Christmas has come and gone for another year. Just in case you were wondering, you only have 360 days to get ready for Christmas 2019!
The birth of Jesus was not celebrated for several hundred years after the actual event. The traditions we take for granted today developed slowly over the centuries, originating in different parts of Europe, England, and early America.
The Christmas tree became part of the celebration somewhere around the 8th Century. Though there were songs about the birth of Jesus as far back as the 2nd Century, the first Christmas carols of record were added around the 13th Century. They were once banned in England in the 17th Century.
In the Middle Ages, Christmas celebrations were rowdy and raucous – a lot like today’s Mardi Gras parties. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas, including the singing of carols, was outlawed in Boston and other places in New England. Anyone who showed the least bit of Christmas spirit were threatened with fines and even jail.
Eventually, things mellowed out, and Christmas as we know it today began to develop.
In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house.
In 1822, Dr. Clement Moore published the soon-to-be-famous “T’was the Night Before Christmas.”
In 1843, in Victorian England, Charles Dickens published his novelette “A Christmas Carol,” which became one of the most popular short works of fiction ever written.
In the second half of the 19th Century, Thomas Nast drew more than 2,200 cartoon images of Santa for Harper’s Weekly.
Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States on June 26, 1870.
And the rest is history.
Of course, as Christians, we know that the story of Christmas – the birth of Christ – began long before all of the celebrations that we know today.
Christmas in the Gospels
We refer to the first four books of the NT as the Gospels – the Good News – because they tell the story of the coming of the Messiah – of Jesus Christ, His ministry among the Jews, His death and resurrection.
Two of the gospel writer – Matthew and John – were original members of the 12 disciples who were appointed by Christ to be apostles.
The other two, Mark and Luke, were written by men who may never have met Jesus. Most scholars believe that Mark’s gospel was actually written first, based primarily on what he learned from the Apostle Peter.
When we begin to study the gospels in search of the truth of the Christmas story, we discover that none of the gospel writers began their gospel story with the birth of Jesus.
Luke 2 serves as our basis for the Christmas story…
- Census declared by Rome
- The journey to Bethlehem
- The manger, the angels, and the shepherds
However, when we turn back to chapter 1, we discover that Luke actually begins his story about 16 months before the events of Bethlehem with the announcement from the angel Gabriel to a priest named Zechariah that he is to be the father of a son, whom the world would come to know as John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus, who would serve as forerunner, preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah.
For Luke, the gospel message began in the hill country of Judea about 16 months before Jesus’ birth.
When we consult the gospel of Mark, we find no record of the birth of Jesus. There are no manger, no angels, no shepherds, and no wise men.
Instead, in the 4th verse of chapter one, Mark goes immediately into the story of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus, 30 years after the events of Bethlehem in Luke 2.
However, if we once again go to the first verse in the gospel, we hear Mark say…
Mark 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…
…thus illustrating that from the very beginning, the gospel – the good news – was not about the gifts of Christ, but Christ himself.
Then, in verses 2-3, Mark explains that the gospel story did not begin at the Jordan River with the baptism of Jesus, or in Bethlehem 30 years earlier, or even in the hill country of Judea just over a year before that.
According to Mark, the gospel story began with the prophets who foretold the events of the coming of the Messiah over 800 years before the birth of Jesus.
Matthew begins his record of the life of Jesus in…
Matt. 1:18 The birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.
Matthew begins to tell the story of the birth of Jesus with the discovery that His mother, Mary was already with child through the miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit before the completion of her marriage to Joseph.
However, if we go back to verse one of chapter one, then the gospel message according to Matthew begins much earlier than that of Luke, which begins just over one year before the birth of Jesus with the conception of John the Baptist, or Mark, going back over 800 years to the OT prophets.
Instead, Matthew begins the gospel story with Abraham. And this is a good place to start.
In Genesis 12, God promised Abraham that out of his seed, all of the nations – people groups – of the world would be blessed.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the churches of Galatia, explained that the word “seed” referred to the Messiah – our Savior, Jesus the Christ.
For Matthew, the gospel story begins there in the plains of modern-day Iraq over 2000 years before the events of the nativity in Bethlehem.
Then we turn over to the fourth gospel written by the Apostle John. Like Mark, John gives us no details concerning the birth of Jesus.
Also like Mark, John begins his story of the life of Christ with John the Baptist (1:6) and the baptism of Jesus.
However, once again, when we visit the earliest verses of the gospel of John, we realize that John has gone farther than any other gospel writer to declare that the Christmas story did not begin with the events of Luke 1, just over one year before the familiar Nativity Scene of Luke 2, the prophets of the OT 800 years before Jesus’ birth, or even 2000 years to the days of Abraham
According to John, the beginning of the Christmas Story – of the gospel story – can be traced to a period even before the Creation of the Universe…
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God.
Those words – “in the beginning” – do not refer to the time of Creation. John does not get to the point where time begins until verse 3.
In verses 1-2, John refers to eternity past – before creation when there was no time or space or matter when there was only spirit – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – the Trinity – the Three-in-One.
In the Hebrew, there is no article “the” before the word beginning, so the text reads, “In beginning…,” so that John 1:1 tells us that “before there was any beginning whatsoever, the Word had been.”
In John 1:1, we learn who the Son actually is.
The Word was…
The Word was with God…
The Word was God.
Paul elaborates on the idea of Jesus as God in several places, one of which is in his letter to the church at Colossae.
Col. 1:15 Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
In this verse, there is no article “the” before the word image, which is actually a part of the predicate (verb) of the sentence. Thus the verse actually says, “Christ images the invisible God.”
This means that Jesus does not merely resemble God the Father, but that He carries all of the characteristics of the prototype from which He is drawn, which is God the Father. Jesus is the eikon – the image – of the Father, meaning that in Jesus we see the absolute character of God.
The author of Hebrews gives us an even more detailed picture.
Hebrews 1:3 He (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power
The word imprint (image, KJV) used here is a different word from the one used in Colossians. Here the word is stronger, referring to an image that is carved or engraved – that is an exact representation of the object from which it is modeled.
There is a second word in verse three that is even stronger than the previous words – that is the word radiance (brightness, KJV).
The word “image” in Colossians might be used to refer to a reflection. When you are out by the pond, you might see the bright sun overhead and its eikon, or its reflection, in the water.
This word, brightness, however, means “shining from a point of origin.”
In other words, Jesus is not a reflection of the Father – something that simply mirrors the original – but Jesus is the actual light that comes from the Father that is reflected in the water of the pond.
It means that the reflection that is seen is not a reflection of the Father’s glory, but the actual glory of the Father embodied or incarnate in Jesus.
The water from which the light is reflected is the church – those who know Christ as Savior.
2 Cor. 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” (at Creation) has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The word face does not just mean face, but refers to the countenance, the presence, and the person. The light of the glory of God is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
That is why Jesus could say, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also… Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:7, 9)
How is this relevant to the Christmas story?
Go back to the story of the shepherds, Luke 2:8-18.
Luke 2:9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote of God “who dwells in unapproachable light.” We have already seen that Christ is the light of the glory of God that shines forth into the world.
The angels and the shepherds were surrounded by this light of the glory of God, for it was on that same night that the Light of the World came into the world in the form of a baby in a manger in Bethlehem.
The eternal God entered into His creation by the same means as all other men before him – by conception in the womb of a woman, conceived supernaturally, but developed naturally as with all men.
Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
O Come Let Us Adore Him…
…not just a tiny baby in a manger, but Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, God in flesh appearing – our Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
As we prepare to begin a New Year, let’s remember that He is…
…the end of all things
…the sum of all things
…and the beginning of all things.