(Note: This was presented
to the Shanghai
International Church in December 2001.)
Finding Christmas Anew
The original Christmas story in chronological
(by Michael Krigline, December 2001)
I love Christmas. I love the colors and lights, the
decorations and songs, the TV specials and the Christmas parties. Here
in China, I love the questions people ask at this time of year. The
story of Christmas is new to so many, and when I explain things it makes
the story new to me all over again!
I had a class once that made Christmas feel “new.” “The Life
of Christ” was taught by an old seminary professor, and Dr. Hulbert had
taught the Bible so long, knew the original languages so well, and had led
so many groups to Israel that—well, when he talked about Jesus’ life you
would have believed that he had been there himself! I believe he is
retired now, but you can still have some fun at his website:
http://ancientsandals.com/. Now, I will warn you that Dr.
Hulbert is a real
purist. He believes that what the Bible says is history and fact; and he
showed us many things that we thought were in the Bible but were not really
there! You may discover a few of those today, and I challenge you to look
into these things yourself. Don’t just take my word for it!
This church is an interesting mix of people. We have old
Christians who know the Bible well, new Christians who do not, and a
number of additional people who are still on their search for the Truth.
Because of that mix, I thought it might be interesting today to quickly go
through the Christmas story in chronological order.
Of course, the Christmas story is really several different
stories, often grouped together. Unfortunately, because they are so
frequently grouped together, many think several parts happened at the same
time or in the wrong order. What stories am I talking about? They include
the birth of John the Baptist, the angel’s announcements to both Mary and
Joseph, events in Bethlehem, Simeon and Anna in the temple, the visit of
the Magi, King Herod’s rage, and more. But let’s start at the beginning.
The Old Testament ends 400 years before the birth of Jesus
with these words about the forerunner to the promised Messiah: “He will
turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the
children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:5-6). As if God were just releasing
the pause button on a CD player, the New Testament story begins with the
angel Gabriel bringing Zechariah the same words: “he will go on before the
Lord… to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the
disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous…” (Luke 1:17). The angel was
talking about a son Zechariah and Elizabeth were about to have, even
though they are well advanced in years—a son named John the Baptist.
About six months later, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary,
announcing that she would become the mother of the Messiah (Israel’s
Deliverer and Savior; Luke 1: 26-56). Mary graciously received this
wonderful news, along with the news that her supposedly “barren” relative
Elizabeth was now six-months pregnant. The Bible says Mary “hurried” to a
town in the hills outside Jerusalem to be with Elizabeth until just before
John was born. It was a logical thing to do: Zechariah was a priest so
maybe he could help her process this incredible news, and since the angel
had mentioned it, maybe that was a sign that Mary needed to be there to
help. Besides, the hill country would be a good place to go to get away
from her fiancé while Mary’s tummy started to grow! We don’t know if she
told Joseph before she left—but Matthew’s text makes it seem unlikely.
Mary was three-months pregnant when she got home to Nazareth,
there she “was found to be with child” (Matt 1:18), and so Joseph decides
to break off the engagement. Interestingly, God lets him “consider” this
for a while before bringing Gabriel back, this time appearing in Joseph’s
dream. Joseph immediately believes and obeys the word from Heaven, and
takes Mary to be his wife.
Sometime in the next few months Caesar Augustus called for a
census, for which everyone had to go back to the land of his ancestors.
Thus, Joseph had to head 85 miles south (140 KM) to Bethlehem, and Mary
went with him.
We don’t know how long they were in Bethlehem before the baby was born,
but the Bible says “while they were there” the time came, Mary gave birth,
and laid Jesus in a manger (Luke 2:6-7).
What’s that? You thought Mary arrived late at night, deep in
labor pains, was turned away by a mean old innkeeper and had to go to a
stable? Maybe. It makes for a dramatic story. But that stuff is not really
in the Bible.
Check it out yourself!
However, the Bible does indicate that Jesus was born in
the evening, and nearby shepherds got a visit from a multitude of heavenly
hosts (i.e. angels) who praised God and told the shepherds that a Savior
had been born. The angels said this special baby was currently lying in a
manger, so the shepherds decided to check it out (and who wouldn’t!). They
found the baby, and then started telling people about their “close
encounter” with angels on the hillside.
Eight days later (Luke 2:21), Jesus was circumcised (likely in
Bethlehem). Then on the 40th day after the birth, they headed
for Jerusalem to dedicate the baby in the Temple and offer a required
sacrifice (Luke 2:22). Here they met Simeon, a Spirit-filled man (possibly
advanced in years) who was looking for the Promised Messiah because God
had told him he would not die until they had met face to face. This is
another great Christmas mini-story (Luke 2:25ff). When Mary and Jesus got
to the temple, the Holy Spirit spoke to Simeon and revealed that this was
the face of God’s promise! Then an 84-year-old prophetess named Anna got a
similar revelation, and began to speak of Jesus to those who were looking
for God’s redemption.
After this, Joseph, Mary and Jesus moved back to Nazareth
(Luke 2:39). We are not sure how long they stayed there, but by Matthew
2:1 they are again living in Bethlehem. Many scholars believe they simply
went to Nazareth to collect Joseph’s tools and a few other things, and
then they moved to Bethlehem.
There are plenty of reasons for this supposition. Think about
it. Angels have spoken to you (or people you know) four times (this
was as uncommon then as it is now!). Two people in God’s Temple have also
confirmed that your son is the Messiah. We know from Mary’s song in Luke
1:46 that she knew the Scriptures well (it contains 15 quotes from the Old
Joseph was probably just as dedicated to the Word of God. They knew Jesus
was the Son of David, so it made sense to raise Him in the “City of
David”—Bethlehem. They had relatives in Bethlehem. They had already lived
in Bethlehem 2 to 4 months waiting on the baby and then waiting on the
dedication, so Joseph had time to develop contacts and start to establish
a reputation as a carpenter. Who knows, I wouldn’t put it past God to
arrange things so that Bethlehem needed a good carpenter at just this
time! Finally, more evidence that they had moved to Bethlehem is found in
Matt 2:21, as Joseph had originally planned to return to Bethlehem, not
Nazareth, after the flight to Egypt. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We are in Matthew chapter two, and now we come to another
great mini-story: the account of the Wise Men. These guys are called Wise
Men, Magi and even “Kings.” We really don’t know much about them, except
that they came from the East. We don’t know how many there were (“three”
according to tradition, but the Bible doesn’t say). They were likely
astronomers or astrologers who counseled eastern leaders based on their
interpretations of the movements of the stars.
What did they see that sent them to Israel looking for a new
king? We are not sure, but modern astronomers have learned that something
very unusual occurred in space at about the time Jesus was born. There was
an extremely rare conjunction of three planets—that is, it looked like
three planets were in the same place in the night sky. Due to the
limitations of First Century astronomy, it might have looked like a “new
star.” This conjunction took place in a constellation that was often
associated with Israel in ancient times. This would have been like a
billboard or Heavenly Proclamation to people trained in such things: “NEW
KING BORN IN ISRAEL!” So, they went to the capital of Israel (a logical
place to look for a king), and that is where Matthew 2:1 picks up the
When Israel’s King Herod heard what the Magi were looking for,
he was “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him”(2:3). Historians tell us
that “all Jerusalem” had reason to be afraid. Herod was both a great
leader and an extremely evil man! He had killed most of his own family in
fear that they would take his place, so the Magi’s quest probably made him
very angry. His priests sent the visitors to Bethlehem (where Scripture
foretold Messiah’s birth). Herod then lied to the Wise Men and asked them
to return if they found anything in Bethlehem so that “I too may come and
worship him.” This was really the last thing in his mind.
In Matt 2:9ff we read of another mysterious star. While there
was a conjunction of two planets about two years after the conjunction of
three planets, I think they may have seen some kind of local, supernatural
phenomenon, because this new star somehow “stood over where the Child was”
So, did the shepherds and Wise Men rub elbows in a stable,
standing in the glow of a bright star on the night Jesus was born? Sorry.
That is not what the Bible says. According to Matt 2:11, the Magi found
Mary and Jesus in a “house” not a stable. This is another proof that the
family had moved back to Bethlehem—they now had a house! The Bible also
says the Wise Men saw a “Child,” not an infant—and yes, the Greek word
indicates a toddler, not a baby.
The Magi had not been on a casual holiday. They may have
searched for this Child for up to two years, and thus it is no wonder that
they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” when they finally looked into
the Messiah’s face. On bended knee they offered their gifts, which
providentially would have come in very handy to finance the family’s
flight to Egypt—which finally brings us to the end of the Christmas story.
So, there you have it. The Christmas Story in chronological
order. It spans about three years, and takes place in Nazareth, Bethlehem,
Jerusalem, the Hills of Judea, Rome, Egypt, and some unknown country or
countries in the East.
To me, the Wise Men and King Herod typify humanity’s
experience with Christmas. Herod knew from Scripture about the Messiah,
but he acted in fear and self-interest. He refused to believe and thereby
forfeited the chance to see the Messiah in person. He then compounded his
disgrace and eternal debt by killing all of the babies in Bethlehem under
King Herod is the ultimate example of someone who “missed” Christmas.
On the other hand, the Wise Men believed the sign they got
from Heaven—even though they were not even Jewish! They made a long search
for the Child, and when they found Him they worshiped him and were filled
with incredible joy. I can’t believe their lives were ever the same again.
These men are the ultimate example of people who “find” Christmas.
The choice is ever before each of us. The path of doubt leads
only to death. In Herod’s case it was both the death of innocent children,
and his own death a year or two later.
The path of faith will be much harder. Mary risked losing her
reputation and fiancée when she said yes to God. Joseph had to struggle
with his choice. Shepherds had to leave their flocks and search door to
door to find Jesus. Simeon and Anna had to wait—maybe for years—before
they “found Christmas.” Finally, the Wise Men may have searched for two
years before meeting Jesus face to face.
The Christmas story for each of these people has three things
in common—and if we are to really “find Christmas” we need the same three
1) A Word from Heaven was essential in pointing them to the
2) They had to overcome some difficulty—or one might say they
had to search with all their heart.
3) They looked into the Face of God the Son.
Another favorite scripture comes to mind: (Jeremiah 29: 11-14)
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the
Lord, thoughts of peace and
not of evil, to give you a future and a hope... And you will seek Me and
find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? God draws us, we look
with all our hearts, and then we find Peace and Hope through the presence
of a special Baby. There is an ornament on my Christmas tree that puts it
this way: “When man reaches for God we call it religion; when God reaches
for man we call it Christmas.”
“You will seek Me, and you will find Me, WHEN you SEARCH with
ALL your heart…”
I wrote a new
song last week, with these thoughts in mind. I call it “They Found
They Found Christmas (Michael Krigline,12/8/01
Something in heaven… a new star shining bright
Drew the wise men, who journeyed many nights
After asking kings and prophets, and going where they told
With bended knee and joyful hearts, they offered gifts of gold
They found Christmas, when they looked with all their heart
A Word from Heaven told them where to start
And from that moment nothing on earth could outshine or erase
The Christmas peace and love they found when they looked on Jesus’ face
Simeon waited… praying night and day
To see God’s Promise, before he passed away.
When Mary came, the Spirit called this man to turn his face
And see God’s revelation—a Light for every Race
He found Christmas…
He’d heard the whispers… King Herod was afraid
Maybe this Baby would take his place one day
He thought that swords could stop the God who’d made both Earth and Space
And many died, as did a king who chose to turn from Grace.
He missed Christmas, for he looked without his heart
Ignoring Heaven, Who’d told him where to start
And from that moment nothing on earth could cancel his disgrace
Or bring the Peace he could have found, if he’d looked on Jesus face.
Christmas offers all of us a chance to win or lose
And who we are forever depends on what we choose…
My friend was reading… Matthew chapter two
His heart caught fire… like mine, when these words were new
Wise men sought Him, and found great joy; now we’ve done the same
‘Cause we’ve found Jesus’ greatest gift: salvation in His Name
We found Christmas, when we looked with all our heart
A Word from Heaven told us where to start
And from that moment nothing on earth could outshine or erase
The Christmas peace and love we found when we looked on Jesus’ face
This song was recorded in 2002.
If you would like a free mp3 file of the song, please write to me. (The
address is on the home page)
One more note (added in 2009): Page 313
of Faith of Our Fathers by Chan Kei Thong shows Chinese court
records from around 5 B.C. during the Han dynasty telling of a comet that
was visible for 70 days; the time given coincides with the best modern
estimates of the time of Jesus' birth. The first century Chinese
astronomers added: "The appearance of this comet undoubtedly symbolizes
change. The extended appearance of this comet indicates that this is of
great importance." Perhaps this is what the "wise men" saw--surely, the
"star" was visible all over the planet. Interestingly, the Chinese records
also note a second comet about 13 months later; perhaps this is the second
Furthermore, a 2003 book says that
Liu Shang, chief astrologer of the Han court at the time of Christ's
birth--disappeared for two years after discovering a new star called the
"king star." (p5, PHattaway) Could this Chinese scientist have been one of
the "Wise Men from the East"?
(Write to me and I can try to e-mail an MP3 file of They Found Christmas;
write to the address listed on the home page.)
(Text, words & music copyright Michael Krigline, 2001-02.
Permission granted to print/copy for non-profit use.)
(For more information about Christmas, see these Christmas pages on our
website: the traditional Christmas story,
who is Santa (圣诞老人)?,
Christmas Perspectives (poem), and the pre-Christmas Advent season.
Also look for Christmas wallpaper
here. You'll also find movie study guides on this website for some
great holiday films: A
Snoopy/Charlie Brown Christmas, Last Holiday,
White Christmas, The
Grinch, Christmas Carol,
a Wonderful Life)
© 2001 Michael Krigline, all
rights reserved. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print/copy
it for personal or classroom use.
(see Website Standards and Use Policy)
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