a date? We don’t. We only know that Caesar Augustus was emperor of the Roman Empire, a census was going on, and Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Should this bring about a crisis of faith? I don’t think so. The greater issue is he was born and why he was born.
We can also say the same about how many Magi (Wise Men) there were in St. Matthew 2 — that apostle and evangelist doesn’t tell us. He only writes that three gifts were given. If there were two, three, 57 ... what does it matter? The wonder of the account of those Magi is they brought gifts fit for a king and they actually fell down and worshiped him (2:11). One just does not do that with ordinary babies. But this child was, oh, so different.
Mankind has had a problem ever since the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden — separation from God, also known as sin. God demands perfection without exception; and he’ll certainly never get it from us. So the solution was to send his own son to be one of us, to take on our flesh, and finally, to take the rap for our wrongdoing. That’s how he saved his people from their sins. And this child born at Bethlehem was the only one who could do it.
Were there donkeys and cows and chickens gathered around Mary and Joseph as they tended their newborn son? Don’t know. Don’t care. Did the shepherds bring their sheep and lambs with them to see the baby Jesus? Don’t know. Don’t care. The heart and soul and the breath-taking wonder of this chapter in world history is that God himself became one of us in order to take the just punishment we all deserved for our rebellion against him. Jesus really is God-with-us or Immanuel, which is another one of his names.
If you want to know what this holy season is about, then read God’s word to see how you’ve been rescued by Jesus, the King of Israel.
Bernie Schey is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Copperas Cove.