The birth of Jesus fulfilled Jewish prophecy for the coming Messiah — right down to the timeline. And yet many Jews didn't recognize Him as such because they were looking for an earthly, political messiah to throw off the yoke of their Roman masters.
They discarded Him as Christ not because He failed to fulfill prophecy ... but because He failed to conform to their image of what the messiah ought to be — and because the words He spoke set their inner world on fire. They were blinded by their own gods of tradition and wealth, law and status ... pride. They couldn't see that, in Jesus, God gave them "exceedingly abundantly above all they could ask or think."
Yet long before Jesus became a topic of widespread controversy, He came as something small and precious and infinitely personal — something we could touch and hold close to our hearts: a baby.
In the Galilean town of Nazareth, a young girl named Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel with good news that must also have been troubling: God had chosen her to be the mother of His promised Son. What an unbelievable honor! And how frightening.
She didn’t doubt the words of the angel, but how could she explain this to anyone? Angels didn’t appear to everyone every day ... and she was a virgin, betrothed to the carpenter Joseph. The Holy Spirit — an aspect of God — came upon her not bodily, but like a shadow, and the child quickened within her.
Of course, some doubted her. Joseph did initially, and it was his right as a husband to have Mary stoned to death for her supposed infidelity. But an angel also visited him in a dream, and he took her to him as his wife without consummating the marriage until after the birth of the holy child. This devout couple bore the smirks and censure of their community to be obedient to God and vessels of His will, and Mary’s song of joy, sometimes called her Magnificat is a testament to her faith in difficult circumstances.
Because of a Roman census, Joseph was required to journey to Bethlehem, the city of his fathers, since he was of the “house and line of King David.” Mary traveled with him, and, at the end of their journey, the birth of Jesus took place most likely in a humble stable or a cave perhaps used as one. (The town was crowded, and there was no room in any of the inns.) Angels announced the hope and joy of the birth of Jesus — the Savior — to nearby shepherds, who came to give honour to Him.
Meanwhile, three wise men, most likely Zoroastrian Magi, traveled from the east, following a star that announced the birth of a newborn king. Thinking the most likely place for a new king would be in the court of the current one, they stopped to visit King Herod, Rome’s duly appointed sovereign. Alarmed to hear of any “king” beyond himself, he talked nicely to the magi, all the while plotting to kill the young child of prophecy. If he didn’t balk at having his own wife and family members killed in order to keep the upper hand, murdering an unknown baby certainly wasn’t going to trouble his conscience.
The magi followed the star to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus and gave Him gifts fit for a king — and embalming spices, rich and fragrant, for a death that had been foretold. It was an extravagant and bittersweet gift with which to greet the birth of Jesus. They went on their way. Then the magi and Jesus’ family were warned in dreams to flee far from Herod. Instead of returning home to be with family, Joseph took Mary and Jesus far away from Herod’s reach to Egypt, where they waited and lived for some time before returning to their home town of Nazareth.
Once they returned to their village in Galilee, Jesus grew up working as a carpenter. His was not to be the way of an earthly king, full of advantages, grandeur, and political power. “He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” To follow Jesus, then, is to live a life of service and simplicity, since the disciple is not higher than the one he follows.
Jesus was in some ways remarkable, but even so, his earthly parents found it easy sometimes to forget what God had planned for Jesus and treat Him just as an ordinary child. But there was much more to come. There was still prophecy to fulfill that would give them hope, even as it caused Mary to grieve ...
Bethlehem: Located on the West Bank in what is modern-day Palestine, it was the biblical “city of David” in which Jesus was born. At that time, this area of the Middle East was under the authority of the Roman Empire. It is site of the Nativity Church, which is the oldest standing Christian church in the Holy Land. Unremarkable on the outside, its inside is quite lovely. There is a cave that some think was used at the birth of Jesus.
Nazareth: Although much larger now, at the time of Jesus Nazareth was but a small village north of the Jezreel Valley in Galilee. Jesus spent most of his boyhood years in Nazareth, and although he taught in the synagogue there a couple of times, the people rejected Him, even trying to kill Him, but it wasn’t His time to die. Most of His ministry occurred elsewhere. It is currently the site of a Byzantine-era church called the Church of the Anunciation, believed to be built over the site at which the archangel Gabriel’s announced the coming birth of Jesus to Mary.
Maliankara: Maliankara is a village in Kerala, India, believed to be the site of St Thomas the Apostle’s ministry in India and subsequent founding of the seven churches in the 1st century AD — in a sense, the birthplace of Christianity on the subcontinent.