The Real Story of the First Christmas Eve
Please allow me to begin this story by sharing that over the many centuries, since the beginning of what we now celebrate as Christmas, our societies have painted a much different picture of the Christmas story. We have gotten sidetracked from the real story.
In each of our homes, a simple manger scene might be tucked away on a shelf or tabletop somewhere, symbolically placed without any real fanfare or notice. It has become just another ornament or decoration in our home already filled with lights, candles, bows, and assorted Christmas ornamentation. There is far more interest upon the gaily wrapped gifts under the tree, and we wonder, “What is under the tree for me?” Our attention turns to preparing and sharing scrumptious candy, cookies, and cakes with family and friends gathering while that Christmas manger depicts the real story and magic of Christmas.
Is it wrong to think about all the other wonderful treats and gifts and ornamentation that now identify with Christmas? Is it wrong to sing Jingle Bells and Grandma Got Run Over By the Reindeer on Christmas Eve? Is it wrong to talk about Santa Claus, the North Pole, and Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer? Is it wrong to watch the myriad of Christmas stories Hollywood has created that we seem to enjoy each Christmas season? No, all are a by-product of how Christmas has become shaped by our modern society.
However, for some of us, we embrace our heritage and the family traditions passed down to us as our way to celebrate the “Spirit of Christmas.” Though there are more and more outside influences competing to shape the Christmas traditions our children and grandchildren are allowing into their homes, we faithfully pass on the heritage and traditions as they grow up and raise their our family.
Just maybe, if we stop and pull aside all the shiny trimmings and colorful decorations, and mute more of the commercialized messages of Christmas, we might avoid missing out on the true meaning and joy of Christmas. But, if we allow ourselves to fall prey to all the glitz, glitter, and glamour, the real reason for the season might fade totally away; we might as well follow suit with the rest of the world and stop calling it CHRISTmas, as many in the world would prefer we do.
Why does the world want to avoid the real reason for CHRISTmas? Is it because if they join us in celebrating Christmas (the CHRIST MASS, as it originally was called), they will hear the true message and the story represented by the manger scene resting on a shelf somewhere? The celebration of Jesus’s birth is so we may acknowledge God’s love. In the confusing, chaotic and combative time we live in today, there has never been a greater time for the world to grasp ahold of the real meaning of Christmas.
That very first Christmas Eve, though the term we now embrace as Christmas would not be known for decades, was a genuine, historical event involving real people; its story passed from generation to generation and recorded over the centuries so it could endure the test of time and become the anchor of our faith that God’s love was, is, and forever will remain available to us.
The Bible records that the Apostle Paul saw the Christ child event as significant because it reflected God’s deliberate act to demonstrate His love for us by introducing Himself through what would become the life and legacy of Jesus, born into this world just as we too are born into this world. In writing to the early churches, decades after the birth, Paul wrote the WHAT and WHY of that first Christmas Eve.
WHAT: But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Galatians 4:4-5 The Message
The timing of Jesus’ birth was not arbitrary. It was established by key events and came directed by the providential hand of God for His good purposes.
WHY: Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of an intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave (a nobody), but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance. Galatians 4:6-7 The Message
The why is much more important! Until this point in history, the people of God had lost contact with the personal God who led His them from slavery in Egypt and delivered them to a better place, a better life. Like many of us today, they had taken God’s goodness and love for granted and alienated themselves from God for over 500 years. In fact, many suffered exile and were driven into foreign lands – a reminder of what being a slave, a nobody felt like again. Even those who continued to live in the lands we know as Israel today, and those scattered throughout the known world at that time, faced Roman rule, no longer able to experience a “King” of their own to lead them from the oppression they endured. But, many clung to God’s promises of a Messiah, a Deliverer, to rescue them once again. They yearned for the relationship and inheritance they once trusted in because they were God’s children. Each day they prayed and hoped that “today would be that day” – and then it happened. God answered their prayers, and that first Christmas Eve unfolded into history.
About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiance, who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel. Luke 2:1-7 The Message
This brief passage and a couple of equally short passages in the Gospel accounts of the Bible reveal the story. Today, we hear those timeless words at church and in the embedded lyrics of Christmas songs and carols, such as Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Joy to the World, etc. Though many churches still perform manger recreations, how you personally respond to the story matters.
How about you and your family, will you take the time to share and reflect upon the story and message of that first Christmas Eve? Will you allow that manger scene in your home to be treasured above all the other Christmas decorations and symbols of today’s Christmas season?
Also, rather than read the cute but created story about “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to your (grand)children, maybe this year read them the real, God-inspired true story about “The Night that Brought Christmas into the World! Below is how Hershel Hobbs wrote about that special night, recorded in his Illustrated Life of Jesus.
In faraway Rome, Augustus Caesar ruled his vast empire with an iron hand. True to Roman fashion he was primarily concerned that his subjects should keep the peace and pay their taxes. In 8 B.C. he had inaugurated a periodical census every fourteen years in order to enroll his people for taxation. According to Tacitus (Roman Historian) even the regna, the independent kingdoms under the Roman Empire, were included in this census.
Probably two years later this census was carried out in Palestine. Herod, the vassal king, would not think of disobeying Augustus. Yet, knowing the Jew’s aversion to paying taxes to Rome, he delayed it as long as he dared. Even then he sought to placate the Jews by adhering to their customs in dealing with them along tribal lines. So when the order for enrollment was finally given, it called for every Jew to be enrolled at the place where the tribal register was kept.
Thus Joseph and Mary journeyed from Nazareth to Bethlehem, for they were descendants of David and members of the tribe of Judah. Though they were peasants (poor, everyday common folks), royal blood flowed in their veins. By this time Mary was great with child (in her final days of pregnancy) and this journey of approximately 100 miles worked a great hardship on her. Nevertheless, Caesar’s decree must be obeyed.
However, she and Joseph moved under a greater word (inspiration) than that of the Roman emperor, for God had said that His Son, the Messiah, should be born in Bethlehem. Augustus knew nothing of this prophecy and cared less. But unknowingly he was an instrument in God’s hands, as his decree like an invisible cord drew the virgin mother toward her destiny.
After several days of travel, late in the afternoon, these weary travelers climbed the last rocky, steep ascent leading into Bethlehem. The streets were crowded with hundreds of other men and women bent on the same mission. Clouds of dust boiled up from the stirring of the hundreds of feet of men and animals. A bedlam of noise characteristic of such a scene filled the ears of the weary couple from Nazareth as laboriously they made their way to the village inn. But it was already filled to overflowing.
So because there was no lodging to be had, Joseph bedded his wife down in the area provided for the animals. Here Mary “gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a manger (animal feed trough)” Luke 2:7.
Thus the Son of God was born – not in a king’s palace or in a home of the wealthy or mighty, but to a peasant mother whose delivery room was a stable. No physician stood by to assist. Only the gnarled hands of a village carpenter came to her aid, but they were hands made tender by a conquering love and a devotion to God. As the newborn babe slept through the night, He was under the watchful eyes of His mother and Joseph, but most of all He was secure under the never-failing gaze of His Heavenly Father.
The next morning, Bethlehem roused from her sleep. It was business as usual as the bazaars rang with the noise of commerce. The enrollment was finished, and the crowds moved out to return to their homes. Caesar’s bidding had been done, and the village of David returned to normal. Only a few simple folks knew that on that night in the little village there had transpired the greatest event in the history of the world.
…Jesus’ birth was largely unnoticed by the world. Outside of the Bible, no ancient historian took note of the event. They were so bent on the recording the affairs of men and nations that they failed to recognize God’s history within history, whereby in the person of His Son He entered into the arena of time to answer the universal cry of men’s hearts. But it did not occur without recognition by those whose hearts were prepared to receive it.
Heaven itself rejoiced over the glorious event. For the angelic hosts burst asunder the barrier of invisibility to proclaim the Savior’s birth and to sing the Christian anthem dedicated to His praise. For their audience, they had a handful of lowly shepherds, the simple folk who counted for little in the tides of history whichever beat upon the shores of time. But their hearts were firmly fixed in God’s promises upon which they meditated in the quiet hours of the night. In Bethlehem’s fields where Ruth had gleaned in the fields of Boaz, later to become his bride and the Moabite ancestress of the Savior; where David had tended his sheep, all the while contemplating God’s glory and on Him who was to be born; there the shepherds first heard the glad tidings that unto them had been born a Savior, Christ the Lord.
The shepherds hastened to Bethlehem to find it as the angels had said. They found Mary and Joseph and the Babe lying in a manger. God in a cradle! Upon hearing from the shepherds about the heavenly declaration, Mary placed the event alongside the message of Gabriel, pondering them in her heart. And she knew that God had fulfilled His promise. The shepherds returned to their work, carrying back into their mundane sphere the memory of an experience which would forever cast an aura of glory about them and about all others who in humble trust some to Him who fills the universe with His presence, yet who for a little while was contained in a baby’s impromptu cradle – a manger!
Hope you’ll visit my TMBrownAuthor.com page and discover “Christmas in Shiloh” attempts to exemplify a grandfather’s love for sharing Christmas with his grandchildren.