By Jerry D. Kaifetz
Sometimes the reader of the Bible needs to look at an old favorite story with fresh eyes, leaving behind the traditional interpretation and just reading what the Scripture says. This is such a time, with perhaps the best-known of all Bible stories, the Christmas story of Luke chapter 2.
In reading this story, I always try to look at it in a human sort of way, such as through the eyes of the man Joseph. This story, after all, happened to an ordinary man, a carpenter from Nazareth.
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Joseph was forced by an oppressive occupational government with a massive military presence that he as a Jew despised to do something that was inherently distasteful to him, and that at great inconvenience to himself and his family. He was forced to take part in a census. Though the taking of a census was not directly prohibited by Jewish law, one of Joseph's famous ancestors, King David, had gotten himself into some serious difficulty with God for initiating such an event (1 Chronicles).
Secondly, the person demanding Joseph's participation in the census was Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor and both nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar. The Roman Senate had declared Julius to be god, thus in a way making Caesar Augustus the "son of god." I would suggest that there is perhaps no way for anyone to properly understand how distasteful this thought may have been to Joseph under the circumstances of that day. To that, we add the rigors of a long, 70-mile journey on foot over rough roads with few comforts or conveniences.
Add to this the fact that Joseph was traveling these 70 miles through Judea with his wife who was nine months pregnant. We see that Joseph had compelling reasons to head the other way toward Egypt and just forgo this massive and trying intrusion into his simple life. Yet that was not the course of action Joseph took. Who can even begin to comprehend the wonder and importance of Joseph's faith at this time, without which messianic prophecy would not have been fulfilled and we would have no Christmas story today. When we get to Heaven, we should all be sure to tell this man, "Thank you."
Now on to the second part of the Christmas story in Luke. We have some compelling indications from the Old Testament that very little was left to chance in this story. The shepherds mentioned may well have cared for the sacrificial sheep used in the temple. Theirs was a location close to Bethlehem called "Migdal Eder" (Tower of the Rock), the place where a sacrificial flock was raised. The Jewish Mishnah (a commentary on the Torah) describes Migdal Eder. It was first mentioned in Genesis 35. Micah also prophesied concerning the appearance of God's kingdom there in Micah chapter 5.
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Next, there is a general consensus among many theologians that in Scripture the choice of articles preceding the word "angel" is significant. "An" angel of the Lord in the Bible is thought to mean any angel, while "the" angel is thought to indicate an appearance of Christ called a "Christophany."
In the Christmas story, guess which one is used? "THE Angel of the Lord." That would incline us to accept, at least as a very reasonable possibility, that the Angel who first appeared to the shepherds in the Christmas story may have been Christ Himself! (Who better to make the greatest announcement in all of human history?) But, He was being born in the manger in Bethlehem at the time, was He not? In fact, that could go either way. The Angel said that "this day" was when Christ would be born. The shepherds referred to "this thing which is come to pass" only after the Angels had finished their Christmas party, saying "it came to pass"; this presumably indicated that some time had passed between the angelic party in the pasture and Christ's birth in the manger close by. The biblical timetable allows for as much as an entire day. In any event, we know that God is omnipresent.
Another interesting question is: How many angels followed "The Angel" to that hillside in Judea? The Hebrew word for "multitude" in Luke 2:13 can indicate "a population." So conceivably, we could have a gathering of angels (actually "Heavenly Hosts") that stretches as far as the eye can see. Ask yourselves this: If you were an angel in Heaven, would you want to miss this party after 4,000 years of anticipation? So ... maybe the first Christmas was even merrier than we may have thought, and maybe Jesus Christ made an appearance far different than the baby in the Christmas manger.
Jerry D. Kaifetz was born in Paris, France, and educated in the U.S. and Europe. He holds a B.S. & Th.M. in Pastoral Theology and a Ph.D. in Philosophy in Religion. His testimony, "Racing Toward God," has been heard as a radio drama in 37 countries by 4 million people. A former professional skier, Kaifetz is CEO of Omega Chemical Corp., has been married for 31 years and lives in Weatherford, Texas.