The Beginning of Christmas
We are now full-blown into the Christmas season.
I know some who have had their tree up and house decorated since Halloween.
Others are not that much into all the hoopla and will wait until the last minute to do any shopping. And there are some crazy shoppers out there!
I heard about one guy who realized he had to buy a gift for his wife, so he set out for the mall alone.
After he had been gone a while, his wife heard a traffic report on the radio about a south-bound driver driving the wrong way in the north-bound lanes of the interstate.
She called her husband to warn him, “Honey, watch out! There’s a car driving the wrong way on the interstate!”
He answered back, “There’s not one! There’s hundreds of them!”
Christmas is a special time of celebration. This is the time of year, in the church at least, when our thoughts are turned toward the birth of Christ.
Although, sometimes, it’s easy to get confused and lost in the story.
I read a story about a children’s Sunday School class.
After hearing the Christmas story, and singing “Silent Night,” the students were asked to draw what they thought the Nativity Scene might have looked like.
One boy did a good likeness of Joseph, Mary and the infant, but off to the side was a plump roly-poly figure.
The teacher, afraid that he had somehow worked Santa Claus into the scene asked him who that was.
She wasn’t sure whether she was relieved or even more worried when the boy responded, “Oh, that’s Round John Virgin.”
(If you choose to share this joke, practice your delivery. I used in a sermon recently, and it completely bombed!)
Christians know that the true story of the origin of Christmas is found in the Bible, and more specifically in the Gospels – the first four books of the NT.
Two of those gospel records – Matthew and John – are written by original members of the disciples who were appointed by Christ to be apostles.
The other two, Mark and Luke, who were not direct disciples of Jesus, but men who came to follow Him after the resurrection and whose writings were recognized as inspired by the early church.
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 story with the birth of Jesus.
Luke tells the story of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem in chapter 2 of his gospel.
However, when we turn back to chapter 1, we discover that, after a brief introduction, Luke’s gospel message begins in verse 5 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 to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah.
In Luke’s record, the story of Christmas began in the Temple in Jerusalem about a year and a half before Jesus’ birth.
Mark does not write anything about the birth of Jesus.
There is no manger, no angels, no shepherds or wise men.
Mark actually begins his story of the life of Jesus 30 years after his birth in Bethlehem, with the ministry of John the Baptist.
However, in the first verse of his gospel, Mark writes…
Mark 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…
Then, in verse 2, in the only prophetic reference in his gospel story, Mark explains that the gospel story did not begin at the Jordan River with the baptism of Jesus or in Bethlehem 30 years earlier, but in the writings of the prophet Isaiah several hundred years before the birth of Jesus.
Some commentators believe that, in the prophetic reference of verse 2, Mark carries the thought all the way back to the time of Moses and the Exodus.
Ex. 23:20 Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.
Bible authorities generally agree that this angel is actually a reference to Christ – that it was Christ who showed Israel the way through the wilderness and brought them safely into the Land that God had prepared for them, the same way that He says to those in the church age.
John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.”
So in the gospel of Mark, the beginning of the Christmas story can be traced all the way back to the time of the prophets, and maybe even as far back as the time of Moses.
Like Luke, Matthew tells of the birth of Jesus, but begins his birth record a bit later in the story than Luke does.
In verse 18 of chapter 1, Matthew begins to tell the story of the birth of Jesus with the discovery that His mother, Mary, the espoused wife of Joseph, was already with child through the miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit before their marriage.
However, if we go back to verse one of chapter one, we find that the story of Christmas according to Matthew begins much earlier than that of Luke, beginning not with a birth in Bethlehem, or with the prophets, or even back as far as Moses.
Instead, Matthew begins the Christmas story with Abraham.
And this is a good place to start.
In Genesis 11, God called Abram – later known as Abraham – to leave his home country and travel to a land of promise. In Genesis 12, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation – Israel.
Out of the seed of Abraham, all of the nations – people groups – of the world would be blessed.
In his letter to the churches of Galatia, the Apostle Paul explained that the seed referred to in this promise to Abraham was the promise of the coming of the Messiah, Christ Jesus.
For Matthew, the story of Christmas begins in the plains of modern-day Iraq over 2000 years before the events of the nativity in Bethlehem.
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), who baptized Jesus at the beginning of His public ministry.
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 began…
- Not with the events of Luke 2 and the angel’s visits to Zachariah, or Mary, or the shepherds…
- Not, as Mark wrote, with the prophets of the OT or even with Moses and the Exodus…
- Not even , as Matthew recorded, with the calling of Abraham.
Instead, John traces the beginning of the Christmas story to eternity 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. (KJV)
Those words – “in the beginning” – do not refer to the beginning of the earthly life of Jesus or even to the time of Creation. John does not get to the point of the creation until verse three of chapter one.
In verses 1-2, John refers to eternity prior to the creation – a period in which there was no time or space or matter, no heavens, and not even any angels, when there was only God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – the Trinity – the Three-in-One.
In the original text, there is no article “the” before the word “beginning” in John 1:1, so the text should read, “In beginning…”
So that John 1:1 tells us that “before there was any beginning whatsoever, the Word was.
The Word was with God, because…
The Word was God…
…and IS God.
There are many verses in the New Testament that speak of the deity of Jesus, but let’s take a minute to look at just two other verses do so.
Col. 1:15 Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (ESV)
Hebrews 1:1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
Both references use the word “image” to refer to Jesus.
In Colossians, the word for image is eikon. The word may be used to refer to a reflection, such as the reflection of the sun off the water of a pond. However, the use is much stronger here. There is no article “the” before the word image, which is actually a part of the predicate of the sentence; therefore, the verse actually says, “Christ images the invisible God.”
This means that Jesus does not merely reflect God the Father, but that He carries all of the characteristics of the prototype from which He is drawn – God the Father.
The writer of Hebrews uses a different word for image than Paul does in Colossians.
Here the word is charaktēr – a stronger word than eikon, referring to an image that is an exact representation of the object from whose image it is modeled, so that Jesus is the perfect expression of God the Father.
There is a second word in verse three of Hebrews that is even stronger than the previous words – that is the word brightness or radiance (ESV).
This word, brightness, means “shining from a point of origin.”
What this means to mankind is that Jesus is not simply a reflection of God or just an exact representation of the Father.
Instead, this word in Hebrews means that Jesus is the actual light that originates from the Father. It means that Jesus does not reflect the Father’s glory, but that He is the Father’s glory.
2 Corinthians 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.
We who know Christ as Lord represent the water of the pond. We are the ones who are to reflect the glory of God in Christ in our everyday walk.
The word face in this verse from 2 Corinthians refers to the countenance, the presence, and the person.
God reveals the light of His glory in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the glory of God.
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote of God “who dwells in unapproachable light.”
That’s why Jesus could say, “If you know me, then you know the Father. If you have seen me, then you have seen the Father.” (John 14:7, 9)
You may be thinking, “All of this is somewhat technical stuff. How is all of this relevant to the Christmas story?”
I’m glad you asked.
Turn once more to the familiar story of the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke.
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.
It is no coincidence that these angels were surrounded by the glory of God on the same night that the Son of God was born in Bethlehem, for God, himself, had come to Earth.
And it is no wonder that the shepherds trembled with fear in the presence of such light and glory. When Paul encountered this same glory on the road to Damascus, he came away blinded.
Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
The Christmas story began long before the events surrounding a manger in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. It began in eternity as part of God’s eternal plan.
Christmas is about more than just a sweet babe in a manger.
It is about God in flesh appearing.
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…
…our Savior, who is Christ the Lord…
…without Whom there is no hope for the world and no promise of eternity.