30 Awesome Christmas Things

This post is part of my personal blog. It is not intended to be representative of any church or other organization I am associated with.

Focusing on Jesus’ birth as part of the Christmas celebration is a pretty new thing in my life. This year around Thanksgiving I decided on a whim to post 30 awesome things about Jesus’ birth. I figured there would be plenty of awesome things to easily fill 30 posts. I tried to focus on writing things that were unique from one another, that provided some insight, and that were relatable. There were moments I thought I had run out of things to write meaningfully about. When I would start digging for more with prayer, God kept revealing awesome things. My goal was to be done by Christmas Day. I lagged behind some, but posted the last seven things all on Christmas Eve. This has been an enriching undertaking for me, and Christmas has taken on a deeper significance in my heart. Here are thirty awesome Christmas things:

The Shepherds
The Name
The Angel
The Tyrant
The Star
The City
The Massacre
The Manger
The Gifts
The Virgin
The Temple
The Lamb
The Mystery
The Betrothal
The Priest
The Messenger
The Emperor
The Widow
The Light
The Host
The Ancestors
The Adoption
The Scandal
The Mother
The Escape
The Prophet
The Dragon
The Testimony
The Human
The Creator

No one important. Just some shepherds. Not everybody in the whole region. Not Rome. Not kings and rulers of the earth. Not the Sanhedrin. Not rich people. Not influencers. Just some folks working outside on a peaceful night. Staying awake to keep the sheep safe. They were the ones told. They were the ones who got to go see. Can you imagine? They got to see the real thing. They got to experience the actual moment. All we have are inaccurate nativity scenes to look at. They actually got to visit Mary and Joseph after Jesus was born. Because they actually were important. They just didn’t realize it. People still don’t realize it. No one realizes it. They were the reason he was born. They were the whole point. You are. You’re the whole point. Because you’re actually really, really important.

His parents didn’t get to pick out a name for him. They would name their other children, but not this one. This one they named what the angel of God told them to name him. In Hebrew his name was Joshua, the name of Moses’ successor who had once conquered Canaan and finally brought God’s people out of their slavery and homelessness into the fertile land. He was not the first to reuse that name. It was not an uncommon name when he was born. During his life he probably met other people whose parents had actually chosen to name their kids the same thing. His name is a simple human name meaning “Jehovah is salvation” or “YHWH is helper”. That’s why he came into the world as a helpless little baby boy. Because his father and mother needed his help. Because God knew that you and I would need his help. He was named Jesus.

He was sent to Daniel hundreds of years earlier. He told Daniel about kingdoms that would rise and fall after Babylon, that would destroy each other to exalt themselves and then be brought to nothing. He spoke of the one who would even oppose the Prince of princes. He would not stand against the Prince of princes, because God would crush him. Then another vision, he comforted Daniel telling him about the rebuilding of the temple he had been praying towards, and he spoke again about the anointed Prince, the Messiah. He even told Daniel what year he would arrive. Weeks, decades, and centuries passed. He was sent again. He was sent to tell the old priest Zechariah, now serving in that new temple, about the conception and birth of his son John, who would be born to tell us about that Prince, that Messiah, to show us who it was, and to call us to repentance. “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” And finally, he was sent to Mary.

The Jewish leaders in Judea were commanded to assemble in Jericho under penalty of death. Herod’s flesh and intestines were literally rotting beneath him, worms devouring him as he clung to what little life he had left. With short putrid breaths he gave his final cruel command, that one out of every family who had arrived in Jericho by his order be killed by his soldiers. They had done nothing to deserve this, of course, but because he knew the Jews would no doubt celebrate his death, he gave them something else to mourn. Without this, he knew there would be no mourning at his funeral. He was a evil man, deserving of his sad, gruesome end. Such was the fate of the king who no more than a few years before had failed in his Pharaoh-esque attempt to assassinate the one who the wise men from the east had said would be the king of the Jews. No dark human scheme would thwart God’s plan to redeem mankind.

What did they see? Had a new star appeared in the sky to the west? Was it an alignment of the planets, a comet, or a meteor? A dream, a vision, a spirit, or an angel? Was it a distant view of the glory of the Lord that shone around the terrified shepherds? Was it Balaam’s prophecy? Was it a bright, far off sign of hope even to these Gentiles? Why did they follow it? Had they already been waiting for it when it appeared? Had they counted the weeks that Daniel foretold? Had they been instructed to go? Had they known what they would find? Why did they ask Herod? Had it disappeared? Had they lost it? Why had they seen it? Could anyone else see it? When had they seen it? How long was their search? How many weeks, months, or years after Jesus was born did it take them to find him? What sort of star could they have seen again at the end of their journey, leading them to their destination, and could have stood over the place where the child was? Why has this mysterious star become the symbol of Christmas? It was a beacon that led these magi to the one who is himself the light of the world, the bright and morning star, and the sunrise. Let this star and this season continue to inspire you and I and all the world to seek him, that just for the honor of a chance to worship we will all rejoice with exceedingly great joy.

It was built above an aquifer that still today supplies water to the whole region as it has for thousands of years. It is because of this water source that the town of Bethlehem exists. Originally named for the Canaanite fertility god, Lehem, it’s name means “house of bread” in Hebrew, and it was the home of the farmer Boaz and his Moabite wife Ruth, who certainly drank and perhaps at times watered their crops from the aquifer there. It’s name means “house of meat” in Arabic, and it is where the young shepherd David lived raising livestock with his father and brothers, who even after becoming the king of Israel and Judah still craved a drink from its wells. Apart from its water, it was a mostly insignificant and obscure city, with only few families returning to it after the Babylonian captivity had ended. Five or six miles away, Jerusalem bustled with tens of thousands, while Bethlehem may have only been home to a few hundred people. “AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.” Bethlehem is where the source of living water was born to the world. And all who drink from that well receive eternal life and will never thirst again.

Such atrocities were so common during the Roman occupation that other than the biblical account, history made no record of the massacre of innocents at Bethlehem. In his arrogance, the enraged tyrant sought to destroy every hint of a threat to the power he derived from his appointment as a subordinate king. The order may have applied to as few as six or as many as twenty or thirty little boys, two years old and under. Compared to his other mercilessly evil acts, this may have seemed to historians a relatively small thing. Or perhaps it affected so few people that it went mostly unnoticed. But for the families of these children there was no consolation, and their mothers wept bitterly. Herod’s legacy continues, as tens of millions of babies perceived as a threat to our lives of self-indulgence are murdered around the world every year before they even take their first breath. The Prince of Peace was born to a world of violence, and when he was grown, instead of utterly destroying it, instead of fighting back by overcoming that violence with more violence, he willingly submitted himself to it. He carried the cross they would nail him to until he couldn’t walk another step. He showed us how to overcome evil with good, how to forgive when heinous crimes are committed against us, and how to completely sacrifice our lives for eternal hope.

It wasn’t a public inn with no vacancy, as the story has come to be told. It was the guest area in what was perhaps a close relative’s peasant home that was apparently pretty full. Many assume that others who had come because of the census were already staying there. That’s possible, but the text doesn’t actually even say it was full of people, just that there was no room for them. Many familiar traditions suggest that a very pregnant Mary was sent to a separate stable or cave where the animals would have been kept away from the family, but it seems to make more sense that Joseph and his wife would have been received warmly by their kin, and welcomed into their crowded home along with their own family, their other guests, and their animals. Luke just says that because the guest area was unavailable, they swaddled the baby Jesus and laid him in a manger, which if filled with hay could have even been the most comfortable, cushioned, and fitting place for him in the whole house. We don’t have all the details, but we need not assume that they were received inhospitably. What remains evident is that Jesus was not born into affluence or nobility. He was born in a common human way to a common human family. He was born humbly. He did not come to embrace every available comfort of life. He came to be one of us.

The holiday season brings with it the aroma of gingerbread, cinnamon, peppermint, and pine. Many gifts are given to friends and family from the abundance of God’s blessings. We don’t know how many magi came to see him, but we are told of three gifts they gave. Along with gold, the child Messiah received the aromatic gifts of frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense was burned in tabernacle worship as an offering and a pleasing aroma to God. Myrrh would later be mixed with wine and offered to Jesus as he suffered on the cross, where he refused it. The three gifts the magi gave would have been fit even for a king as majestic as Solomon, yet our Lord no longer has any need for things like this. We give gifts to him now by feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger in, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and prisoners. Jesus says that what we do for the least among us, we do for him.

Some of God’s promises seem impossible. When God told the iconically faithful Abraham that his wife, Sarah, would have a son despite her age, they both laughed. They did not believe him. By God’s power, Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah. When God told Zechariah the priest that his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son despite her age, he asked for proof. He did not believe him. By God’s power, John was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth. When God told Mary that she would have a son despite her virginity, she did not laugh nor require any proof. She believed him, and said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” Joseph kept Mary a virgin through the end of her pregnancy. By God’s power, Jesus was born to Joseph and Mary. God’s faithfulness remains from generation to generation, and his promises warrant faith like Mary’s. Believe him. He does the impossible.

A prophet prophesied during the construction of the second temple. “WHO IS LEFT AMONG YOU WHO SAW THIS TEMPLE IN ITS FORMER GLORY? AND HOW DO YOU SEE IT NOW? DOES IT NOT SEEM TO YOU LIKE NOTHING IN COMPARISON?” The first temple is probably the most magnificent place man has ever built. The finest building materials, precious metals, jewels, and linens in the world were taken from Solomon’s stores of unimaginable riches to construct it. The pinnacle of its grandeur came at its dedication, when during their praise and worship the glory cloud of God descended and filled it completely with his divine presence, and the priests could not enter in. Over time, because of the sin and wickedness of Solomon and most of his successors, that temple was ravaged until Babylon finally demolished it. After their Babylonian captivity had ended, the Jews returned to Jerusalem and built a second temple. At its dedication, those who had seen the first temple, even in its reduced state just before it was destroyed, felt disappointment and sorrow at the sight of this new temple. The sound of their weeping could not be distinguished from the shouts of joy, and the cloud of God’s glory never descended upon the second temple. “‘THE LATTER GLORY OF THIS HOUSE WILL BE GREATER THAN THE FORMER,’ SAYS THE LORD OF HOSTS, ‘AND IN THIS PLACE I WILL GIVE PEACE,’ DECLARES THE LORD OF HOSTS.” About 40 days after his birth, Jesus’ parents brought him into Jerusalem, to the second temple, to present their newborn son. In him dwells the fullness of the glory of God, and so Haggai’s prophecy was finally fulfilled. Yet his glory did not remain there, and soon that temple was also destroyed. For something greater than the temple has come.

It wasn’t wrong to be unclean, but it was wrong, dangerous even, to enter into God’s consuming presence while in a ritually impure state. Ritual uncleanness lasted for just seven days after the birth of a son, but the mother would have to wait an additional 33 days before she was allowed back into the sanctuary to allow time for any residual bleeding to stop. She was then to offer a one year old lamb and a turtle dove or a pigeon, or if she couldn’t afford a lamb, two turtle doves or two pigeons. Mary obeyed this custom and supplied the two turtle doves for the priests’ offering, but the birth of Christ had rewritten the rules about what is required to be in God’s holy presence. For nine months, Mary had carried his presence inside her, and despite her ritual impurity she cradled it in her arms. Like Mary, we too may now remain continually in the presence of God, for Jesus is the lamb that was sacrificed to cleanse us forever.

Every child is a mystery. Each is a nuanced individual unlike any other. For parents, few excitements surpass the unfolding of their son’s or daughter’s way. Every new discovery is relished, and we wonder what they will one day become. They knew more than most parents do. They had been told by the angel that their son, this Son of God, would be given the throne of David and would save his people from their sins. The Holy Spirit had also visited a devout man, Simeon, promising him he would not taste death until he saw the Lord’s Christ. He took their baby in his arms and testified that having now seen him, the salvation of God, he could die in peace. He told them their son had come to bring light to all people, and that he would be able to see the thoughts and intentions of a person’s heart, even their own. They marveled as the greatest mystery of all time was being revealed before their eyes, and has now been revealed to us all. By looking to him, we also see the salvation of God. He is our salvation, our Savior.

Betrayed. Whatever hopes he had for their life together are lost, and whatever emotions he feels because of it he will set aside. He will not invite a fiasco, or seek to humiliate her for what she has done. It will be embarrassing enough already. He can move on from this, but she will carry the consequences of her unfaithfulness with her for the rest of her life. Maybe she deserves it. It doesn’t matter. He is a just man, and he will be kind. Betrothal is serious and final. He will have to get divorced to end it, and for her sake he will divorce her quietly. His mind is made up. He sleeps. He dreams. He hears a heavenly voice. He wakes. How can this be? She is innocent, and God has given her the greatest honor he has ever given anyone. And he, Joseph, the carpenter, he will share this overwhelming blessing. He will be her husband. He will he his father. Yes, he will do everything God commands. The truth has turned his shame into glory. The truth has turned his grief into rejoicing. And soon all the world will share even greater joy than this.

The last words he spoke were words of doubt. Since then, the priest has been mute. He has now seen the unbelievable message God sent him fulfilled. Elizabeth has always been unable to have children, and they are both too old for it anyway. But she just delivered their son. With joy and gladness, in an act of faithful obedience, they name him John, and he can finally speak again. Redemption. Salvation. Mercy. Deliverance. Light. Peace. Zechariah prophecies about another child God has miraculously brought into the world, who will be born in just a few months. Their son has been chosen to exalt him, to testify about him to a world of doubt, to call people out of their darkness, to make room for him in every heart. That is his entire purpose, and that is our entire purpose. That is why we keep him at the center of everything. That is why many of us choose to make him the reason for this yearly celebration. Because we still live in a world of darkness and doubt, and everyone needs to know that their Savior has come.

Unborn babies respond to external stimuli. They may not see or smell, but they feel. When their space is being encroached on, such as when a father presses on his wife’s pregnant belly, they sometimes kick back in response. They taste. Every spice and flavor a pregnant mother eats during pregnancy also flavors the fluid her baby is swallowing in the womb. They begin to develop taste memories, and they will potentially derive some of their food preferences from this. They hear. The mother’s heartbeat and other body noises. The sound and tone of her voice. The environment that she lives in. They even respond positively to music. But what about emotions? Happiness? Anger? Although modern research reveals more all the time, such as the reality of fetal dreams, and an unborn baby’s ability to recognize when a familiar story is read to them, the extent of an unborn child’s emotional capabilities is still unknown. Science may never be sophisticated enough to explain it, but the prophet who would be named John leaped for joy while he was still in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice, because she was the mother of his Lord, having just been recently visited by the angel. John’s prophetic ministry began before many in this world would even consider him sentient. We are all, at conception, the work of God’s hands. From our earliest moment we are created in God’s image, a demonstration of God’s power to give life, and a precious illustration of hope. The very beginning of our existence glorifies God.

Julius Caesar was recognized as having divine status after his death, and his successor, his great nephew Octavius, allowed temples to be set up where he was to be worshiped as a god. Octavius insisted that the Senate grant him the title “Augustus”, which means majestic or venerable. He was a very effective politician and military leader, securing a power more centralized to himself than anyone else in Rome ever had before. He was the first Roman Emperor. He is largely credited for ushering in 200 years of peace for Rome. Whatever power and influence he had is now nothing except a historical curiosity. He was not at all divine, just shrewd and arrogant. In reality he was just God’s pawn, calling for a census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, fulfilling an old prophecy about the Messiah’s birth. The most important thing that happened during his reign was not some great thing he did, it was the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. All nations and powers of this world are fated to destruction and irrelevance. Fervent loyalty to any politician or ruler or even any nation is pointless. God controls the messy world of politics and power. He uses them for his purpose, then brings about their end. Our service to him is never vain. His power and influence are eternally absolute, and his kingdom has no end. He is King of kings and Lord of lords.

The old prophetess in the temple has lived through many personal and national tragedies. She is 84 years old, or it has been 84 years since her husband died after only seven years of marriage. The text isn’t clear which. Either way, if she was married at a then-normal age, she still would have been a widow for over sixty years. Because of her devotion to worship, fasting, and prayer, she never leaves the temple. She is there during the day, and she is there at night. She remembers Jewish independence first hand. She was born and raised during the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty. She grew up hearing the true story about the Maccabean revolt against their Greek oppressors, which took place just decades before she was born. With Judaism outlawed, the Seleucid King, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, had offered pigs to Zeus at the temple in Jerusalem. He had gone too far and the Jews wouldn’t put up with it anymore. She learned about the victory God gave her people, securing their political and religious freedom, allowing them to rededicate the temple to God. She had memorialized this event her whole life in an annual celebration, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. She was an adult when their freedom was lost again, beginning with Pompey of Rome opportunistically taking control of Judea during a civil war about sixty years ago. She also remembered when Herod the Great, having been appointed by the Roman senate as the so-called king of the Jews, besieged and conquered Jerusalem less than forty years ago, in fact she may have already been worshiping daily at the temple when that happened, somehow surviving the slaughter. All around her she sees the lavish changes Herod made on the Temple Mount, and she longs to see Jerusalem free from subordination once again. Did she hear Simeon’s words, or was she given a prophetic message of her own? After the baby Jesus is brought into the temple for his dedication, she gives thanks to God, then begins telling people about this child, anyone she knows who shares her longing for Jerusalem’s redemption. As would many of his followers, she may believe that Jesus came to restore the kingdom to Israel. His real purpose is much more exciting than that, and so we should be even more excited than Anna to tell people the truth of it. Jesus wasn’t born to restore independence for a kingdom of this world. He was born to die for the kingdom of heaven.

There was no doubt that this messenger had come from heaven, from God, because of the bright light that shone around him. Luke calls that light the glory of the Lord. Moses used to speak with God face to face. When he had been in his presence, the skin of his own face shone so brightly that he wore a veil for the sake of the people around him while he delivered God’s word to them. Like the fear-struck Israelites in the presence of the brightness of the glory of God, the shepherds were also very afraid. “Fear not,” said the angel, “for behold, I evangelize to you a great joy, which will be for all people.” The spirit of this is probably better captured as most translators render it. “I bring you good tidings of great joy.” But the verb evangelize used by Luke is also, as a noun, the word gospel. This isn’t just a message, this is the message. This good news about Jesus’ birth, who he came to be, what he came to do, is the gospel that leads to our salvation. This is the beginning of the gospel that will undo your death. This is Christ the Lord.

Music is one of the most distinctive cultural elements of Christmas. It tunes our spirits. It draws out nostalgic memories. It commandeers our radio stations. Some songs are just for fun. Others teach the world most of what they know about Jesus. Many Christmas song lyrics contain inaccuracies and embellishments of the truth that distract from what actually matters. Jesus almost certainly cried when he was born since that’s how newborn babies communicate their needs, and to suggest otherwise sort of seems to undermine his humanity. Although a manger was used as a bed, nothing is said about any animals being around. We don’t know how many wise men there were, and it is very unlikely that they were kings of any sort. And look again, no where does it say that the host of angels that appears to the shepherds sings. In fact, the Bible doesn’t teach definitely anywhere that angels ever sing. You might suppose it’s possible that the way they praised God was in song. Maybe they did, but at best this is an embellishment of the text. What the Bible actually says is what matters, not the tradition and speculation that surrounds it. What the angels said, not how they said it, is what matters. To God be glory. Let there be peace on earth. God is pleased with mankind. Considering how much the Bible highlights man’s failure and God’s displeasure, this is sort of profound. Although God is often angered and frustrated by our choices, in sending Jesus he demonstrates absolutely the strongest feeling he has toward us. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” The truth is, God loves you despite all the reasons you have given him not to. He sent Jesus here to die for you, to save you. That’s definitely something worth learning the whole truth about. And maybe it’s worth singing about too.

God fulfills his promises. He told the adversary that Eve’s seed would crush him. He told Abraham that through his seed, every family on earth would be blessed. He told David that his seed would sit on the throne forever. Matthew and Luke establish the line of succession from Adam to Abraham to David to Jesus. Mary was told that the son she would miraculously conceive would sit on the throne of David. It is through Jesus that the adversary is crushed, the world is blessed, and the kingdom of heaven is established.

Jesus was adopted. Both Matthew and Luke list important ancestral lines connecting Jesus to David, Abraham, and Adam. There are some difficult differences in the two lists which many believe suggest that one of these genealogies goes through Mary, but that is not what either text actually says. Both lines are through Joseph. Since Joseph is not Jesus’ actual father, some might be troubled that neither gospel writer ties Jesus to his ancestors of promise through a direct genetic heritage. Both writers actually seem to emphasize their choice to do this, with Luke beginning his list with Jesus, “as was supposed, the son of Joseph” before working backward to Adam, and Matthew ending his list of descendants from Abraham with “the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary by whom Jesus was born”. Luke introduces Joseph as “one of the descendants of David”, but he does not say this about Mary. If the genetic connection is so important, why put the emphasis on Joseph? Perhaps there is also an ancestral connection from Mary to David not revealed to us. But could it not also be that Jesus fulfilled the promises made to his father’s ancestors subversively, by being grafted in as his heir? Does not the apostle Paul likewise write, “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” As Jesus was the adopted heir of an earthly father, so we are the adopted children of his Heavenly Father. By that adoption we also become heirs of the promise.

It probably looked like a scandal when Mary’s bump began to show. Since we know that many supposed Joseph was Jesus’ actual father, it might have looked like they had sex before their wedding. It is likely that the same judgmental vibes would have been present then as they are now, especially within many religious communities. We aren’t supposed to be okay with sin, but we are always to remember that we too are sinners in need of mercy. We ought to show grace even in scandalous situations, for who knows how God will work through them. Tamar pretended to be a prostitute to produce legitimate offspring through Judah in her widowhood. Rahab really was a prostitute, as well as a Canaanite, and by her faith in God she helped the Israelites conquer Jericho. Ruth was not an Israelite either, but a Moabite, and still she was highly honored, becoming David’s great grandmother. King David’s successor was born to a woman he committed adultery with, whose husband he arranged to have killed afterward. These are the women Matthew mentions in the ancestry of Jesus. Mary was innocent of any wrongdoing related to her pregnancy. Still she culminates a heritage of scandal. Whatever scandals may arise in your life to taint your reputation, no matter your guilt in them, remember that God’s greatest work has been accomplished through scandal. What great plans might he also have for you?

She found favor with God. That is why Mary was chosen. And what does it take to be seen by God in this way? Her words to her relative Elizabeth reveal her heart. Though she had received the greatest of honors, though Elizabeth had just commended her for her belief, she rightly gave God all the glory, saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” She rejoiced in God, exalting him for his many mighty deeds. He exalts the lowly and scatters the proud in their thoughts. “Henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” Like his mother, Jesus humbled himself, taking the form of man, living his life in service to others, and giving himself up to be crucified. For this reason God has highly exalted him, giving him the name above all names. At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess him as Lord. So humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.

In another dream, the angel told Joseph to take his wife and son and flee to Egypt to escape Herod. We are told that this fulfilled what had been spoken by the Lord through Hosea the prophet, “OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.” This statement does not appear to be forward looking when it was originally written. Hosea said it in the context of a God that was grieved by the people of Israel. He kept saving them and providing for them, but they kept rejecting him and turning to idols. The sense in which Jesus fulfills this prophetic word seems to be in becoming the object of the Father’s love that the nation of Israel never could. As God showed his love for them by leading them out of Egypt away from Pharaoh’s wrath, he shows his love for Jesus by sending him to Egypt and then to Nazareth away from Herod’s wrath. Israel forsook him, but Jesus is perfectly devoted to him. God’s desire for mankind and his relationship with them is thwarted by the failure of each one of us to consistently reciprocate his love. He sent Jesus to accomplish what we never could, and to intercede on our behalf.

Hell. That is the word used in most English translations, but the word is actually Gehenna, a reference to a terrible place outside of Jerusalem. Jesus uses this place as an image to illustrate the destruction of the wicked by fire. It is the Valley of Hinnom, known also as the Valley of Slaughter because innocent children were made to pass through the fire there, burned to death as sacrifices to false gods. King Ahaz is the earliest known ruler to indulge in this abomination, condemning his own sons to die in pagan worship. It was during the reign of Ahaz, after he had forsaken the counsel of God, that the prophet Isaiah said that a great light would shine on people in a dark land, and their oppression would end. A child would be born to become the ruler of those people. He would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. His reign would bring everlasting peace, justice, and righteousness. And this would be the sign of his coming: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” Immanuel has come. Jesus is everything Isaiah said he would be. Now we anticipate his second coming, the day of judgement, and the end of all injustice and suffering.

The adversary. The devil. The ruler of this world. The prince of the power of the air. The serpent of old. The great red dragon with seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns. It waits for the child to be born, the promised child of Israel, the greatest threat to his dark dominion over the earth and the hearts of everyone in it. It must devour the child as soon as it is born, but it cannot stop him. That child now sits on the throne of God and rules the nations with a rod of iron. The dragon is cast down and makes war with those who keep the commandments of God, who have the testimony of Jesus Christ. Though it spews a flood from its mouth and throws down a third of the stars of heaven with its tail, still they are able to overcome it by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. They no longer fear death. Salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come.

How could they not tell people about it? It was amazing, and they couldn’t stop talking. Everyone they told was amazed by it, and it became widely known. They had seen angels glorifying God. They had been personally given a message, being told what they would find in Bethlehem, who the child was, and why it mattered. They found everything exactly like the angel said they would, and they felt compelled to spread the word. Yes, they saw great wonders, but what we have to tell people about is far greater. They saw how it began. We know how it ends. The star may be the symbol of the birth of Christ and the Christmas season, but after Jesus said, “It is finished,” the early church used the cross as a symbol of their faith. Let us proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns, because in it is the consummation of God’s love for mankind. Everything flows from it. Everything that matters depends on it.

Most of the information we have about Jesus’ conception and birth comes from Matthew and Luke. Mark doesn’t spend any time discussing these details. However, throughout Mark’s gospel many references are made to Jesus’ origin. His opening statement is, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and he emphasizes his divine power by describing the many miraculous works he performed during the years of his ministry. He writes that the evil spirits cast out by him would also refer to him as the Son of God. And he quotes a Roman soldier who witnessed his death saying, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” From the outside, Jesus is obviously much more than a man. The other gospel accounts tell us that Jesus did at times refer to himself as the Son of God, but Mark never mentions it. Instead, more than a dozen times in Mark’s account, Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. Hundreds of years before, the prophet Daniel was told that a Son of Man would destroy the beastly forces and rulers of the world and be given everlasting dominion over an indestructible kingdom. Although Jesus is undeniably the Son of God, he embraces his humble origin and identity as a human like you and me. He was born in the way every human is born, he lived a human life, he died a human death, and he was buried in a human grave. Then Jesus redefined what it means to be human. His body did not decay like other human bodies do. He rose from the dead on the third day and took on an eternal human form. He is the Son of Man from Daniel’s prophecy, and he invites us to join him, to be transformed into a new kind of human, to live this life like he did with a view toward eternity, to rise from the dead and put on immortality, and to reign with him in the new earth forever.

He made all things. The earth, everything in it, and everything beyond it. “Let there be light.” And there was light. He created every force of nature. He gave humans their souls. He made them in his image. Then they destroyed themselves. So he took on their image, their flesh. He was nourished in the womb of a faithful young woman as he began to grow. He breathed in the oxygen he needed to survive. He drank his mother’s milk. His life was sustained by his own creation. He learned how to crawl, and he learned how to walk. He celebrated the holidays with his Jewish family. The creator loved us, so he became one of us. And now we celebrate him.

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