Bob Crusco is a close friend and one of the deacons in my home church. He has, in my estimation, been gifted in the area of narrativizing the information revealed in the Scriptures. He wrote the following, which we plan to use during our Christmas Eve service this Sunday night. It’s a bit longer than usual. But, that’s understandable, right? Here it is:
The Old Testament foretold the coming of a day when God would step into this world of darkness to bring light and hope. Listen to some prophecies in the Old Testament.
Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Isaiah 9:2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
Isaiah chapter 9 verses 6 and 7, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
What is tomorrow, December 25th? It is the day we celebrate Christmas. Christmas is the day the world recognizes as the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. I say recognizes because there isn’t a place in scripture anywhere where we are told when Christ was born. It was probably the Romans in the second century that started celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25th and for just a lack of a better day, it has been that way ever since.
Christmas is not about Santa Claus, it is about the birth of Christ and tonight, I am going to tell you a story about His birth. The story is all about the providence of God, about prophecies fulfilled, about loving parents and finally about the actual birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord, the Messiah.
There was a young Jewish girl named Mary who lived with her parents in Nazareth. Nazareth was a village in Galilee about seventy miles north of Jerusalem. Mary knew the Law well and she served the God of Israel with all her heart and lived a holy life.
In that land, young girls are promised in marriage while they are very young. Mary was promised to be married to Joseph who was a carpenter. Neither Mary or Joseph’s family were very rich, however they both came from the noblest blood in all the land. They were both born from the royal blood line of David, the greatest of the kings of Israel.
One day during their engagement when Mary was alone she was visited by the angel Gabriel. Gabriel stood before Mary and basically said, “Peace be with you Mary! You are in high favor and love, for the Lord is with you! Don’t be afraid, for God has chosen you among all women for his special favor. You shall have a son; and you shall give him the name Jesus, because he shall save his people from their sins. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest God. God shall give to him the throne and the kingdom of his father David. He shall reign forever over the people of Israel, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
Mary fearfully replied “How will this be since I am a virgin?”
Gabriel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is pregnant in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary answered “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
Well Mary needed someone to talk to that would understand, so she decided to go visit Elizabeth, since Gabriel told Mary that through the power of God, Elizabeth was pregnant.
So, Mary got ready and traveled to her home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice Elizabeth exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
Then, in Luke chapter 1, starting in verse 46, listen to what has become known as Mary’s Song:
And Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—Holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
Now let’s talk a little about Joseph. Joseph was a righteous man and it was either while Mary was visiting with Elizabeth, or soon after her return home, that Joseph, her promised husband, began to question in his mind whether he ought to marry her or not.
There was a strange look in her face, and he saw that she had thoughts in her mind of which she could not speak to him. This kind of behavior made Joseph nervous. Joseph really loved Mary but he just couldn’t figure out whether or not they would be happy together.
Then one night while he was sleeping, a dream came to Joseph. In his dream he saw an Angel standing by his side saying to him: “Joseph, son of David, to not be afraid to take Mary for your wife. She shall have a son; and his name shall be Jesus, for it is he that shall save his people from their sins.”
You probably could have knocked Joseph over with a feather at this point, but there was no doubt in his mind now, he would marry Mary.
Then one day Joseph told Mary that he had been called to go on a journey to Bethlehem, to sign up for the census, which was the town from which their families had come from.
The emperor, Caesar Augustus at Rome, who ruled over all the lands and was above Herod, the king of Judea, had given orders that a census be taken and a list should be made of all the families in his wide empire. He wanted to tax every family and in order to fix this tax, he had to have a list of all the names.
Now, every ten years the US government sends out census takers to every place in America to make this list. But back in Roman times it wasn’t this way. To make it easier for the Roman government to compile the census, instead of sending out census takers, they decreed that everyone must go to the city or town where their fathers came from and report to the census takers there.
Even in her condition Mary decided she would go with Joseph. We’re not told why she wanted to go with Joseph, but it was probably because: she knew that she was to have a son and the time for his coming was now near at hand. She knew, too, that her child should be the Son of David and the King of Israel and that he was to sit on David’s throne.
Mary wanted Jesus to be born not in the village of Nazareth, but in David’s own town of Bethlehem. He was to spring from the royal line, and she was willing to endure a hard journey, and to even suffer, that her son might come from the royal city where David lived.
Mary had read all of the books of the Old Testament, and she knew that it had been written by the prophets, to whom God had spoken, that this King, whom they called the Messiah and Christ, should be born in Bethlehem.
From Nazareth to Bethlehem was about a three day journey. So, off to Bethlehem they went. Joseph was walking, leading the mule with Mary riding it. When they got to Bethlehem though, there was a problem. The town was overrun with other visitors that had come back to register for the census. There was not a room to be found anywhere. People were sleeping in the streets, against buildings and anyplace else they could rest their heads. Joseph went into an inn he found and it was overfilled, he pleaded with the innkeeper for a small room anywhere. He explained to the innkeeper that Mary was with child and that she was going to give birth and this was probably going to happen sooner than later.
The innkeeper told Joseph that there were no rooms but that they could stay in the little cave where the animals were kept for the innkeeper and residents. Joseph agreed, so down and around into the little space they went. Joseph was probably feeling like he was a failure because all He could secure for the birth of Jesus was this little cave filled with livestock. But love prevailed and in the little cave Mary and Joseph prepared their space for the birth of Jesus.
You must remember that in these times men usually were not near women having babies like it is today. Joseph was probably standing or sitting on the other side of the stalls wall or something when he first heard the little cry of the Baby Jesus.
I don’t care who you are, you never forget the first sound your new baby makes. It is tearfully overwhelming. Can you just imagine how Joseph felt, no only was he a new parent but this child was special! This child that Joseph would be responsible to bring up was the Son of God!
Mary must have smiled at Joseph when he bent over to see Baby Jesus. Joseph saw the tiny baby wrapped in the swaddling cloth, red faced as babies are, and probably making little baby noises the way we all did when we were born.
But Joseph knew this baby was different. This is the child the angel had spoken to him about. This child was the Messiah, born of a virgin, Son of God.
At the same time that Jesus was born, the deep night sky was split apart with light. The light was brighter than it normally was during the daytime. It was probably like a noon day sun. The unexpected light, in the dark of the night probably woke up a lot of people, wondering why there was light like that in the middle of the night.
All the people became uneasy and even the animals became nervous at this unnatural occurrence. Then the light stopped and an angel of the Lord appeared in the sky. The angel told the people “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
When the shepherds around the area heard the angel, they thought indeed it was good news. In fact it was much better than good news. It was the long awaited news. It was the thing which had been promised by God a long time ago. It was the advent of Him who would save the people of the world.
Most all Jewish people were good scriptural students. They knew that God had promised them a savior, and that the great one would come from the house of David. The house of David would mean and be Bethlehem. The only thing that the shepherd’s couldn’t figure out was why the Christ was born in a lowly manger instead of some grand place like Herod’s palace.
Well the shepherd’s were going to find out for themselves what was happening so they left to go to the manger in Bethlehem. As they approached the manger, Joseph met them. The leaders of the shepherds told Joseph that they had seen angels in the valley and that one angel said that a Messiah had been born and that they had come to worship him.
When the shepherds saw the baby Jesus they fell to their knees. They adored the baby, and thanked Him for coming to save the nation. They recited some of the formal prayers they knew. Joseph, standing aside was amazed that so many strangers now knew the secret. The shepherds were torn between wonderment and happiness. This little baby was God and the Son of God, but He was also a helpless, lovable infant. Their hearts welled up with joy and their stern, deeply bronzed faces kept melting into big grins, which were quickly erased as they recalled that they were in the presence of the King of all Kings.
The shepherds finally left, praising God. When they were departing they woke people up all around the inn telling them that the promised Messiah had come. But just like the shepherds who startled by the light, south east of them many miles away, a bright star appeared in the eastern sky and three rich Persian men studied the star.
These three men named Gasper, Melchhior and Balthasar were wise men, scholars who were referred to as the Magi. The three men, who were known in Persia as philosophers, scientists, astrologists, believed that there was but one God for all men.
The Magi we’re excited about the star. Where did it come from and why wasn’t the star there the night before. And since it just appeared, was this star trying to convey a message?
They couldn’t come up with answers to these questions. It wasn’t until they went over the ancient Jewish scriptures that the wise men saw the true meaning of the big star. There was an old prophecy by Balaam which said: “I shall see him, but not now. I shall behold him, but not near. A star shall rise out of Jacob and a scepter shall spring up from Israel.” The three wise men surmised that the star they saw would mean that a savior of the Jews had been born.
At once the three wise men left their tents determined to follow the star. They packed food and water, and all of the special trappings of rich philosophers, and started out on their camels to find the place of the King of Kings. They traveled across the sands of the desert for several days following the star. If they were right that this star indeed foretold the King of the Jews, than it was important to them as Magi to see the King, to pay homage to Him and to bring gifts to Him.
They first went to Jerusalem to the temple and asked one of the many priests in the Outer Court of the Gentiles where they could find the newborn King of the Jews. The priest they questioned wasn’t really excited about answering these obviously three powerful men, with information that could be wrong so he summoned a ranking member of the Sanhedrin to provide answers.
The High Priest told the Magi that he knew of no sign, but that he knew of a prophecy that mentioned the town of David:
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler, who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.
King Herod heard of this encounter between the Magi and High priest and it disturbed him. King Herod arranged to meet the Magi in a secret meeting where he told the Magi to search and find the child and report back to him so that he could also go and worship Him.
So the Magi set off to find this new King, following the star until it stopped over the place where Christ was. They asked around and found out that a baby was born in a cave underneath the inn where they were. So the wise men pitched their tent outside the inn. They freshened up, removed their traveling garments and changed into clothing befitting their station in life to meet this King. This was a happy moment for the sophisticated Persians. They had, as a matter of course, been on intimate terms with other Kings who had sought their council. This would be the first majesty, who would be an infant and, at the same time, the anointed of God.
Solemnly, the wise men walked down the path to the stable where they were met by Joseph. They introduced themselves and told Joseph that they had come a long way to adore the new King. On entering the manger, the three wise men threw themselves onto the floor, touching their foreheads to the ground, announcing that they had come to pay homage to the new King.
They made a formal address about bringing gifts suitable to one who would be referred to as the All Highest. The gifts of the Magi were laid out on a white cloth. There was a small packet of gold dust, a jar of frankincense which is a fragrant essence of resins and oils, and myrrh, a rare gum used as a perfume ingredient.
They continued to bow and worship Jesus Christ until they left. That night, after leaving the manger, in their dreams they were warned not to go back to Herod, so they didn’t.
Surely they had just met the newborn King of Kings, Jesus Christ the Messiah!
© Bob Crusco, December 20, 2006
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