God became man, born to die for the sins of his people and ransom us back from the enemy who had stolen us away in the Garden so long ago. It’s the real meaning of Christmas.
The angel said to me, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33
Note from Mary: “As you know I’m not one of the Bible’s writers, although my story appears in several of the Gospels. What follows is a re-telling of my experience with some extra tidbits thrown in that, while historically accurate, may be new to you. Merry Christmas”.
There was an expectancy you could almost feel in Israel in those days, and sometimes it exploded into the streets as one itinerant preacher after another toured the country delivering his Messianic messages. Some actually claimed to be the Messiah, while others loudly hailed His coming, warning everyone to get ready. Usually, it got them in trouble with the law, since the thing the Romans hated most of all was civil unrest. Some were beaten and run out of various towns and a few were put to death. But the people caught the Messianic fever, hoping, dreaming and even praying that the Lord would raise-up a leader to defeat the Romans and restore our country to its glorious days of the past.
History, Written In Advance
Those who took our Scriptures literally knew from reading the prophet Daniel that the time had about come for the promised Messiah’s arrival. Back in the year you call 586 BC the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem, leaving the whole area in ruins as they carried all our people off to a life of slavery. One of those people was Daniel, and while he was in Babylon the Lord told him that after 70 years the Persians would conquer Babylon and the Jews would be set free to return and rebuild everything. And then He told Daniel that 483 years after they received permission to rebuild Jerusalem, the Messiah would come. The Persian King issued the official decree authorizing them to begin on a date you know as March 14, 445BC.
That meant that if the Scriptures were true the Messiah was coming soon, even in our lifetimes! Of course many of the people I knew and most of our country’s leaders didn’t believe that anymore, but still we could always hope and the words of those Messianic preachers really had us stirred up. (We later learned that from the issuing of that decree to the day you call Palm Sunday, the only day Jesus ever permitted Himself to be hailed as Israel’s King, was 483 years to the very day!)
As a teenage girl in Nazareth, I had lots of other things on my mind, too. Let’s not forget that I was engaged to be married! My betrothed was a carpenter named Joseph. He had a shop in town and made furniture and things for the people of Nazareth. In his spare time he was building the house we were going to live in.
Let me take a minute to explain that in those days things were a lot different from the way they are in your time. It took years for men to establish themselves sufficiently to be able to support a wife and family, but when they did they often chose younger women who were strong enough to bear and raise lots of children. And so it was with Joseph.
Since he was quite a bit older than me I didn’t know him at all, but he had apparently taken a liking to me because one day he showed up at our house to ask for my hand in marriage. This meant that my family would be deprived of my help in keeping our household functioning, so my father needed to be adequately compensated for his loss. After a long session of negotiating a proper price for me while my mother and I sat there watching, Joseph and my father reached an agreement and all eyes turned to me.
I had about thirty seconds to agree or disagree to the arrangement. If I disagreed Joseph would leave and I would never see him again. If I agreed there would be a legally binding betrothal ceremony, and a series of closely chaperoned “get acquainted” meetings would be scheduled. We would never be alone together until our wedding night, which would take place only after Joseph’s father determined that the house he was building for us was finished and suitable. This often took still more years. Things moved a lot more slowly then, but in my case an event unique in all of human history would alter our time table considerably.
A Visit From Heaven
It was during this time of waiting that I had the strangest visit. An angel who called himself Gabriel suddenly appeared to me. “Greetings, you who are highly favored,” he said, “The Lord is with you.” To say I was greatly troubled at his words would be a huge understatement, and I wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to me, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” I asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” I said. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left me.
Well what do you say after a conversation like that? I was stunned! Speechless! And anyway who could I tell? There was only one person in the world who might have even an inkling of what I was going through; my cousin Elizabeth. Though much older than I, she was just now experiencing a very similar shock. Having been barren all her life, a huge embarrassment for a woman in my time, she was going to have a baby, too. And it was also the Lord’s doing. I had to go and visit her, even though it was several days journey in a time when travel was a major undertaking.
Lessons From Life
Looking back on that time, and with the benefit of New Testament Scriptures, I’m always taken with the similarity between the way my betrothal and wedding to Joseph should have gone and the relationship between the Church and the Messiah. I now believe the Lord set up these traditions just to teach us things about Himself.
I didn’t know Joseph was coming into my life till the day he first arrived to ask for my hand. He and my father agreed on the price for me, and though it was all arranged by them, I had to choose for myself to confirm the agreement. When I did, I became his and no one could steal me away. Under normal circumstances he would then have gone away and I would rarely see him till he came like a thief in the night to carry me off to our wedding at his father’s house. The wedding date would have been unknown to me, because it couldn’t happen till his father agreed that the house he was building for me was complete. During the intervening time I would have had to watch and wait, always ready to go, because I wouldn’t have known the day or the hour of his return. I would spend a lot of time learning about him from his friends and preparing for our life together. When the wedding day finally came, the festivities would last for seven days and during that time we would be hidden away at his father’s house. At the end of the seven days we would return together to the house he had built for me and begin our new life.
In the same way, most believers are not expecting Him when the Lord first shows up in their lives. Though He and His Father have agreed on a price for us (his life’s blood) we have to choose for ourselves to confirm the arrangement. But when we do we become His and no one can steal us away. We never meet Him till he comes like a thief in the night to carry us off to His Father’s house for our wedding. That day will be a surprise to us, known only to His Father. In the meantime we watch and wait, always ready to go, because we don’t know the day or hour of his return, learning about Him from His friends while we wait. When the day finally comes we’ll be whisked away to His father’s house for seven years of festivities, after which we’ll return with Him to begin our new life as His Bride in the mansion He’s spent the last 2000 years building for us.
Gabriel To The Rescue
When I told Joseph about my condition, he was greatly troubled. You see, being pregnant out of wedlock was a very serious offense against our law. Joseph had every right to bring me before the priests and accuse me of sexual promiscuity, a crime punishable by death. Even if they let me live, my life would be ruined! An unmarried girl was supposed to remain a virgin and no self-respecting man would take a bride who wasn’t. And in those days there was no such thing as a single mom. What would I do?
I guess he had already begun falling for me, and while he couldn’t overlook what he thought was my infidelity, he decided that he would just break our engagement quietly, and we could go our separate ways. I could tell he was heart broken, and so was I. I couldn’t really blame him though. It was an outrageous story. Never before in history had a virgin become pregnant! But while I was visiting Elizabeth an angel came to him in a dream and told him everything was just as I had said and it was OK to remain with me. What a relief!
Stand Up And Be Counted
The next few months flew by and before I knew it, my time to deliver had nearly come. Then the Roman governor really threw a wrench into the works by deciding to conduct a census. Every family in Israel had to travel to their ancestral home to be counted. For Joseph and me that meant Bethlehem since we were both of the tribe of Judah and the house of David. Joseph was a descendant of King Solomon while I came from his brother Nathan’s family. Yes, that means we were actually distant cousins many times removed, but before you get all concerned let me explain that this was proper for two reasons.
First, my father Heli had no sons so as his oldest daughter I was his rightful heir. But the law required I marry someone from the tribe of Judah so my family’s land wouldn’t be lost from the tribal inheritance given to our ancestors in Joshua’s time (Numbers 36:6-9). Joseph was a proper choice under the law.
And second, the angel Gabriel had promised that my son would rule on David’s throne. The problem was that just before the Babylonian captivity, Israel’s kings had become so corrupt that the Lord had put a blood curse on Solomon’s line of David’s family, the royal line of succession, swearing that no biological descendant of Solomon’s after Jehoiachin (aka Jeconiah) would ever again rule over Israel as King (Jere. 22:28-30), and indeed, none ever has; Jehoiachin was Israel’s last legitimate king. This even though the Lord had promised David that Solomon’s descendants would always be Israel’s kings (1 Chron 17:10-14). Since Joseph was from Solomon’s line, he carried this blood curse as did every other living descendant of King Solomon’s.
To fulfill all the prophecies and keep God’s promise to David, the Messiah had to be from the tribe of Judah and the house and lineage of David. (House of David means Jesus had to be a descendant of David’s. Lineage means He had to be in Solomon’s royal line of succession.)
If Jesus had been a biological offspring of Joseph’s He would have been disqualified by the blood curse from ever being the King of Israel. But because I was also from the house of David, and was biologically related to Jesus, I could secure my son’s claim to the throne as long as whoever I married was also David’s descendant and from the royal line. Joseph met this requirement too, and when we married he became Jesus’ legal father. This placed Jesus in the line of succession and fulfilled the requirement that He be “from the house and lineage of David” without making Him liable to the curse. For this reason alone Jesus had to be born of a virgin. It’s the only way any descendant of David’s could ever be qualified to rule as King of Israel. It sounds complicated, but God is bound by his own law, just as we are.
Of course the prophecy that Jesus would reign on David’s throne is unfulfilled as yet. It won’t be fulfilled till his 2nd coming. But because Joseph and I were cousins, it can legally come to pass.
An Uncomfortable Ride To An Unbelievable Destination
If you can imagine being nine months pregnant and riding a donkey for the 60 mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, you know how uncomfortable I was. But we finally did arrive and wouldn’t you know it, every hotel was booked to capacity as we, so exhausted from the journey, were ready to settle for anything. And settle we did. An innkeeper took pity and loaned us his stable. Good thing too, because that very night I gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. When Joseph asked the Lord, “Why a stable?” He replied, “Where else would a Lamb be born?”
In your time there’s a popular Christmas song whose lyrics ask if I knew that this child I had just delivered would soon deliver me. Of course I did, and it made all the mean things that were said about me, all the discomfort I had endured, and all the sorrow I would feel more than worthwhile. I was truly blessed among women.
Some shepherds in nearby fields (tradition says the fields belonged to king David’s great grand parents Boaz and Ruth) were the first to learn of the Messiah’s birth. While out tending flocks of sheep the priests kept there for temple use, an angel informed them of the momentous occasion. Pilgrims bought the lambs from these flocks at Passover and when making sacrifices for sin, so these lambs were born to die for the sins of the people. It’s fitting that the shepherds tending these lambs would be the first to learn that The Lamb born to die for the sins of the people had come.
Traditionally in Israel a first time father would hire musicians to go through town singing the good news that he had a newborn son. We were too poor for that and besides our home town was two days North, but the God of the Universe, our son’s real father, opened the Heavens for choirs of angels to sing the Good News. Joy to the world!
Immediately after Jesus was born, someone handed me swaddling cloths to wrap him in. Contrary to popular belief, these cloths were neither a diaper nor a receiving blanket. They were made from the worn out linen undergarments of the Temple priests. Normally they were woven into wicks for the giant four-branched menorah that stood in the temple courtyard during the Feast of Tabernacles. There were four of these menorah and when lit up they cast a bright light that reflected off the white limestone of the Temple and illuminated the entire city. It was said that they lit up the whole world. These cloths were the perfect things to comfort Jesus, the true Light of the World.
Even the location was significant. Bethlehem translates into English as “house of bread”, a proper place for the One Who is the Bread of Life to begin His mission on Earth, wouldn’t you say?
Kings Will Bow Down Before Him
Some time later we had some very distinguished visitors. Wise Men from Parthia, a powerful country North and East of Israel came into Jerusalem in a large caravan that set the whole city abuzz. Here’s why. Parthia was the current name for the mighty Persian Empire. Their armies had defeated General Pompey and the Roman legions a few years earlier and the memory of that defeat was still fresh in the minds of many. It was like a delegation from a powerful enemy come to visit.
Immediately gaining an audience with King Herod, they asked, “Where is He who is born King of the Jews?” Now Herod wasn’t even Jewish and had been appointed King by the Romans. You can imagine how this question must have startled him. Surely, one born to be King would have a superior claim to the throne than a foreign appointee.
But Herod was a clever man. Treating his powerful guests with utmost courtesy, he summoned the priests who, after consulting the scroll of the Prophet Micah, answered, “Bethlehem.” Herod so informed the Wise Men and asked them to let him know of this king’s whereabouts, so he could come and pay homage, too. He thought that by being cooperative he might trick them into helping him get rid of a troublesome rival.
When the Wise Men found us, they bowed low and presented gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus. We learned that gold was prophetic of his kingship, frankincense of his priesthood, and myrrh of his death. (Myrrh is an embalming spice.) These gifts are also symbolic of His three heavenly offices: Prophet, Priest, and King.
When we asked how they knew to come looking for us, they said that ancient prophecies handed down in their priesthood for over 500 years told of a bright star that would appear in the Eastern sky at the appointed time and lead them to the king. Amazingly, they told us these prophecies had originated with the Jewish Prophet Daniel, who founded their order just for this purpose after the Persians had conquered Babylon.
Get Out Of Town
That night they were warned in a dream to stay clear of Herod, so having found Israel’s King they returned home by a different route. Joseph was also warned in a dream that night. An angel told him to take us into Egypt quickly because Herod was out to kill Jesus. We left just in time because without warning Herod’s soldiers stormed into Bethlehem and murdered all the boys under age two. We stayed in Egypt until the angel told us Herod had died and it was safe to come home.
So finally, after an absence of several years we returned to Nazareth. Our adventure would soon become the greatest story ever told. And our little boy would grow up to be the central figure in human history, God become man, born to die for the sins of his people and ransom us back from the enemy who had stolen us away in the Garden so long ago. It’s the real meaning of Christmas.