What did the ancient Hebrew prophets write about the coming of the Messiah, the much-longed for Hope of Israel? And how do those prophecies relate to the story of Christmas?
I realize that many of my readers are not Christians and don’t know the answer to these questions. Some of you are Muslims. Some are Jewish. Some of you follow other religions, and some of you have no religion at all. Thus, some of you may not know why Christmas is not really about Santa or elves or Rudolph or trees or shopping and gifts and malls and Bing Crosby movies. Some of you may be curious about the relationship between ancient prophecy and what Christians celebrate today.
Rather than have me explain it imperfectly, however, let me share with you what the Scriptures teach. I hope it’s helpful.
If you have questions, please feel free to post them on our “Epicenter Team” page on Facebook, and I will respond in the coming days.
Thanks and may the Lord bless indeed on this Christmas Day.
Matthew Chapter One
Conception and Birth of Jesus
18 Now the birth of Jesus [Yeshua] the Messiah was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name [Yeshua] Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.
Matthew Chapter Two
The Visit of the Magi
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by Godin a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.
Luke Chapter One
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord s with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”
46 And Mary said:
“My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. 50 “And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. 51 “He has done ]mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. 53 “He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. 54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”
56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.
John Is Born
57 Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.
59 And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. 60 But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63 And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. 64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. 65 Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, “What then will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.
67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, 69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant— 70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old— 71 Salvation from our enemies, And from the hand of all who hate us; 72 To show mercy toward our fathers, And to remember His holy covenant, 73 The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, 74 To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. 76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; 77 To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins, 78 Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, 79 To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
Jesus Presented at the Temple
21 And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”
33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Return to Nazareth
39 When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. 40 The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
“From the City of Peace, Jerusalem, I extend the warmest Christmas greetings to all of you — Merry Christmas!” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a short holiday video released on YouTube today.
Speaking to Christians in Israel and around the world, Netanyahu said, “We celebrate Christmas with you, we know the importance you attach to our common heritage, to the State of Israel, and to the city of Jerusalem, where so much of our common history was forged.”
As I reported earlier, an estimated 75,000 Christian pilgrims are now in Israel to celebrate Christmas. Many will visit Bethlehem, especially tonight on Christmas Eve.
By the time the Christmas season is over, ”about two million people will have visited Bethlehem in 2013,” which Israeli tourism officials note is “almost double the 2012 figure of 1.18 million” people.
The Prime Minister’s warm relationship with the Christian world notwithstanding, Israelis have mixed views about celebrating Christmas. Many are deeply grateful for the friendship of the international Christian community and supportive of — or at the least tolerant of — the followers of Jesus in the epicenter. Others carry wounds from historical tensions between Christians and Jews and feel uncomfortable with displays of Christmas. In some cases, discussion of Christmas provokes political debates between Israelis and Palestinians. Here are a few articles and columns in recent days on the subject.
Continuing in the tradition of his father, the much beloved late-King Hussein, Jordan’s King Abdullah II extended his hand of friendship and tolerance to the Christians of the Hashemite Kingdom by attending a Christmas celebration with Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic leaders and extending good wishes to the broader Arab and international Christian communities.
“His Majesty King Abdullah, accompanied by HRH Crown Prince Hussein, on Monday attended a celebration in Madaba Governorate held by the Christian community in Jordan on the occasion of Christmas and the New Year,” reported The Jordan Times. “King Abdullah extended his good wishes to the Christian community during a lunch banquet he held in Madaba, some 30km southwest of Amman, according to a Royal Court statement. During the ceremony, Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem, All Palestine and Jordan Theophilos III commended His Majesty’s efforts to bring about peace in the region.”
“The patriarchate of Jerusalem, which enjoys your noble protection, along with the Church of Holy Sepulchre, Al Aqsa Mosque and the other Islamic and Christian holy sites, holds you in high esteem as you work hard under severely difficult conditions to make peace in the Middle East,” he told the King. The patriarch added that the King has “been following in the footsteps of [his] great father, His Majesty the late King Hussein and [his] Hashemite predecessors, the grandchildren of the noble Prophet”.
“Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin archbishop of Jerusalem, referred to the anticipated ‘historical’ visit of Pope Francis to the Kingdom next year, noting that around 50 years ago, King Hussein received Pope John Paul VI, and ‘we will be celebrating the anniversary of that visit in the coming few days,” the Times noted. “Twal also highlighted the King’s efforts to protect the existence of Christians in the region.”
“We, in cooperation with the Catholic Church in the entire world, share with you your concerns and efforts to protect the Christian presence in the Middle East and its Arab Christian identity,” he said….
“Madaba Mayor Mustafa Maaiaah noted that Jordan has always been a homeland with a ‘message of tolerance, openness and the belief that we are God’s creations and children,'” the Times added. “Also addressing the King, Shadia Haddad, representative of the women in Madaba, said: “We will never forget, Your Majesty, that it was you who made this occasion a national holiday for all to celebrate.. You have not stopped at that. You insist that we meet as one family to exchange Christmas greetings and assert our determination to hold tightly to our genuine brotherhood as Muslims and Christians in this dear homeland.”