The Christmas story does not start in the Gospel of Luke or Matthew. Rather, the Christmas story begins much further back.
We think of B.C. as meaning “before Christ,” and indeed it does. But we also know that Jesus did not begin his existence when he was born in a manger in Bethlehem. Jesus Christ, being God and being a part of the Trinity, is pre-existent. He is eternal. And so when we celebrate his birth in the manger in Bethlehem, we’re celebrating the fact that Jesus Christ came to this world as a man. But he has always been and always will be. Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last” (Revelation 1:11 NKJV).
The prophet Isaiah summed it up well when he said, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
That gives you the story of the arrival of Jesus from both heaven and Earth’s perspective. Unto us a Child is born – it is the story of a birth. Unto us a Son is given – it is the story of a departure from heaven.
From heaven’s perspective, the Son left glory and came to walk among us and breathe our air and live our life and then die our death. From Earth’s perspective, God came to us as a man who was Deity in diapers, who was God Almighty as a helpless baby.
But of course, the first Christmas passage is not found in the Gospels; it is back in the book of Genesis. It is when God drew the battle line after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit. God put the devil on notice and said to him there was coming one who would bruise his head, but he would bruise his heel (see Genesis 3:15). In other words, God was saying, “Satan, I am going to send the Messiah, and he is going to crush you. You will bruise his heel, but he will crush your head.” So the devil knew Jesus was coming. And he did everything in his power to stop Christmas.
Back in the book of Exodus, we read of Pharaoh having all the Jewish baby boys put to death. Satan knew the Messiah would come through Israel, through the Jewish people, so we see Pharaoh trying to stop the Jews. Effectively, the devil was trying to stop the Messiah from coming. But God overruled and delivered Moses, who ended up delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt.
Fast-forward to the book of Esther, and we find Haman, who wants to have all the Jews put to death. He erected gallows for that purpose, but ended up hanging on them himself because of the courage of Queen Esther, who stood up for her people.
Fast-forward to the New Testament. Without question, 6 B.C. was a lousy time to live in Judea. Israel was living under the tyranny of Rome and their puppet governor, King Herod. Then those mysterious wise men arrived from the East, saying they were looking for the one who was born the King of the Jews. Now that was the last thing you wanted to say to a guy like Herod, because that was Herod’s title. He was the king of the Jews. They were basically saying, “We are looking for the King of the Jews – and it is not you.”
So Herod determined where the Messiah was to be born, which was Bethlehem, and then had all the baby boys there slaughtered. Again, the devil was trying to stop Christmas or, more specifically, trying to stop the arrival of the Messiah. But his plans were thwarted.
Then the great story starts to unfold at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel. The people of God had not heard from him for 400 years – not one prophet standing up and delivering God’s message, not one angelic appearance, not even a single miracle. There was just a stony silence. And it was a day like any other day when the supernatural invaded the natural.
There was Zechariah, an aged man, doing his duty as a priest in the temple. But that was the day God chose to send an angel to deliver a message to Zacharias:
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. … He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:13–17 NIV)
Meanwhile, people were waiting outside. Where is Zechariah? He’s taking a long time! … Did he die in there? … I told you he was too old to send in. … I am not going in after him. You go in after him. … Not me. All of the sudden, Zechariah emerged. Something had happened, they realized, because he couldn’t speak.
Game on. The Messiah was coming. As one commentator put it, “Great plans, laid in eternal ages past, now began to activate.” The birth of Jesus Christ divided human time. Rome had established control over much of the world at this point, and with the absence of war, many people were rediscovering art and literature and philosophy. People were asking questions. They were talking about human destiny and the purpose and meaning of life.
“But when the right time came,” the Bible says, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children” (Galatians 4:4–5 NLT).
We have “The 12 Days of Christmas,” but here are the 12 words of Christmas: A Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.