The Nativity is the story of an ordinary miracle. Look closely at the tapestry of Christmas, and you will notice it has been woven with common thread and shining strands of gold. First, consider the utter humanness of this story:
JESUS WAS BORN
Jesus was a human infant. He didn’t mythically spring, fully-formed, from the loins of deity. He was shaped in his mother’s womb and, when the term had ended, passed through her birth canal. The Bible tells us that he grew and developed like any normal child (Luke 2:52). 1 John 4:2 asserts that Christ has “come in the flesh,” putting to rest any beliefs that Jesus was God merely play-acting in a fake body — the claim of Docetism.
NO CRIB FOR A BED
We’ve all heard stories about surprise deliveries. Babies have been born in cars, restaurants — even the branches of a tree! The Christmas story rings with realism as a pregnant Mary, after an exhausting journey of 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, suddenly had to give birth. Church nativity scenes put the baby Jesus in a stable — but many scholars believe that he was born in a cave, which doubled as pens for animals in biblical times. Others speculate that Jesus was actually born in a house. The word for “inn” in Luke 2:7 is the same word employed in Luke 22:11, which is translated as “guest-chamber” or “guest room.” With his ancestral home in Bethlehem, Joseph could have been seeking shelter at the home of a kinsman, but the place was already packed when he and Mary arrived. In those days, families slept on the second floor and animals were brought into the main floor at night to stay warm and keep rustlers away. It was in this space that Christ may have been born and laid in a manger.
JESUS HAD A FAMILY TREE
Matthew and Luke go to great lengths in compiling the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew follows the line of Joseph (Jesus’ adoptive father), through David’s son Solomon, while Luke traces the line of Mary (Jesus’ blood relative), through David’s son Nathan. If you have skeletons in your family closet, you are in good company. Jesus, too, had some colorful ancestors. King David arranged for the death of one of his soldiers, Uriah, so he could take his wife. Solomon married foreign wives and concubines, compromising his fealty to Yahweh. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, was a tyrant. Matthew’s genealogy also includes women, which was an unusual practice in a patriarchal age. The list of females includes Rahab, a prostitute, and Bathsheba, the bathing beauty who had an extramarital affair with David. These women were Gentiles, too!
So Jesus was human. But, as the Bible attests, He was also God. This is an amazing truth, but not surprising: as Josh McDowell noted in Volume I of Evidence That Demands A Verdict, “if God became man, then we would expect him to have an unusual entrance into this life.” Consider the miracle of His conception and birth:
JESUS WAS SUPERNATURALLY CONCEIVED
Matthew and Luke attest to the so-called “virgin birth” — the amazing conception of Jesus without the agency of a human father. Interestingly, the Apostle Paul may have alluded to this event in Galatians 4:4 when he wrote that Jesus was “born of woman.” In English translations, the verse doesn’t raise eyebrows. Yet Paul used an atypical Greek word for “born” — ginomai. It means to emerge, occur or come into existence — quite often in a supernatural way. The opening verses of John used the word to show that everything came into being through Christ–something from nothing. Paul chose the word to describe the “new creation” in 2 Corinthians 5:17 — the change from old to new when someone is “in Christ.”
Gennao is the standard word for “birth” in the Bible, used to denote the normal delivery of even such great prophets as John the Baptist (Luke 7:28) and Moses (Hebrews 11:23). In using ginomai, Paul may have been giving a nod to the exceptional way that Jesus was conceived.
HIS BIRTH WAS HERALDED BY ANGELS
After you were born, your dad probably phoned relatives and your mom mailed birth announcements to friends. But, as special as you are, it’s a safe bet that angels didn’t fill the sky to ballyhoo your arrival. The birth of the Savior was “good news of great joy” that was for all people, not a select few (Luke 2:10). This wasn’t just pleasant news. This was such big tidings that one angel wasn’t enough to make the announcement. An army of heavenly messengers lit up the heavens to shout praises.
THE WORD MADE FLESH
The prologue of John’s Gospel loftily summarizes the “ordinary miracle” of Jesus’ birth: “…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth “(John 1:14). It is one of the most profound theological truths ever revealed. In the Incarnation, God sunk Himself into a real human body. This was no magic trick; it was a rescue mission. Men and women could not, and cannot, save themselves from sin, death and hell, but God can. And God did through Jesus.
We sing a lot of Christmas carols this season, but Christmas is really one score that harmonizes two great truths: Jesus Christ is God and Man in one person. His birth and life was an ordinary miracle. He isn’t the stained-glass, goody-two-shoes sage that many people concoct in their minds. This was a God who walked dusty roads, hobnobbed with sinners and went toe-to-toe with religious phonies. His bearing was impressive. His words were dangerous. His program included outcasts and nobodies — and still does. The 1st century crowds of Palestine asked, “Who is this man? Where did he get his authority? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”
Yes, but more — a divine craftsman whose Spirit can shape and sand the roughest of human hearts into a thing of beauty. This is the truth of Christmas. This is the truth that can set you free.
Nativity scene picture courtesy of Kyle5357 via flickr