Matt 1:18-2:7 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"-which means, "God with us." When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out relatyou will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"
Scripture never gives us a date for the birth of Christ. The early church settled on 25 December as late as the fourth century after Constantine declared Christianity to be an officially sanctioned religion. But biblical evidence does not support the idea that Jesus was born in December, a winter month. The fact that shepherds were out in the field by night according to Luke's Gospel argues against the 25 December as the date of His birth. It's unlikely that shepherds would bring their flocks out on a wet winter, which was typical of Bethlehem.
Be that as it may, our interest today is not the date of Christ's birth but the significance of His birth for us. There are several facts to consider:
- Conceived by the Holy Spirit ("she was found to be with a child through the Holy Spirit"): Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb supernaturally without Joseph's part in it. It happened between Mary's betrothal and the actual wedding (a one year gap). Because betrothal in a Jewish wedding was as binding legally as the wedding itself, Joseph could only end this relationship with a divorce. The fact that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit is the foundation of our belief that He has the nature of divinity and humanity--that He is not just a good man, but a God-Man. In other words, He has a dual self-identity as son of Mary and son of God. He was "Immanuel", God with us.
- Meaning of Jesus ("you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins"): Jesus came to save us from our sins, not to save us from hell. The difference between the two is the difference between root and fruit. The purpose of salvation is not to deliver us from hell but from ourselves. As a famous cartoon character says: "We have the found the enemy and the enemy is us." Hell is a destination created for the devil and his angels, but humans who align themselves with the devil will one day share his destiny. Once sin is dealt with in us, our destiny is with God in heaven.
- A Ruler & Shepherd ("for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel"): Jesus came not only to be a Saviour but to be a Ruler (King) and a Shepherd (Leader). Sinful humans need not only a Saviour but also a Shepherd, for we are a people who have lost our sense of moral and spiritual direction. Jesus saves us from our sins in order to shepherd us into path of righteousness: "He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake."