The True Story of the Birth of Christ
In Three Lessons
Dr. Roger G. Ford, Ph.D., P.E.
The Circumstances Surrounding the Birth of Christ
Today, the simplicity of the birth of Christ is literally drowning in a sea of hedonism (personal pleasure is the highest priority in life). Most of the world, especially Americans, concentrates on elaborate and costly decorations and neighborhood lighting competitions. Then, we tend to try to get presents for all of the family, relatives, friends, and neighbors, wrap each one in elegant paper with festive ribbons, then load up the space beneath the largest artificial tree with its artificial lights, magnificent ornaments, and tinsel topped off with giant yet fragile stars. When the day finally comes, we spend Christmas feasting on extravagant meals until we actually hurt, then open all those wonderful presents, throwing wrappings all over the floor. Football games and Christmas parades on big screen TV occupy the rest of the day, or, perhaps, playing with the kids or the grandchildren. Many Christians get caught up in this Christmas tradition, and, it’s true that today, many people – even Christians – completely miss the true meaning of Christmas. People are busy, doing all kinds of things that are seasonally festive and even are done for others, but they end up missing Christ.
When the first Christmas happened in Bethlehem, most people missed it then too. The very pregnant Mary and her wide-eyed husband Joseph had returned to their ancestral home of Bethlehem because they both were from the tribe of Judah and the line of David. Judah was the land where those of the line of David returned with its census point Bethlehem which means House of Bread. This is a fitting name for the birth of the fleshly body of Christ since we commemorate His sacrifice for our sins by breaking bread.
Luke chapter 2:7 says, “And she brought forth her first born son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” She brought forth her first born son by herself. Middle Eastern people are generally hospitable, and Jewish people are kind and caring people. They are not barbaric or uncaring people. These people are civilized, intelligent, educated people who understand about human life and the knowledge that childbirth can be very difficult and dangerous. These are not the kind of people who are going to leave a woman alone, or are they?
Mary brought forth her own son. And then it says she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes. Swaddling clothes were just long strips of cloth that were carried by travelers in case of accident for use as bandages, or, in more extreme circumstances, for burial wrapping. And, the swaddling clothes were a prophetic sign of what Jesus was sent to the Earth to accomplish – a newborn wrapped in burial cloth as a symbol of what He came to Earth to accomplish – to die for our sins. Amazing! But, where were the midwives? Where were the people who were supposed to care for things like that? Where was the innkeeper? Didn’t he know anybody who could help? Didn’t his wife concern herself with this? Or, wasn’t there some source of assistance to Mary? But the prophets had said Jesus would be despised and rejected. So, wouldn’t it be true that this could be the case even at His very birth? Then Scripture says she laid Him in a manger – an animal feeding trough. The word manger sounds soft and appropriate, but in reality it was a wooden or stone trough for the animals to eat from. Back then, they didn’t carry basinets or small baskets to put a baby in when traveling like we do today.
Some people feel that the Child was born in a stable. But what did a stable look like 2,000 years ago? We’ve seen pictures and cards of stables which are just kind of lean-to with a little roof, some straw, and a few barn animals. Others think Jesus was born in a cave because there are many caves in the fields surrounding Bethlehem. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where Christ is believed to have been born by some is built over a cave. There are others who believe that Christ was born in an open courtyard, perhaps the courtyard of the inn that had no rooms available. There are others who say He was born out in an open field. The reason for all this speculation as to the nature of Jesus’ birth location is that the Bible is not specific, so no one knows for sure.
But, consider that the fields around Bethlehem were where the Temple priests had set up to raise the lambs and goats used in Temple sacrifice. The supply of sacrificial lambs to be used in the Temple was contracted out to these special shepherds under the supervision of the High Priest of the Temple and the other Aaronic descendants. These were not just your plain, everyday shepherds. These were the shepherds that Temple sacrifice depended upon which was a moneymaking enterprise for the High Priest. When someone came to the Temple to sacrifice such an animal according to the Law, they had to sell the animal that they had brought and purchase an “approved” sacrifice from the priests because the Temple priests would not accept just any lamb or goat. Guess who made money on these transactions? No wonder Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the Temple!
Let’s go back to the likelihood of the place where Jesus was born. It was probably in a cave since they were everywhere, large, and more or less weather proof and maintenance free. But, consider that the nearness to the very area where the sacrificial lambs were raised for the shedding of blood to temporarily cover sin in the Jewish Temple was where Jesus, the Lamb of God, was born and some 30 years later would shed His blood for the sins of all of mankind.
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius (Quirinius) was governor of Syria. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and lineage of David: to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7)
Whatever hospitality Mary and Joseph may have sought or whatever hospitality they may have anticipated upon arrival in Bethlehem, it was unavailable to them. The word “kataluma” (New Testament Greek word for “inn” in Luke 2) translates five different Hebrew words in the Old Testament referring to a place to overnight. This word has a very elastic meaning and doesn’t really help us know what accommodations they were really seeking. An inn, a home of a relative, a hostel, we don’t know. Whatever the situation, they were turned away. Why? Because it was the census in Bethlehem and the city was literally bulging with everybody who ever had any ancestry there. That’s why Joseph and Mary were there coming from the line of David, Joseph through David’s son Solomon and Mary through David’s son Nathan. They were coming to the city of David because those who were in the line of David were there. They had to obey the Roman command to comply with the decree for a census in order to tax the Roman subjects.
God chose very carefully just who would be Jesus’ earthly parents. Joseph was, of course, not Jesus’ biological father, the Holy Spirit was. In spite of that, Joseph could not have fathered a son who would be King of the Jews anyway since Joseph was in the direct line of Solomon (see Jesus’ lineage in Matthew 1:1-17 which starts at Abraham and ends with Joseph). Jeremiah 22:30 says, “This is what the LORD says: “Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule any more in Judah.” Verse 24 identifies this man as Jeconiah, also called Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, who was just before Zedekiah, the last king of Judah who was exiled after being blinded by Nebuchadnezzar in 606 B.C. Jehoiachin only reigned three months in Judah, but he did evil in the Lord’s sight and surrendered the land to Nebuchadnezzar. For this, Jeremiah records God’s displeasure with Jeconiah, and places a prohibition on all of his descendants never to sit on the throne in Judah. Some 70 years later when the Babylonian exile was over, Zerubbabel came with Jeshua the priest back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. Zerubbabel was the descendant of Jeconiah and assumed the role of leader of the Temple rebuilding, but he never assumed the throne thus fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah. Mary, on the other hand, also was of the House of David, but her lineage (see Luke 3:23-38 which starts with Jesus and goes all the way back to Adam) goes through Nathan, thus removing Jesus, whose true lineage by birth is not from Solomon or Jeconiah, from the prohibition of Jeremiah’s prophecy.
So, the city of Bethlehem was bursting with people. Everyone was busy caring for guests and really busy. No time to worry with a man and his pregnant wife since they probably thought the man and his wife could handle her pregnancy by themselves. The innkeeper or relative or whoever turned them away meant they had to seek some other place for shelter. And, the people that they would have been around missed their chance to witness the birth of the Savior of the world. We need to stop and look at our own lives. Do we spend more time shopping for Christmas than we spend adoring Christ? Do we spend more money on stuff for Christmas than we invest in His kingdom? Do we spend time worshipping the Lord on the very day we celebrate His birth?
At the time of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds were watching over those lucrative flocks of sacrificial sheep by night – Luke 2:8. It was not very cold like it would be in December or the flocks would have been herded into shelter, perhaps a large cave. The calculations from Luke 1:5 of the time of Zacharias’ priesthood course places the birth of John the Baptizer at about Mid-March. Then, Jesus was born six months later making His birthday coincide with Rosh Hashanah in September/October, not December. However, this revelation points to a surprising and significant point. If Jesus’ real birthday was in the Fall instead of the Winter, then His conception from the Holy Spirit had to be around, surprisingly, December 25th. In reality, all of our birthdays should be the day of conception since that is the very start of our lives. That realization also gives credence to the fact that life begins at conception, not at birth or after two trimesters or some such artificial, man-made timeframe. This is a strong argument and evidence that life should be measured from conception and then everyone could and should be pro-life. Anyway, these shepherds were out in the open field in the early Fall, not in Winter, when an angel of the Lord appeared to them announcing “good news of a great joy, …unto you is born this day in the town of David a Savior, Who is Christ, the Messiah, the Lord!” (Luke 2:10,11) Then, more angels appeared praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest Heaven and on Earth peace among men with whom He is well pleased” (Luke 2:14). The shepherds sought out the Christ child, found Him, and glorified God. Not a few shepherds went to see the baby Jesus lying in a manger (Luke 2:15, 16) and related to Mary what they had seen in the field that night. They left glorifying God and returned to their flocks. Isn’t it interesting that Luke says exactly nothing about the wise men? Only Matthew tells us of their visit at least fifteen months later!
The “Three” Wise Men
According to tradition, three wise men arrived simultaneously with the shepherds bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Legend has even named these three wise men – Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. But these names are not in the Bible nor are numbers of Magi given either. Balthasar is often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India probably to give these men an air of worldly significance. These names apparently derive from a Greek manuscript probably composed in Alexandria around 500 A.D., which was translated into Latin then into English. But, do we know that there were actually three wise men? No. The Bible is silent as to their number or their names.
If we don’t know how many wise men there were from the Bible or their names, why do we always see them in the manger in Bethlehem with the baby Jesus and the shepherds? There is no better answer than tradition because, according to Matthew 2:1-18, the wise men from the East came at least fifteen months or more after the birth of Christ. They came because of the star in the East. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (Matthew 2:10). It is interesting to note that the Bible is really clear that the wise men did not come to the manger on Christmas night. Matthew 2:11 goes on to say, “And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him”. Notice that the Magi came to a house in Bethlehem, not a manger in a field near Bethlehem. And, Jesus is described as a “Child” which in the original language meant a toddler. So, Jesus was walking around in Mary and Joseph’s probably rented house, an adorable toddler saying a few words, curious about this group of strange men who came to see Him and bringing gifts.
Persians had vast wealth and power, and they are said to have had the authority to make and break monarchies. They were called Magi, a Persian designation of their caste. As has long been known, they were monotheists, who had been heavily influenced by Jewish beliefs and the teachings of the prophets of Israel starting with Daniel when he was exiled to Babylon in 606 B.C. They came to Bethlehem in their official role, to confer upon Jesus the title of King and High Priest of Israel. After making their official call upon Herod in Jerusalem, the Idumean pretender to Israel’s throne, they headed south two miles to Bethlehem. These were men of the highest wealth and power, riding their thoroughbred horses and travelling with wagons, food, luggage, tents and an impressive army for protection, sort of a “secret service”. Had they not come in strength and only been three of them, Herod would have ordered them killed where they stood. It is no overstatement to say that everyone knew that these Magi had the power to launch and sustain kingdoms. They were also considered to be legitimate prophets in their own right. Our contemporary view of them as simple wise men is totally mistaken. Certainly, they were wise, but they were also skilled in the politics of the Middle East, and were sensitively aware that a prophesied King had come into their midst. Doubtless, it was their intention to assist Him – monetarily and politically – in His rise to power. Herod instinctively knew this, and wanted both them and the new King out of the way.
The Gifts Brought by the Magi to the New King
Their three gifts to Jesus have become part of the Christmas tradition, a singular act of adoration that resounded throughout the universe as the unique confirmation of the One who would restore all things:
Their first gift, gold, symbolic of monarchy, reminds us of the wealth of the Kingdom founded by David and expanded by Solomon. Solomon received nearly a billion dollars in gold (current valuation) from the Queen of Sheba alone. The Phoenician navy brought more gold from the place called Ophir on a regular basis. No one can even imagine how much. “And all king Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold; none were of silver: it (silver) was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon. For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks” (1 Kings 10:21,22). These Magi who bowed before Jesus, must have promised similar wealth. Given their reputation, they had it to give. They brought no mere chalice, or bracelet, or chain, or small box, or even a bag of gold coins. What they brought was the wealth appropriate to the King, affirmed by the kingmakers themselves. They promised a fortune fit for Solomon, and probably more. So, envision a wagon filled with gold instead of a little box of gold as the manger scenes depict. The wagon and the gold could have been part of the gift which would also enable Joseph and Mary to buy a house.
Their second gift, frankincense, symbolizes the acts of the Levitical priesthood, and the prayers of the people. It is included among the ingredients that were placed in the Tabernacle’s altar of incense by the priest. Its rising smoke signifies acceptable prayer: “And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight: And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy: And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy” (Ex. 30:34-36). The Magi gave this gift To the toddler Jesus representing his priestly office. It prophetically pointed to his resurrected and glorified state, after which He would adopt His present intercessory office as our great High Priest.
Their third gift, myrrh, is also associated with the Aaronic priesthood. It is the principal ingredient of the holy anointing oil, the ingredients of which were given to Moses by the Lord: “Moreover the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels, And of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of oil olive an hin: And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil. And thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office” (Ex. 30:22-25, 30). These verses tell us that myrrh was originally used for the ceremony of anointing the priests, and was specially prepared for the consecration of the Aaronic order. But in its actual use in Israelite society at that time, it carried another, and most significant, meaning. Myrrh is a gum of exquisite fragrance. It is exuded from a tree, a commiphora tree, that grows in the hotter climates of the Middle East. In the Old Testament, its fragrance is associated with beauty as an ingredient in fine perfume. The Jews used it to bury their dead. In fact, since it was commonly used as a burial spice, its most powerful prophetic connotation is that of preparation for death. In the following Scripture, Jesus clarifies the actions of the woman with the alabaster box of ointment. He explains that through divine guidance, she was prophetically preparing Him for His burial. Twice in the following passage, the word “ointment” is used. It is a translation of the Greek muron, from murra, the word for myrrh oil. Though it is elsewhere referred to as spiknard, it was probably a blend, based upon myrrh. Jesus specifically refers to it as an essential element of preparation for burial: “Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, to what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, why trouble ye the woman? For she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial” (Matt. 26:6-12).]
Even in His infancy, the Magi recognized Jesus as King and Priest. But they also foretold His death and burial through the gifts that they gave Him. Looking backward, we now see the importance of his death and entombment during the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread. When he arose on First Fruits, as the first of many who would be resurrected in His name, He gave back far more than He had received. The gifts of the Magi were only a dim foreshadowing of the gifts that the young Messiah would give to all mankind – salvation and eternal life from the dead.
As an added insight, in a beautiful way, the Apostle Paul explains how Christ’s gifts, received from the Magi, are distributed to men. It was necessary for Him to die, as so often prophesied, to rise up and bless all mankind: “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:7,8; 11,12). When the Magi came to pay their respects to Jesus, their visit was in fact, a prophecy, which is still in the long process of being fulfilled. One day, the world will recognize the beauty of the risen Christ, as these faithful men from Persia once did, even before He arose. In fact, there is a prophecy to that effect, given by Isaiah in his future view of the Kingdom, when Christ will be seated upon David’s throne: “Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee. The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD” (Is. 60:5,6). Note that the Gentiles are shown bringing tributes of gold and incense, typifying His Kingdom and His Priesthood. But myrrh is not included, nor should it be, since His death has already been accomplished, once for all time. His gifts, duly received and acknowledged, have been redistributed to humanity.
The cost and value of the gifts is inestimable. In some dimly-perceived way, our annual Christmas rush to bless others with a profusion of gifts is motivated by a recognition of what Christ gave to humanity in the ultimate act of self-sacrifice. At a conscious level, we tend to forget the details of his magnificent act. But in our hearts, even the most faithless know that His act of love lies at the heart of everything we recognize as culture and civilization. We know that blessing comes from the Lord. Why else would solely secular men be so eager to eradicate every last trace of Christmas from the public or at least remove any reference to Christ? A manger scene or a gift of love, even a brightly-colored tribute, is objectionable to them. They know about the gift, and they want to cover it up. This year, take a deep breath and think about what He has given you. His love will flow through you to others. In that moment, you might just recapture the elusive spirit of Christmas.
The Star That Led the Magi to Jesus
Each year, as Christmas approaches, articles appear in numerous publications, both secular and religious, “explaining” the famous star whose unspoken testimony led the wise men to Bethlehem when Christ was born. Many theories have been offered, by many learned men, seeking to account for this remarkable event recorded in Matthew 2. We should ask some questions about these wise men in an effort to understand how they really fit into the Christmas story.
- Just who were these “wise men” and why were they the only ones who realized the importance of the star? None of the political or religious leaders of the Jews seemed aware of it until these men from a distant country suddenly showed up in Jerusalem in a startling manner.
- Why did the appearance of these supposed “three” travelers (totally unbiblical since no numbers are ever discussed), with their questions about the star and the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:1), inspire such agitation among King Herod and these Jewish leaders? When the wise men saw the star over Bethlehem, they were excited and joyful. Why didn’t Herod and the Jewish leaders rejoice with them?
- Finally, just what was this star, and how could it possibly lead them on such a long journey to just the right location, especially since everyone else in the very city of the promised Messiah seemed unaware of it?
- Who Were the Wise Men and How Did They Know?
The common legend mentioned before about the wise men says that there were three of them, named Melchior, Balthasar, and Gaspar, from three different nations (Babylonia, Persia, and India) and referred to as three kings. Calling them kings is completely traditional with no basis in Scripture. The phrase “wise men,” in Matthew 2:1,7, is Magi (or Magoi in the Greek), and applies to members of a special group of men. A class of scholars called the Magi (from which our modern word “magic” is derived) may originally have come from a certain tribe in Media, part of the Persian Empire, and may even have later become a part of the governing body of Persia. This is uncertain, but what does appear to be well established is the fact that they were especially interested in astronomy (not astrology) and the prophetic “wisdom” that this talent, this concentration of study, seemed to give them. They eventually became a sort of priestly caste, and were attached to the royal courts of Babylonia and Persia and even those of more distant lands such as Arabia and India, as consultants and advisers to the nobles of those lands.
There is even an ancient tradition that Balaam, the notorious prophet from Mesopotamia, was an early member of the Magi, perhaps even their founder. If so, this fact would at least partially explain why the Magi at the time of Christ were aware that a special star would be used by God to announce the Savior’s birth to this world. It was Balaam’s prophecy, of course, as recorded in the Bible, that spoke of this future star. Here is his prophecy uttered in and around 1446 B.C. or the time of the Exodus, actually constrained by God to be uttered against the prophet’s own will. “I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth, and Edom shall be a possession. Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come He that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city”. (Numbers 24:17-19).
Thus Balaam’s reluctant, but divinely inspired, prophecy revealed that a unique Star associated with Israel would accompany a future Sceptre (that is, King) who would eventually rule the world. The later Magi, especially those in Babylon and Persia (where the influence of Daniel [roughly 606 to 536 B.C.], as well as Mordecai and Esther [roughly 478 B.C.], had been profound and long-lasting), would surely be familiar with this prophecy and also the various prophecies of Daniel (who had been the most respected of the “wise men” at the courts of Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus. Daniel 2:45; 6:28).
Some of the Magi may even have been Jews in religion, if not in ethnicity. At the time of God’s great deliverance of the Jews in Persia during the days of Queen Esther, it was recorded that “many of the people of the land became Jews” (Esther 8:17). This event in itself would encourage many of the Persian members of the Magi at that time to study the Jewish sacred books, especially the Messianic prophecies of Daniel. This would have become a key part of the Magi’s traditional learning, handed down generation after generation, even to the time of Christ.
Among the prophecies of Daniel given during the reign of Darius the Mede, was the great prophecy of the “seventy weeks,” which revealed that the Messiah would come as Prince of Israel 483 years after the Persian emperor gave the commandment to the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem (Daniel 9:24,25). It would easily be possible for the Persian Magi, as the promised date came near, to put these prophecies of Balaam and Daniel together, and thus be watching for “His star” to appear.
Something like this may at least partly explain why the Persian Magi and not the Herodians who ruled the Jews and the rationalistic Jewish religious leaders of the time, mostly Sadducees, were aware of the significance of the star when it appeared. It is quite possible that the “wise men” from this same caste who were prominent as counsellors in Babylon and other lands (even Arabia and India) were also aware of what was happening. It may be possible (as the tradition suggests) that Magi from other lands as well as Persia joined the entourage journeying to Jerusalem to seek this promised “King of the Jews.” But, significantly, there is absolutely no convincing reason to think that only three Magi came. The fact that three types of gifts (gold, frankincense, myrrh) were offered does not mean that only three men offered the gifts. Remember, the Bible does not say how many there were. Let’s look at the circumstances of their arrival in Jerusalem to get a few clues as to how many actually came.
- Why Were Herod and the Jews so Troubled by the Magi’s Visit?
It would, indeed, seem rather unlikely that the visit of three “wise men of the East” would create such a stir in Jerusalem. In the first place, how could these foreigners ever get in to see King Herod? Why would their question cause the king to be “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3). All this becomes clearer when the possibility that many more than three foreign “wise men” or Magi showed up, probably a dozen, perhaps more, dressed in flowing white robes of expensive cloth, dazzling in the sun. They had come from “the East,” and were themselves representatives of one or more great nations, traveling no doubt with a large military escort, armed impressively and numbering perhaps a hundred, and a sizable entourage of servants, animals carrying traveling supplies, and wagons carrying the abundant heavy gold and the other gifts for the King.
Why would this impressive and threatening entourage upset a powerful king, Herod the Great, acting under authority of the great Roman Empire, supposedly dominant in all the known world of that time? Herod had been appointed “King of the Jews”, so why should he be troubled by these dignitaries from the East? First, however, the Roman Empire was not dominant in all the known world. In fact, the various nations “East” of Judea, Persia, Babylonia, and Assyria, were not part of the Roman Empire but a part of the large and powerful Parthian empire, which was a serious rival to Rome and had defeated several attempts by the Roman legions (including one led by Herod himself, before he became king) to conquer it. There is reason to believe that, at this time, the Parthians (Persians) were actually threatening Rome, so this long chain of elegant riders accompanied by armed militia was a bit concerning. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem , saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.’ And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him…. Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem , and said, ‘Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, that I too may come and worship Him'” (Matthew 2: 1-3, 7-8). Herod was the king of the land. He falsified his desire to worship Jesus Christ in order to discover just where He was, and Herod was fearful because One had been born who was called the King of the Jews. The Greek word translated “troubled” in verse three means “to be agitated” or “stirred up.” It carries the idea of total panic. Herod panicked. Why? He was afraid of Jesus, afraid of another king, afraid his reign was at least threatened or, perhaps, was at an end.
Julius Caesar appointed Herod’s father, Antipater, to be procurator, or governor, of Judea under the Roman occupation. Antipater then managed to have his son Herod appointed prefect (supervisor) of Galilee. In that office Herod was successful in quelling the Jewish guerrilla bands who continued to fight against their foreign rulers. After fleeing to Egypt when the Parthians invaded, Herod then went to Rome and in 40 B.C. was declared by Octavian and Antony (with the concurrence of the Roman senate) to be king of the Jews. He invaded the land the next year and, after several years of fighting, drove out the Parthians and established his kingdom. He was not Jewish, but Idumean (an Edomite, descendant of Esau), Herod married Mariamne, heiress to the Jewish Hasmonean house (Jewish royalty descended from Judas Maccabeus who ended the Greek Antiochus Epiphanes invasion and desecration of the temple around 160 B.C.), to make himself more acceptable to the Jews he now ruled.
He was a clever and capable warrior, orator, diplomat, and master builder. But he also was cruel and merciless. He was incredibly jealous, suspicious, and afraid for his position and power. Fearing a potential threat, he had the high priest Aristobulus, his wife’s brother, drowned. He then provided a magnificent funeral where he pretended to weep. Next Herod had Mariamne herself killed, and then her mother and two of his own sons. Five days before his death (about two years after Jesus was born) he had a third son executed. One of the greatest evidences of his bloodthirstiness and insane cruelty was having the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem arrested and imprisoned shortly before his death. Because he knew no one would mourn his own death, he gave orders for those prisoners to be executed the moment he died. Thus he thought he was guaranteeing that there would be mourning in Jerusalem when he died, but his wishes were not carried out because the prisoners were freed after his death.
Those barbaric acts and insane thinking were exceeded in cruelty only by his slaughter of “all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under” (Mathew 2:16 ). By that action he hoped to kill any threat to his throne from the One the Magi said had been born King of the Jews. Herod was afraid that someone else would take his throne. Today people are fearful of giving up their own plans, priorities, values, and morals. They don’t want to come to Christ because He will cramp their style—He will lay claim on their lives. That means they will have to alter the way they live. The media tells people to do their own thing, master their own fate, and chart their own destiny. The world is full of kings who will not kneel before Jesus Christ, so they miss Christmas just like Herod.
The rest of Jerusalem was also “troubled” by what seemed an imminent threat of invasion. The religious leaders were undoubtedly embarrassed, as well as troubled, that they, of all people, had to be informed by foreigners about the coming of Messiah. Although these Jewish religious leaders were not looking for the Messiah, and did not really want Him to come and upset their own profitable operations, they did at least know about the messianic prophecies. King Herod, who was a descendant of Edomites, did not know the prophecies himself, but when he inquired of the chief priests and scribes, they were able to tell him where this coming King Messiah was to be born. Paraphrasing Micah 5:2, they said: “Thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel” (Matthew 2:5,6). Whether these Jewish leaders were familiar with Balaam’s prophecy of the Star or not, the account does not say. In any case, they had not paid any heed to the actual Star when it appeared, though they must have seen it.
- Just What Was This Remarkable Star?
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (Matthew 2:11). Each year, as Christmas approaches, articles appear in numerous publications, both secular and religious, “explaining” the famous star whose unspoken testimony led the wise men to Bethlehem when Christ was born. Many theories have been offered, by many learned men, seeking to account for this remarkable event recorded in Matthew 2:1-12.
Since we need to take the Bible literally, we need to think of this star as a real star, not an angel or some miraculous atmospheric light which the wise men thought was a star. The Greek word “aster” occurs some 24 times in the New Testament. A similar word, “astron” is used four times. Both words refer specifically to real stars, unless the context indicates otherwise. It is true that stars are sometimes used to symbolize angels (Revelation 1:20; 12:4,7) or even human beings (Jude 13). It is also true that planets, meteorites, and comets were apparently considered “stars” by the astronomers of that day and even by the Lord Jesus Himself (Matthew 24:29). But such usages are always apparent in the context.
The account of the wise men, however, is given as a simple historical record, and the Magi certainly knew what a star was as well as anybody in that day, and they called it a star (in fact, His star), not an angel or an atmospheric guiding light of some kind. They were familiar with the record of the glory cloud (the Shekinah) that had guided the Israelites under Moses in the wilderness (Numbers 14:14), for it was in the same book of the Torah as the account of Balaam’s star. Yet they called it a star, not a glory cloud or any other kind of moving light in the sky. Nevertheless, many fine Bible teachers, unable to see how a fixed star in the heavens (or even a moving star like a planet or comet) could actually guide the Magi to the very house in Bethlehem where the infant Christ was staying, have decided it must have been an angel or the Shekinah or some other miraculous moving light seen only by these foreign wise men.
But the idea that the “star” was not really a star involves serious difficulties, in addition to that posed by the straightforward use of “star” in the verses we have referenced. Why, for example, would God send such a special aerial messenger 600 miles away to Persia, and not to those in Israel itself who were anticipating the coming Messiah? The Jewish leaders were not watching for Him, of course, but there were many who were. God did send a choir of angels and “the glory of the Lord” to a group of shepherds near the manger in Bethlehem to announce the birth (Luke 2:9_12), but what about the faithful remnant in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel? The account refers to “all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38) and mentions Simeon and Anna in particular. These two, moved by the Holy Spirit, even recognized the infant Jesus as the promised Messiah when Mary and Joseph, after the forty “days of her purification according to the Law of Moses [Leviticus 12:2-6], brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22). Why had such devout Jews, waiting for the Messiah, not been informed about His birth in Bethlehem?
Furthermore, how would the Magi, far off in Persia, recognize this supposed moving light as announcing the King of the Jews, urging them to undertake a long and dangerous journey to greet Him? And why would the light not have led them directly to Bethlehem instead of Jerusalem and Herod’s court? Matthew’s account never says the Star ever “led” them at all. It says merely that they saw the Star while they were at home “in the East,” then later, as it “stood over where the young child was” (Matthew 2:2,9). There is no record that they saw it at all during the long journey to Jerusalem.
A very popular explanation offered for the star by many is that the “star” was merely a conjunction of two or three planets at the time of Christ’s birth. The great astronomer, Johann Kepler, was apparently the first to suggest this type of explanation. In 1605 he calculated that there had been a conjunction of three planets (Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars) in 7 B.C. Many others have followed this idea, assuming that this conjunction constituted the Christmas star. It was said to have occurred in the constellation Pisces (remember that the sign of Christianity is the fish), and this constellation was believed by astrologers to be the Zodiac sign related to Israel.
Still more importantly, this act of associating star and planetary and Zodiac positions with events on Earth is a prominent feature of the occult art of astrology – astrology being condemned in the Bible (Isaiah 47:13-15). It would not seem reasonable for God to associate anything concerning His promised incarnation with the pseudo-science of astrology which He had warned His people to avoid. Similar objections apply to the suggestion of some writers, both ancient and modern, that the Christmas star was a comet. Comets also are fairly frequent and travel in regular, predictable orbits, just like planets and their conjunctions. They also have a different appearance than ordinary stars or planets, with a sort of tail following each of them, and the Magi undoubtedly could distinguish them from real stars. They were also commonly used as astrological predictors whenever they occurred, and would thus seem unsuitable for God’s purpose in sending His Star.
There does remain one special type of star which does not involve any of the difficulties discussed above. These are novas (stars destructing) or, still more intriguingly, rare supernovas. These are real stars, not conjunctions of stars, or comets, and certainly not atmospheric phenomena. Novas and supernovas are sudden, rare, entirely unpredictable explosions of existing stars that had been originally created on Day Four of Creation Week. Somehow what seems to be an ordinary star suddenly increases tremendously in brilliance, continuing so for several months until it finally fades away.
Since supernovas are very rare and entirely unpredictable, they have no astrological significance. There have only been a few visible supernovas reported in our galaxy, the oldest of which occurred in 1054 A.D., as reported by Chinese astronomers. There was one reported by Tycho Brahe in 1572 A.D., and one by Kepler in 1604 A.D. Others have been seen with the aid of large telescopes, but these were not available to the Magi, of course.
These were devout men, believing in the true God of creation and the promises in His Word. They were undoubtedly familiar also with the original signs and symbols God had imposed on the stars, and thus were able to recognize that this new star that had suddenly blazed forth in the sky must indeed be “His Star,” the star announcing the birth of the promised King. They were so elated that they decided to make the long pilgrimage to Jerusalem to find and worship Him. However, this could not be arranged overnight. Considerable time would be needed to assemble an entourage of servants and armed guards, supplies for the whole company, gifts for the Holy Child, and perhaps even arrangements for meeting up with Magi coming from other regions with the same purpose. But finally they were ready, and set out on the long journey. Therefore, it took well over a year for them to make it to Jerusalem, planning plus travel, thus aligning timewise with the Matthew account.
Why Does Society as a Whole and Even the World Miss Christmas?
First, the Jews. Back at the time of Jesus’ birth, Jerusalem missed Christmas. Shocking! In Luke chapter 2 verse 8, “There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night when an angel of the Lord came to them”. The angel told them what to do and the shepherds came and they saw the Christ child. And verse 20 says; “The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen as it was told unto them.”
Out of the whole of Jerusalem society God picked shepherds to get the news of Christ’s birth first. Shepherds were not at the top of the list in society, they were at the bottom of the list. Shepherds were really a despised group because they couldn’t maintain all of the ceremonial washings, couldn’t carry out all of the ceremonial activities, all of the festivals and feasts because of their occupation busy tending to the sheep all the time. The shepherds in Bethlehem’s hillside were caring for sheep which someday would be used as sacrifices in the temple. The very shepherds that cared for sacrificial lambs were the first to know of the one born as the ultimate lamb.
These outcasts were the ones who knew and they came. No one else came.
There was an old man in Jerusalem named Simeon who waited for the consolation of Israel. “And behold there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.” (Luke 2:25-35) Simeon was righteous and devout. Simeon wanted to see the Messiah and he held the infant glorified God. Then, he was ready to die. Then there was an old lady, Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:36-38) a widow of eighty four years after living with her husband seven years (she was over 100) and she saw the Messiah. At the end of verse 38 she spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Anna told a few others. But the sad thing is that the mass of Jerusalem missed Christmas totally. It happened only a couple of miles away, it was the fulfillment of all their dreams and all their hopes, it was that great event which was to change the destiny of the world, but they missed it.
Why did they miss it? Religion. They were very religious. They were so busy with their religion, carrying out their rituals and observances and ceremonies that they missed the reality. They had all their feasts and all their festivals, all their ceremonies, all their washings, all of their rules and regulations, all of their laws and things they had grown up around, and their religious system. Many or even most of these weren’t even biblical at all. In the midst of all of their religion they never got the message. In fact, when Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 16, “Whom do men say that I am?”, their answer was, “Some say You are Elijah, some say You are Jeremiah and some say You are one of the prophets,” and they were all wrong. They never got the message. They screamed – We’ll not have this man reign over us, get rid of Him. They were busy worshipping the right God in the wrong way. They had the God of the Scripture but they had gotten enmeshed in the details of ritual and tradition without truly examining God’s Word. Religion can give a place to hide, think you are spiritual. There are people who say, “I came from such-and-such a church and such-and-such a background, but I never knew Christ”. Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Science, all the cults don’t know Christ. They talk about the God of the Bible (maybe), about Scripture, but in the midst of their religion they are lost.
Have you ever tried to talk to somebody who is all bogged down in a religion? It’s tough, especially if it’s got something to do with the Bible because they think they’ve got their system right. Religion will damn people to hell. Satan’s ultimate disguise is as an angel of light that fools people into thinking that their brand of religion is the only correct brand. It may have something to do with the Bible or some erroneous version of the Bible, but, in their minds, it’s the only correct way. Christmas is also like that. Satan has overcome the true meaning of the observance of Christ’s birthday with commercial materialism, empty rituals, all decorated in beautiful tinsel.
How about the Gentiles? The state is getting involved in religion as the answer to the complicated mess of numerous denominations. As an example, the British have a state church. In days gone by, the monarchy controlled the state and the church because the only religion allowed was the one the state approved. That is the very reason that the Founding Fathers gave us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment to the Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This has been interpreted in reverse and convoluted by saying the church must stay out of the state. For obvious reasons based on actual history of church persecution from the state, the First Amendment simply says the state stays out of the church, not the church out of the state. That means, like the Founders who were overwhelmingly Christian, solid Bible-believing Christians can and should seek elected political office to set a Godly example of how to approach what government should be.
Back at the time of Christ’s birth, Matthew, a Jew, sets the scene around Herod the king of the Jews. Luke sets the scene around Caesar Augustus because Luke is a Gentile. Luke 2:1 says there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that everybody be taxed when Quirinius was governor of Syria. (As a side note, the “experts” said for decades that Quirinius was fictional even though his name appears in the Bible – his name was found recently chiseled in stone identifying him as governor in Syria at the time of Christ) That decree went out and set in motion the events that made Christ born at Bethlehem. In other words, the prophecy of Micah was really set in motion by a Gentile emperor Caesar.
Who was Augustus Caesar? It’s fascinating to get into the background of this man. His name is Octavian. He’s the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. He was the Roman Emperor from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D. He was basically a good man. He brought about the Pax Romana to keep peace in the Roman Empire. He accomplished many good things. Octavian found out Julius Caesar was assassinated. When the will was read, all of Caesar’s inheritance and the throne went to Octavian, Caesar’s grandnephew. In doing so, Caesar passed everyone else, untraditionally, and left everything to Octavian. Octavian immediately changed his name to Caius Julius Caesar and that’s why he was called Caesar. The Augustus added to the Caesar name means “the revered majestic one” as a title.
So this man ruled during this time as the Roman Caesar. He was the one who made the decree for everyone to be taxed. The Roman soldiers made sure the people obeyed, registering the people, taking the census. The Romans were the ever-present ruling and dominating presence all through Jesus’ life. Just before the death of Christ, He appears before Pilate, the Roman Governor. Then He is executed by the Romans because the Jews wanted His death, but they could not execute anyone since that was the exclusive right of the Romans. The Romans lie about His resurrection, fabricating a story so as not to face the reality that He arose from the dead. The Romans are woven all through the biblical record. But they all missed Christmas because of idolatry! They had their own gods, and Christ wasn’t one of them. And there are people in the world like that too. The Buddhists miss Christmas, the Muslims miss Christmas, the Mormons miss Christmas, they’re all worshipping the wrong god. And Jerusalem with its very religious Jews, worshipped the right God but in the wrong way. Today, there are protestants and Catholics that go to church every week, sometimes multiple times a week, and miss Christmas.
By the way, Octavian took the title of Pontifex Maximus which means the highest priest. He deified Julius Caesar with temples and deified himself by building temples to himself. The Romans worshipped him, multitudes of other gods, and the pinnacle was the worship of the emperor, all gross idolatry. Remember, at their Saturnalia feast they passed out little gifts of idols. And in the midst of their pagan idolatry they missed the One true God, they missed Jesus Christ and Christmas.
Today, some people worship money. Some people worship sex. Some people worship cars. Materialism, boats, power, houses, prestige, popularity, fame, celebrity. Those are the idols of the 20th century. That’s why most today miss Christmas. There may be many expensive presents, there may be an extravagant and delicious dinner, and there may be a beautifully decorated house with a large and an expensively decorated and lit artificial tree, but Christmas will be missed. All of this modern Christmas stuff amounts to nothing different than the Saturnalia feast of drunkenness and orgies. Too many people miss Christmas because of false gods. Others because they worship the true God supposedly in the wrong way. Others because of a chilling prideful indifference. Others because of a ridiculous preoccupation with things that don’t even matter.
What about Christmas traditions we all observe? Where did they come from?
December 25 is the traditional anniversary of the birth of Christ. We celebrate our Savior’s birth much more than celebrate His death and Resurrection which seems a little out of balance. Do we really know exactly when Christ was born? No. Do we really know when Christ died? Yes, on Passover. When He was buried? Yes, on the Feast of Unleavened Bread. When He resurrected? Yes, on the Feast of First Fruits. But, as to His birthday, all we can do is look to calculations based upon the course of Zacharias’ priesthood given in Luke 1:5. We can actually calculate the birth of his son, John the Baptist, to a date in mid-March. Jesus would have been born six months later, probably on Rosh Hashanah, the Feast of Trumpets, in September/October as given in Luke, chapter 2, when the shepherds were “keeping watch over their flocks by night.” So, are we wrong to celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25th? Yes and no. Yes, since that date is obviously incorrect, but, no, since commemorating Jesus’ birth is certainly acceptable on December 25th as long as we remember that is the reason for the celebration, not just to give and receive presents.
A disturbing feeling comes over our practice of celebrating December 25th as Jesus’ birthday when we examine just where that date came from along with all the things we do and observe at that time. We, as Christians (or more properly said as believers in the Second Person of the Trinity who came to Earth as a man, lived a sinless life, sacrificed Himself and shed His blood to cover all our sins, then rose from death in victory after three days and ascended to the Father in Heaven awaiting our reunion with Him) look to Jesus Christ and celebrate His birth on December 25th every year. But, there are a lot of traditions associated with Christmas that we all take for granted. Perhaps we shouldn’t and find out just where these traditions came from. This new knowledge does NOT negate our worship of Christ if we are truly His. But, this new knowledge can be a little disturbing.
In the middle of the fourth century, the bishop of Jerusalem wrote a letter to the bishop of Rome. He said I would like for you to ascertain the date of the birth of Christ so that we could establish a date and have a celebration annually. The bishop of Rome sent word back to the bishop of Jerusalem that Christ was born on December 25. And by the end of the fourth century this had become the accepted custom. Since then every December 25 focuses on the birth of Christ. Bible scholars know that there is absolutely no evidence at all that Christ was born on December 25. In fact, there is not only no evidence that He was born then, but there is some evidence that He was not which we have already mentioned(Luke 1:5).
Why then did the bishop of Rome do this? Well, the conclusion is that he did it rather arbitrarily. And as we get back into history we find out why he did this. December was the major month of pagan celebrations. December was the month of festivals and feasts. Pagan orgies and all kinds of pageants put on by the pagans in honor of their gods as winter had reached its fullness happened each year, and they were anticipating the Spring thaw, new planting, and the strength of the sun returning with the clouds rolling back. So, December became a time of high, boisterous, pagan revelry. Such activities, for example, are found in pagan histories in December as feasting, as adorning the homes with evergreens, as hanging trinkets on trees, as lighting candles, as involving mistletoe, as exchanging gifts and general merry making, and feastings deteriorating into drunkenness and orgies in these traditional heathen celebrations. The bishop focused on the 25th because that seemed to be the high point of these festivities. And his thought was that the wild winter revelries of the pagans must be sanctified by Christianity. Therefore, we will impose our celebration of the birth of Christ on the pagan celebrations and sanctify them all. It was a nice thought. But it was dead wrong. Because the heathen festivity continued and the church was unable to make them conform to the sanctification of the true Christian celebration.
What you had was a strange weird marriage of the pagan and the Christian that we now call Christmas. Regardless of the pagan background of so many December traditions, and whether or not Jesus was born on December 25th, our goal is still to turn the eyes of all men upon the true Creator and Christ of Christmas. The light of the world has come. And the Christmas season and celebration presents the church with a wonderful opportunity to preach the good news that men can be made righteous and have peace with God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.
To the Romans, the month of December was important because it marked what is known as the Festival of the Saturnalia. Saturn was the god of agriculture and they held this great feast, which involved orgies and prostitution and all kinds of drunkenness in honor of Saturn, so that he might begin to bring the Spring and crops might grow. One of the common customs among the Romans at Saturnalia was giving gifts to one another. As far as we can tell, that is where we get the idea of giving presents at Christmas. And, in the festival of Saturnalia, the most common gifts were little idols that were made in the image of the multiplicity of Roman deities. They were made out of clay, or marble, or out of silver. Evergreens would be hung all over their houses and that apparently is where the wreath, at least initially, came from.
North of the Romans were the barbaric northlands. The Northland people had a great celebration during December known as Yule. In the Yule season and the Yule celebration, they honored the gods Odin and Thor. Those from Minnesota are familiar with this. Their celebrations involved festivals, music, drinking, and so forth. To the East in Persia at the time of December, they worshipped Mithra, the god of light. In England to the West, the Druids, who were involved in strange priestly worship engulfing demonic and occult powers, were gathering sacred mistletoe for their sacrifices which they made in the month of December. Sacrifices were aimed at friendship and peace. The Druids would march out in the area of the oak groves where the mistletoe grew, led by their priests in their long white robes, chanting as they walked. The priests would ascend into the trees with golden sickles and they would cut down the mistletoe. And when all of the mistletoe had been gathered and passed around, the people would sacrifice two white oxen. The mistletoe was then to be taken back into the homes and be hung in the homes. Then anytime someone came under the mistletoe, he was to immediately be embraced in an effort to reconcile people whether they liked it or not.
The drama of the baby Jesus lying in a manger surrounded by Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi, and lots of animals which we know as the manger scene was popularized by St. Francis in the thirteenth century. Three hundred years later, Luther picked up the idea of a Christmas tree and brought a tree into his house and put candles on it to symbolize the sparkling stars and the sky over the forest. The trees and trinkets hanging on them had been part of the festivals of the pagans for centuries.
Holland got into the act by giving us their favorite saint, St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was a white bearded bishop of Asia Minor who was such a popular fellow that when he died, it was believed that he came back every December 6th. When St. Nicholas came back, he would ride through the streets on a white horse. All the little Dutch kids would put their wooden shoes out on the porch, and, as he came along, he would put goodies in the shoes of the good kids. Where there were bad children, he would leave a switch for them to be spanked. And the Dutch called St. Nicholas “Sinterklaas” which is where we got Santa Claus.
Caroling started in the fourteenth century along with jesters, musicians, and mummers (a pantomimist) who went around with funny masks. Even today, they still have a mummers parade in Philadelphia at Christmas. The hanging of stockings on the mantle seems to have come from Sinterklaas, St. Nicholas, Santa Claus. He was going through his act one year of putting things in the shoes, got pretty good at it, so he started flipping things into the chimneys. In one home, supposedly, some folks had hung their stockings underneath the fireplace to dry them out overnight. Whatever Sinterklaas was flipping into the chimneys landed in those stockings. Not very theological.
Christmas cards began in 1846, where they were printed in London by a very enterprising man named Sir Henry Cole who was the owner of an art shop. Sir Henry saw it as a way to make a lot of money. And all the first Christmas cards printed for him were printings of drinking scenes.
Jesus said that He came into the world and the world received Him not. And John said the world was made by Him and the world knew Him not. But then John says in John 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God even to them that believed on His name.” Our present Christmas rituals really take the focus off of the intended honoree, Jesus Christ. There are many ways to miss Christmas like ignorant preoccupation, rituals, idolatry, and others. But behind all those reasons is unbelief. Many people simply refuse to believe in Jesus Christ. The apostle John said, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:10-12). To those who are missing the reality of Christmas in their lives, know that if anyone receives the Lord Jesus Christ and believes in His name, Christmas will suddenly become relevant and real. It can happen today; and it’s a personal, individual decision between you and God. “…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” “…That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2; Romans 10:8-11).