The Christmas Story: Away in a Manger
Christmas season and its celebration has remained my 'favourite' since always. The celebration itself is the biggest and most important holiday for Christians around the world.
While there are many reasons why I love Christmas, the first and foremost reason is, it reminds me of the unconditional grace and love of Christ upon you and me.
Attending Christmas midnight service in the cool winter night is one of the most blessed and beautiful feelings about this celebration.
Christmas is also a time where family, friends and relatives living apart come together at one table for the special dinner of the year. Christmas is never complete without Christmas traditions which include decorating the Christmas tree, putting up fairy lights and pretty decorations.
Above all, Christ's humble birth story reigns supreme.
Mary's miraculous pregnancy
The angel Gabriel told Mary, a young woman, that she has found favour with God and that she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to a baby boy. The angel also told her that the boy will be called Jesus. 'He will be God's own Son and his kingdom will never end,' said the angel.
Mary was afraid on hearing this but she trusted God. So she told the angel, “Let it happen as God chooses.” The accounts can be seen from Luke 1:26-38.
Mary became pregnant miraculously through the Holy Spirit while she was still engaged to Joseph, a descendant of King David.
Joseph was troubled when he learnt of Mary's pregnancy before their marriage had taken place. But, the angel appeared in his dream and told him not to be afraid and to have Mary as his wife. The angel explained that Mary had been chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus, which means 'Saviour' because He would save people. Joseph was a good man. He obeyed and took Mary as his wife.
At that time, Caesar Augustus ordered that a census be taken, and everyone in the entire Roman world had to go to his own town to register. Joseph and Mary, who lived in Nazareth, travelled about 70 miles to Bethlehem in Judea (now part of Israel) for the census, because that's where Joseph's family came from.
As they reached Bethlehem they could not find a place to stay because so many people had come to register their names in the census. The only shelter they could find was a stable with the animals.
The birth of Jesus
While they were there and in this poor place, Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God. She wrapped him in cloth and placed him in a manger (a feeder used to feed food to animals).
Out in the fields, an angel appeared before the shepherds who were tending their flocks of sheep by night. The angel told them that a Savior had been born in Bethlehem, the town of David
The Shepherds' visit
Then many more angels appeared and began singing praises to God: “Glory to God in highest, and peace to everyone on earth.”
When the angelic beings had left, the shepherds went to Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus lying in the stable. They worshipped him and returned, praising God and spreading the word about this amazing child and everything the angel had said about him.
The Magi and their gifts
As prophesised, a new bright star appeared in the sky when Jesus was born. Three 'wise men' or the 'Magi' from the East saw the star and guessed what it meant. It had been written that a new star would appear when a great king was born.
The wise men then followed the star towards the country of Judea in search of the new born king. As they reached Jerusalem and were strangers to this land, they asked 'where is child who is born to be king of the Jews?'
Herod, who was the king of Judea then, became very angry on learning this. Herod met the Magi and told them to report back to him after they had found the baby. He told them that he too would like to go and worship him. But, Herod actually had an evil plan to kill the child.
As the wise men continued to follow the star towards Bethlehem, the star seemed to stop and shine directly down upon the house where they found him with his mother Mary. They bowed down and worshipped him, offering precious gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh) they had brought for him.
The wise men did not return to Herod as they had been warned in a dream by God about his plot to kill Jesus. So they returned to their own countries by a different way.
Herod became very furious after the wise men did not return. He ordered that all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two be killed in what has since been called the “Massacre of the Innocents”. This was to kill Jesus as his plan to find the location of the new king had failed.
But an angel had already told Joseph in a dream to flee with his family to Egypt. So, Joseph got up and took Jesus and Mary during the night and left for Egypt, where they stayed until Herod's death.
After Herod had died, the family returned from Egypt. But they didn't go back to Bethlehem as they were scared of Herod's son who became the king of Judea. Instead they went to Galilee and settled in their old town of Nazareth.
Jesus' birth - most humble birth
We learnt that Christ was not born to wealthy or learned parents. He was not born in a grand palace but, rather Jesus Christ was born in a lowly, meek condition - in a stable, outside of all notice, except for family and a few divinely blessed people.
God chose Mary, the teenage girl to be the mother of His Son. There is nothing supposedly special about her. She wasn't rich or famous. She wasn't the daughter of a priest or a king. Then why did God choose her to be the mother of the Messiah? From her story, it had been found that she was a woman of courage, purity and faith.
Who was Joseph? He wasn't a prince or a prophet. He was just a poor carpenter. Then, what was so extraordinary about this man? He was found to be a man of character, mercy and obedience, which made him special in God’s eyes. This tells us that while man looks on the outside, God looks upon the heart.
Why did God choose shepherds?
The birth of the Lord Jesus was first announced to a group of shepherds, who were abiding in the fields near Bethlehem, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
In those days, shepherds were the poorest of the poor. They are not trusted and were looked upon as thieves. They were considered ceremonially unclean and were isolated from the rest of society. They were the low ones on the Jewish totem pole.
So, why was heaven's glory revealed to the shepherds? As some Christian scholars say, God chose them because:
Firstly, they were the ones who would recognise the Savior while everyone else was busy in worldly affairs. The political leaders were busy for the census, the priests and the rabbis were too caught up in ceremonial practices. But the shepherds had the time to listen when God sent the good news.
The second reason might be because they would also revere the Savior without any doubts in their minds. They had devotion in their hearts and would take out time to worship Him. It is no wonder then that these shepherds without any hesitation set out for the stable, and so found baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. When they saw Him, they quietly removed their sandals, bowed their heads and worshipped Him. The Bible tells us that they came out rejoicing and praising God.
Thirdly, the Bible says that these shepherds not only recognised and prayed to the Savior, but also spread the good news of the Savior. Their words were not accepted by everyone, but that didn't dishearten them or stop their excitement and they continued to tell the news to anyone who bothered to listen about the birth of the Messiah, which people had awaited a long time.
The Christmas story mainly focuses on worship. Besides merry-making, this Christmas let us worship the Savior with all our heart and soul, realising the real meaning of it.
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