THE REALITY OF THE NATIVITY SCENE

Google Maps Tour of the Bible: Christmas Edition – Module 2

by Johann Quisumbing

Click here to go to Module 1

Welcome to Module 2 of the Google Maps Tour of the Bible: Christmas Edition. Here, we will continue to follow the Christmas timeline. We will take a better look at familiar holiday scenes that we grew up with and explore the unadulterated version based only on what the Bible describes. We will also cover the darkest part of the Christmas story, however, I promise that we will end the tour with a joyful scene.

When I mention Nativity, what images come to your mind?

In every Nativity display I have ever seen whether on top of a building, a public square display, in a school/church production and even as miniatures on your own table top, we will always find the Holy family in a humble stable flanked by shepherds on one side and the wise men on the other; at least a cow, a donkey and a few sheep here and there; and an angel as well as the star of Bethlehem. I grew up with this display and I even collected miniatures of the nativity.

It is very interesting to note that tradition’s version of this event was established not back in 1AD. Believe it or not, Christmas was not celebrated by early Christians. You can almost say that the first Christmas celebration was celebrated in 1223 AD led by St. Francis of Assisi, according to legends, of course.

1: FRANCIS OF ASSISI

Francis of Assisi, originally known as Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, was a mystic Italian Catholic friar. He founded the Franciscan Order, and was one of the most venerated figures in Medieval Christianity. He was inspired to lead a life of poverty and itinerant preaching. Pope Gregory the 9th canonized him in 1228. He was usually depicted in a brown homespun robe with a rope as a belt.

Link 1 – SANTUARIO DI GRECCIO

Welcome to Santuario di Greccio, a mountainous area in the heart of Italy. Francis of Assisi longed to do something to help the people of nearby small Italian town of Greccio to feel close to the infant Jesus who was born for them in a stable in Bethlehem. The Saint knew these good folks would never have a chance to visit the Holy Land so he wanted to  make the Nativity a real and personal experience for the faithful.

Before this church was built, in this spot was an open cave where Francis of Assisi orchestrated his Christmas tableau. 

Link 2 – CAVE CHAPEL

Witness the singular Christmas in the mountains, which Francis wanted to celebrate in Greccio – a place so dear to him – on December 25, 1223. To Giovanni Velita, lord of Greccio, Francesco said: “you have had a manger placed with hay and brought you an ox and a donkey just as they were in Bethlehem. On Christmas Eve I will come up there and, all together, we will pray in the grotto ”.

Christmas Eve arrives: everything is ready in the cave. The nativity scene and a small altar. It was as if Bethlehem, that year, had taken itself to the top of the mountain of Greccio. The priest began the Christmas Mass. Francis sang the Gospel.

The culmination of the celebration: Francis took in his arms that child placed on the hay who, by the faith of Francis, seemed to come to life and be reborn in the hearts of those present.  [www.santuarivallesanta.com]

I must admit that I had always found all those Nativity pageant versions quite magical but were they biblical? I mean, was it presented the way the Lord God intended? Let us see…

2: THE RIDE, THE INN & THE STABLE

So, we pick up the Christmas story where we stopped in Module 1. Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem. Let us eliminate a myth right now – a very pregnant Mary riding on a donkey. 

Now 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, in order to register along with Mary, who was betrothed to him, and was pregnant.  (Luke 2:4,5)

The verses above only narrated the journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem with no other clear description on what was their mode of transportation or the conditions of the journey. It may be that they did travel by donkey as tradition suggests. Afterall, this was a common way of traveling at the time and donkeys were popular among all classes of people. However, there are other considerations found in Scripture that may add to their journey story.

Nazareth is found in the region of Galilee which is about 60 miles as the crow flies to Bethlehem. At most traveling there by donkey using the established roads would take about 2 days. But Joseph and Mary being Jews were faced with a more arduous journey. Why? Let’s look at this map of Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth.

Joseph and Mary could not take the shorter and more direct route because to do so, they would have to travel through the region of Samaria. Jews avoid traveling through Samaritan territory. Why? The people of Samaria were hated by the Jews. [To fully understand the enmity between these two people, you can open your Bible in several books of the Old Testament.]

So, what would be their route? As Jews, they would have skirted the Samaritan territory by taking the much longer and risky route. This would mean at least a week’s journey time through a hazardous country. To give you an idea of the environs that they went through, take a look at the link below.

Link 3 – JORDAN RIVER VALLEY

Considering this, I really doubted that Mary could have ridden on the bony back of an ass 20 miles a day for a week or so. More than likely, she rode on a cart accompanied with other folks making the same trek to Judea.

So, they arrived at Bethlehem.

Link 4 – CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY [exterior]

Welcome to the plaza just outside the Church or Basilica of the Nativity. This basilica is located in the center of Bethlehem in the West Bank, Palestine. This place holds a prominent religious significance to Christians of various denominations as the birthplace of Jesus.

While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 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.  (Luke 2:6-7)

In all the stories told, Mary and Joseph always arrived in desperation to find lodgings because of extreme labor pains. But if you consider closely the words of Luke 2:6, ‘While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.’ I believe that what was implied was that they were already in Bethlehem for at least a day or so and that they were already lodged. 

What about that there was no room for them in the inn (v7)? In modern way of thinking, an Inn is a country hotel, in the business to rent out rooms. But in first century Bethlehem, the inn just meant a lodging place or a spare room. Besides Joseph, who was born there, would not have to rent a room because culturally he would have stayed with family. But because of the census, Joseph’s ancestral home would have been already crowded with kin including the spare room which would have been located on the second floor.

Link 5 – CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY [interior]

Link 6 – GROTTO

The Nativity Grotto is thought to be the cave in which Jesus was born. Around AD 248, Greek philosopher Origen of Alexandria wrote the following about the grotto:

In Bethlehem the cave is pointed out where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the rumor is in those places, and among foreigners of the Faith, that indeed Jesus was born in this cave who is worshiped and revered by the Christians.  [wikipedia.com]

Such as tradition believes but was Jesus really born in a stable? 

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.  (Luke 2:7)

Of course, people got the idea of the stable mainly because the baby was laid in a manger. Tradition was half right. Where the Bible only offered conjecture, archaeology may shed some light.

Based on archaeological digs in Bethlehem, the average houses looked almost like the image below.

Most Judean houses had two levels. The upper level comprised of an open area where the household would sleep under the stars during hot nights and an extra room (aka the inn) reserved for guests. The main floor is divided into two areas. The entire family occupied an elevated living area 3 feet off the ground where they did chores, supped and slept. The living area was about two-thirds of the ground level. The other third, that is the sunken area, was where animals like sheep were kept especially during the winters.

Because the upper room or inn and the main living were already occupied, Mary (with the help of a midwife & other household women) would have given birth in that lower level. She would have wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths and placed Him in a stone manger just like below.


5 – SHEPHERDS

On that very same night, on the hills surrounding the sleeping village, were flocks of sheep tended by shepherds.

Link 7 – CHURCH OF SHEPHERDS FIELD

The Shepherds’ Field Chapel or the Sanctuary of the Gloria in excelsis Deo is a Roman Franciscan chapel built in 1953. Located in the area of Beit Sahour, southeast of Bethlehem, this chapel marks the place where, according to Catholic tradition, angels first announced the birth of Christ. It is known for biblical murals & topped by a glass dome & bronze angel.

Link 7a – CHURCH OF SHEPHERDS FIELD [PHOTOS]

Originally, this is one of two locations of the Annunciation to the shepherds. The other site is the Greek Orthodox Der El Rawat Chapel on the other side of the valley.

Link 8 – ORTHODOX CHURCH

Link 8a – ORTHODOX CHURCH [PHOTOS]

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock at night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood near them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. And so 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; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army of angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased.”

When the angels had departed from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem, then, and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”  (LUKE 2:8-15)

Let us put one other myth aside. Tradition says that Jesus was born in December, that is, during winter time. December is the first month of winter in Bethlehem. Temperatures in Bethlehem can reach an average highs in the region of 57.2 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees Celsius) while the lows hover around 44.6 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius). December is also the first month Bethlehem sees snow. That means that the sheep & shepherds would be in-doors than out in the fields. Bible scholars agree that Jesus may have been born around September.

Why would God send the angels to appear to shepherds? Why not the religious leaders of the day – the Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees, and Rabbis?

God has a history of using ordinary people and at times, even less than ordinary. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek (gentle), for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:3,5)

Shepherds can relate to being poor in spirit, for Jewish society considered them as having the lowest of jobs. Interestingly enough though, only the shepherd had the right skills and gentleness to raise unblemished lambs which were highly valued by the priests for sacrifices. It is no wonder that the Lord God trusted to them (whom society considered foolish) the sacred privilege to reveal the advent of the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world. 

…God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  (1 Corinthians 1:27)

According to the traditional way of telling this story, the shepherds would always knowingly head to a stable to find the Christ child, but picture this. First century Bethlehem probably had a population of about 15-20 thousand (double that during the census). What were the chances that Mary was the only one giving birth that night? Not likely. There must have been several hundred babies born at that time. So, how were the shepherds able to find the baby Jesus. Remember this?

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:12)

The shepherds more than likely searched every household with a newborn babe in it until they beheld Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths lying snuggly in bed of hay in a manger.

6 – SIMEON & ANNA

According to tradition, as part of the Nativity pageantry, the Holy family had other important visitors besides the shepherds and they brought 3 significant gifts. In other words, all of the Christmas events occurred that same night of the birth. Again, was it all biblical? Apparently, NOT! 

God’s story shows us a lot more. Let us pick up the story in Jerusalem…

Link 9 – WESTERN STAIRCASE TO TEMPLE

You are standing at the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem. The name “Wailing Wall” or “Place of Weeping” stemmed from the Jewish practice of coming to the site to mourn and bemoan the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD and the loss of national freedom it symbolized. The wall is in actuality an ancient limestone wall; a relatively small segment of a far longer ancient retaining wall, known also in its entirety as the “Western Wall”. It was originally erected as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple begun by Herod the Great, which resulted in the encasement of the natural, steep hill known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount. 

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 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord: “EVERY FIRSTBORN MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what has been stated in the Law of the Lord: “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG DOVES.” (Luke 2:22-24)

It is important to note that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph could not bring the baby Jesus to the temple until after 40 days, which was the required time of purification.

Do you see the covered walkway at the far end of the wall? It leads up to the mount. At the time of Jesus’ birth, some 2000 years ago, there was a grand stair-case that went up to the south-west corner of the Temple mount. It was so wide that 10 men-abreast could have climbed it. The holy family would have used these stairs and when they reached the top, the Lord God wanted them to meet 2 persons.

Link 10 – SOUTH-WESTERN CORNER OF TEMPLE MOUNT

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. e She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.   (Luke 2:25-38)

7 – THE MAGI 

Again… in every Nativity movie and Christmas Pageant I have seen, the Three Kings or Wise men from the East would arrive in their lumbering camels just right after Jesus’ birth in the stable. 

On the golden screens, they followed a visible and very bright star in the night sky. That same star would also send down a single ray of golden sparkling light to pinpoint the spot of where the babe was born. The movies always made it look so magical. That’s Hollywood for you. But what does the Bible really say?

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “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.”  (Matthew 2:1-2)

Who were the magi from the east? To answer this, we go to the middle of modern day Iraq to where once existed an ancient city next to the great river Euphrates.

Link 11 – BABYLON

Welcome to where, once upon a time, stood the ancient city of Babylon. Babylon was the capital city of the ancient Babylonian Empire. What you see are the remains of the city are in present-day Hillah, Babil Governorate, Iraq, about 53 miles south of Baghdad.

On 14 February 1978, Saddam Hussein began the “Archaeological Restoration of Babylon Project”: reconstructing features of the ancient city atop its ruins. These features included the Southern Palace of Nebuchadnezzar, with 250 rooms, five courtyards, and a 30-meter entrance arch. The project also reinforced the Processional Way, the Lion of Babylon, and an amphitheater constructed in the city’s Hellenistic era. In 1982, the government minted a set of seven coins displaying iconic features of Babylon. A Babylon International Festival was held in September 1987, and annually thereafter until 2002 (excepting 1990 and 1991), to showcase this work. The proposed reconstruction of the Hanging Gardens and the great ziggurat never took place. [wikipedia.com]

Why in Babylon? The obvious answer is that the wise men did come from the east and of course, Babylon is east of Jerusalem. But that is not the reason why we are starting here. In Matthew 2, we have to ask, how did they know to come to Jerusalem? How did they know about the King of the Jews? Well, the answer to that can be found in the Old Testament, especially when I researched the word magi or magician. The result eventually led me to the time of the Judean exiles in Babylon in the book of Daniel. The reigning king was the famed Nebuchadnezzar. In a nutshell, the Lord had orchestrated one of His chosen prophets, Daniel, to become the trusted minister to the Babylonian king. Daniel was strategically placed to head the court of the magi and he retained this position under several kings up to the Persian Empire. Scholars have speculated that the magi of the New Testament were more than likely descendants of that same order of wise men. 

Since the magi were meant to find the King of the Jews, then it is not hard to conclude that the Lord had installed in His plan a way for them to get guidance from the written word of the prophet Daniel. 

8 – THE STAR 

Do you remember the Christmas carol, “A Star, A Star… Shining in the Sky”.

The Bethlehem Star is represented in practically every Christmas decoration throughout the world. Just look at most Christmas trees and you’ll find at its crown a sparkling star. In nativities, you’ll find a star above. In the Philippines, the ornamental lantern parol which can be found outside every building and house represent the star of Bethlehem.

Some say that the Bethlehem Star was a comet or a distant supernova. There are many theories. But was there really a single star that the Magi followed?

Let’s go to…

Link 12 – MOUNTAINS OF PERSIA

This view is from an undisclosed location somewhere in the mountains of modern day Iran. I actually found this spot accidently. I chose it because if I was a first century Persian astronomer, then being in these mountains would give me the perfect way to study the signs in the stars. This would be their view.

Link 13 – STAR FIELD

And the Magi did read signs in the night sky. Guess who placed those signs in the heavens.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to distinguish between the day and the night, and let them be signs to mark the seasons and days and years. (Genesis 1:14)

The heavens tell of the glory of God; And their expanse declares the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard.  (PSALM 19:1-3)

So, when the Magi of Jesus’ time read the signs in the night sky, they connected the signs to Daniel’s writings and understood the timing of the Messiah’s birth and the sign that would lead them to the place where He would be born.  So, months or even a year after Jesus was born, the Magi arrived in Judea. 

“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.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘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.’”

Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.

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.”

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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  (Matthew 2:2-10)

How did I know that the wise men were not following a bright star in the night sky?

Some may argue that the star they followed was visibly spectacular. All I can say is that the Bible says otherwise.

Look at the reaction of Herod in Matthew 2:3 when the magi asked “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.” (vs2).

vs3 – When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

If there was a comet or any cosmic spectacle in the night sky, Herod and his own wise men of Jerusalem would have taken heed. But instead he was quite surprised and troubled mainly more because they inquired about another King of the Jews.

I wish we could spend more time in exactly what the magi saw in the night sky. However, if you click on this Youtube video link: THE BETHLEHEM STAR where an astronomer will guide you on what the Magi actually saw in the night sky. I invite you to watch it. It will blow your mind away.

Meanwhile, let us get back to Bethlehem and pick up the story when the Magi left Jerusalem.

Link 14 – CHAPEL OF ST. CATHERINE

Chapel of Saint Catherine is a religious building that is affiliated with the Catholic Church and is located adjacent to the northern part of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the West Bank in the Palestinian territories. It works as a parish church and Franciscan monastery. Underneath this chapel is a complex of caves and ruins that may also mark the birthplace of Jesus. In the chapel is this beautiful stained glass window depicting the magi presenting their gifts to the King of kings.

And after they came into the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary; and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

Based on the Bible, when the Magi came before Jesus, he was not a baby anymore. The Greek word used for ‘Child’ here was PAIDION which means an infant between the age of 6 months and older. Clearly, upon their arrival, Joseph and Mary had upgraded their living situation from the animal pens to a house of their own. It made sense. The census would be over by then and the population of Bethlehem would decrease back to normal. Joseph decided to stay in Bethlehem and moved his family to an available house or he built one. Afterall, he was a carpenter and mason. Either way, they were in a house.

So, when the Magi laid their eyes on the Child Jesus, they being from the eastern kingdoms of Persia, Medes and Babylon prostrated themselves before someone considered as a Great One worthy of divine worship.

Gift of GOLD

In those days, Gold had the greatest monetary value among the rare elements of the earth and was mostly given exclusively to royalty. And Jesus is royal enough! Afterall, He is Lord of lords and King of kings (Revelation 17:14).

Gift of FRANKINCENSE

What exactly is frankincense? It is an aromatic resin used in incense and perfumes. More importantly, it was the incense used by the priests of Israel in the Holy Temple. A few times in the year, a priest was chosen to enter ‘the Holy Place’, the biggest chamber of Israel’s Temple, to burn incense on the Altar of Incense as a way of presenting the prayers of the people to God. So, why did the Magi present frankincense?

Jesus is not just the King of kings, He is also the Priest of all priests (Zechariah 6:13; Hebrews 5:6).

Gift of MYRRH

Myrrh has been used throughout history as a perfume, incense and medicine. Its monetary value was high, but you have to wonder what is its connection to Jesus in this context? It will be interesting to note that as Jesus was being buried after his death on the cross, his body was prepared for burial with spices and myrrh.

Was Myrrh given to honor His death? Well, not so much his death but more to honor His sacrifice. Remember, He was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

9 – HEROD 

We come to the hardest part of the Christmas story. It is rarely told around the Christmas tree for it depicts a dark event. But I believe it must be told. To do this, let us go to…

Link 15 – TOWER OF DAVID

Welcome to the Tower of David. It is the northeast tower of the Citadel of Jerusalem. Other towers named Phasael, Hippicus and Mariamne were situated in the northwest corner of the so-called First Wall, the Hasmonean and Herodian city wall protecting the Western Hill of Jerusalem. They were situated close to where the Jaffa Gate is today and were built by Herod the Great at the same time he built his immediately adjacent royal palace.

Link 16 – HEROD’S PALACE

Like in every story, there is always a BAD guy. In our Christmas story, the bad guy was Herod the Great.

Though Herod was king of Judea, he was not a Jew. He was actually a puppet-king of Rome. Herod was not loved by the Jews but he gained their grudging respect mostly because he renovated their Temple. One other thing about him was that he was extremely power hungry and not willing to share it. So, when the Magi from the east came looking for the new King of the Jews, the despot in him wanted Jesus dead and he’d do anything to get it done.

Now, the Magi found the Christ child and we will pick-up the story from here.

When it was time to leave, the Magi returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. (Matthew 2:12)

So, when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent his mercenary soldiers to kill all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. This horrendous event was actually foretold.

Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.”  (Matthew 2:17-18)

Ramah, by the way, is the area of Bethlehem.

But God knew what was to come…

Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt.  (Matthew 2:13-14)

So, let’s get back to why I believe this part of the story should be told around the Christmas tree; yes… even to little kids. How can kids and adults really appreciate the light unless they realize that darkness affects them.

What Herod did was an aftereffect of the original sin. Our history is filled with it. We are constantly surrounded by the darkness of sin.

One thing about darkness though, it cannot stand up to light. For several years, that light… our hope was kept safe in Egypt.

Link 17 – RUINS OF ALEXANDRIA

Welcome to the ruins of the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria. This city was built on the coast of the Mediterranean and had a fair sized Jewish Quarter. The Bible is silent on where the Holy family hid in Egypt, however it can be speculated that they would easily find refuge here especially since they have financial means due to the gifts of the magi.

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.”  So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and settled in a city called Nazareth. This happened so that what was spoken through the prophets would be fulfilled: “He will be called a Nazarene.”  (Matthew 2:19-23)

That light grew and 33 years later, He said…

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Christmas Season is the time to show that the light of Jesus is there. All you have to do is walk in it. How?

B E L I E V E


SITES OF CHRISTMAS PROPHECIES CAME TO LIFE

Google Maps Tour of the Bible: Christmas Edition – Module 1

by Johann Quisumbing

Welcome to Module 1 of the Google Maps Tour of the Bible: Christmas Edition. During the Holy Week, a group of us picked up our virtual passports and went on a 7 itinerary modules of discovery and faith building. We vicariously traveled through time & space; journeyed to where Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the Judges of old, David, the kings & the prophets, as well as Jesus Christ and those that faithfully followed had tread through the Land of the Bible. We did all this online and from the comforts of home. So, we covered the sites from the Old Testament to the New except that I purposely left out the places of the Advent story. Well, Christmas is just around the corner again. 

Are you ready for another adventure? 

Storytellers who tell the Christmas tale usually start either inside the Jerusalem Temple or in a quaint village home of a young Nazareth girl. But not us. Now, Christmas is supposed to be the story of the Advent of the Messiah or the Birth of the Savior. So, it is logical to ask…

Why do we need a SAVIOR? What is the MESSIAH saving us from?

This is where we begin our Christmas tour, not in Holy Land, but in a garden outside time and space.

1: EDEN

LINK 1 – Representation of the Garden of Eden

Welcome to the Botanic Garden in Rio de Janeiro. Of course, this is not the fabled Garden of Eden. I chose this venue because this garden was the closest representation that Google Maps provided. I want you to walk around for a couple of minutes or so. Look around and use your imagination and see Adam and Eve walking through a similar garden minus the pathways and other man made objects. The Garden of Eden was probably a million times beautiful than this place. But what really made Eden special was that it was where mankind had a very close relationship with God. With all the great things that were created, mankind was special to Him, after all He created us in His image and much more. 

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:3-5)

So, in the beginning, we had it made. But then something went wrong. Mankind sinned.

You remember what caused Adam and Eve to fall out of Paradise. They fell because they disobeyed God’s one and only commandment.

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)

They ate and sinned! When they did, something in them changed. Mankind was created to be with God, but now there is a chasm between those of mankind still in sin and God. But that is not the worst of the news. Because of that SIN, mankind has to face death! The first death is a separation of the physical body from the spiritual self (that is the soul). Then what comes next for those who die in SIN?

2: LAKE OF FIRE

And just as it is destined for people to die once, and after this comes judgment… (Hebrews 9:27)

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the FURY of a FIRE which will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26,27)

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:4)

Imagine being in that molten lake, not being consumed to oblivion but instead experiencing eternal torture and unquenchable regret. Yes, regret! All sinners will realize that they were meant to be with God and that they have foolishly rejected the only ONE who could have saved them.

That is the essence of the BAD NEWS. Now, let us look at the GOOD NEWS. 

God had implemented a great PLAN. In the Old Testament, God had set the stage for our salvation and left for us clues as proof of His intentions. They were called prophecies. And just before the coming of the Messiah, He prophesied the coming of a forerunner and a herald to point the way to the Savior.

3: GOD’S HERALD REVEALED

LINK 2 – JERUSALEM TEMPLE 

You are looking at a close-up of the beautiful scale model of the Jerusalem Temple. If you zoom out, you will see the entire model of the city which is about 22,000 square feet and is located at the Israel Museum about 2 miles west from its original location. Keep the Temple structure in your mind and let us go to the actual site about 2 miles east from here.

LINK 3 – DOME OF THE ROCK

Welcome to the Temple Mount. You are standing on what was once called the Court of the Gentiles. Before you is the Muslim shrine called the Dome of the Rock. Imagine the Temple structure laid out in that same spot. Imagine an old man in priestly robes approaching that Temple some 2000 years ago.

…there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. (Luke 1:5-7)

Does this sound familiar to the story of Abraham and Sarah? Well, it should. In the Bible, there are no coincidences. One of the Lord’s way of getting us to take notice is for us to recognize patterns in Scripture.

Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 

And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.” (Luke 1:8-13)

What would be special about John?

“You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.”

“And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:14-17)

Luke’s phrase ‘TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN’ was not the first time these words were uttered.

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and strike the land with complete destruction.”  (Malachi 4:5,6)

4: LEGITIMACY OF THE MESSIAH

If I were an enemy of God, I would make it a point in casting doubt on the credibility of Jesus of Nazareth. I’d especially challenge his messiahship. By the way, this is exactly what the Devil was doing even at Christmas time. But God who is by far wiser than all had already thought of this. Do you recall His Plan? Yes, ‘The Plan’ for our salvation. 

We already saw part of His plan come into fruition with the angel visiting Zecharias. The next stage was set in the northern village of Nazareth some 64 miles from Jerusalem…

Link 4 – CHURCH OF ANNUNCIATION

Welcome to the Church of Annunciation. It is a Catholic church in Nazareth, in northern Israel. If you look around, you’ll find on the perimeter walls enclosing the courtyard a gallery with icons (mainly colorful mosaics, some of which are made of ceramic tiles) representing some of the most important Marian devotions in different countries. Now, look at the main building. Inside is no ordinary church. Let us go in.

Link 5 – CHURCH OF ANNUNCIATION INTERIOR

As you look around, the church’s interior has 2 levels. You are standing in the upper level of the shrine. The lower level contains the Grotto of the Annunciation, believed by many to be the remains of the original childhood home of Mary. It was here that God had sent His angel.

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  (Luke 1:26-28)

Why was Mary important? She was part of the Lord’s Plan.

But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 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; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

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.”  (Luke 1:29-35)

Let’s talk about the virgin birth. First, it was planned…

… the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.  (Isaiah 7:14)

Second, it was crucial for our salvation. How?

Let’s understand that God had set only one way for mankind to avoid eternal damnation. Since, it was a man that brought Sin then it should be a man to pay for it through sacrifice of life. The problem is that the one who is to be sacrificed must be completely without Sin, but every human born of man and woman was born in sin. This is why we are not qualified to pay for the penalty of sin.

But then Jesus, on the other hand, was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He is without SIN!

You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.  (1 John 3:5)

Why would God choose Mary, of all people?

As part of God’s intricate plan, He had chosen a specific family… a family line that went from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Judah then many generations later to a shepherd boy who slew a giant and became the greatest king of Israel. Of course, we’re talking about King David. 

Now, we already know that Joseph was a descendant of David. But he is not the true father of Jesus. Some may question Jesus’ legitimacy by this. Of course, God’s Plan covered this.

Let us look at both Mary’s and Joseph’s genealogy.

5: MARY VISITS ELIZABETH

As soon as Mary received the news that her cousin, Elizabeth, was miraculously pregnant for 6 months, she convinced her parents that she should visit Elizabeth & Zechariah at their home in a mountain village just 5 miles southeast from Jerusalem.

Link 6 – AERIAL VIEW OF CAREM

This is an aerial view of Carem. There is a stream that runs through the village hence the Hebrew name Ain Karem which translates “Spring of the Vineyard” or the “Spring of Carem”. Now, there are 3 churches in the village from different denominations. According to tradition, one of them was built over the remnants of the home of Elizabeth & Zechariah.

Link 7 – CHURCH OF VISITATION

Luke 1:39-45

A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” 

Link 7a – Google Map Photos of Mary’s Spring

Mary’s Song: The Magnificat

And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

“For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond-servant; For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.

“For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.

“And His mercy is to generation after generation toward those who fear Him.  (Luke 1:46-50)

Three months later, Elizabeth gave birth to God’s Herald. His name was John the Baptist. 

Since we are in the neighborhood, as a bonus, let us take a quick visit to the site where John the Baptist grew up as a hermit.

Link 8 – ST JOHN IN THE WILDERNESS MONASTERY

The monastery, which is over a mile away from where he was born, commemorates the “wilderness” in which John the Baptist lived as an orphaned child and throughout the years which prepared him for public ministry.

6: JOSEPH’S DECISION

After John’s birth, Mary, who was 3 months pregnant, returned to Nazareth. When she got there, God’s Plan seemed to be in danger of being derailed.

…Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18)

Near the Church of Annunciation at Nazareth is a chapel dedicated to Joseph. Let’s go there, shall we?

Link 9 – ST. JOSEPH’S CHURCH

Mary was found to be with child but it was not Joseph’s. If the conception by the Holy Spirit is not believed, people can only conclude that Mary was unfaithful and cheated on Joseph. Mary was already 3 months pregnant and obviously showing. This was a problem for her, the unborn Messiah and God’s plan.

How?

If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)

According to the Law, Mary could have been stoned to death. However…

And Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.  (Matthew 1:19)

But sending her away was not God’s will.

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. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “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.”  

And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife…  (Matthew 1:20-25)

7: GOD’S WILL BE DONE 

Imagine, if you will, God going over His checklist of things that are done and things yet to be done.

  • Sent angel to Zecharias.
  • Blessed a barren woman named Elizabeth to become pregnant in her old age.
  • Indwelled the child of Zecharias & Elizabeth with His Holy Spirit while still in the womb.
  • Sent angel to Mary.
  • Conception in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit.
  • Sent a dream to Joseph to protect Mary and unborn child.

Then God looks at the next item to be checked, but then He pauses for the next item that was supposed to happen.

  • Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”  (Micah 5:2)

But there was a problem! Mary and Joseph were still in the northern village of Nazareth. Bethlehem, on the other hand, is located far to the south; about 3-4 days of arduous traveling time. Not too safe for a woman to travel in her second trimester. 

So, what is the problem if Jesus is born in Nazareth? What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that the Lord God declared that he was to be born in Bethlehem. Scriptures can not be rewritten. So, what was to be done?

In truth, God saw all this before it ever happened. His solution was to use a most unlikely person, the emperor of Rome. So, let’s go to Rome which is about 1,400 miles from Nazareth.

Link 10 – TRAJAN FORUM, ROME

Welcome to Rome. What are we doing here at the Trajan Forum? Well, we are here looking for a particular emperor. Did you see the statue? That is the statue of Caesar Augustus, also known as Gaius Octavian. He was officially the first Roman emperor who reigned from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. And his maternal great-uncle was Julius Caesar. Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir; as a result, he inherited Caesar’s name, estate, and the loyalty of his legions which guaranteed his ascension to the throne. 

What did this emperor do exactly?

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.    (Luke 2:1-3)

By the way, the census was not his idea. 

For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations.  (Psalm 22:28)

So, meanwhile…

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, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.   (Luke 2:4-5)

And so we come to the final site of our Module 1 tour. 

8: GOD WITH US 

Welcome to modern day… 

Link 11 – BETHLEHEM

You are standing on a narrow street called Maggid Mezritch. If you go east, this narrow street will open up onto a wide plaza next to a very popular church. 

Link 12 – MANGER SQUARE

Every year, except during Covid, this plaza in Bethlehem gets geared up for another festive Christmas. The people would string out Christmas lights from building to building, making a twinkling canopy over the Manger Square. At the center, would stand an adorned 30 feet tall Christmas tree and by it a life-sized nativity. Sometimes, they use actors to play the Holy parents.  As Palestinian guides lounge and drink coffee at numerous cafe stands, tourists and pilgrims go in and out of the Nativity Church to see the gold-plated star marking the spot where Jesus was born. The makeup of the visitors would mostly be Christians, of course, Muslims and the non-religious who are there for the sights. Regardless of their reason, you have to wonder if they realize what truly happened in this place. Here are a number of clues. 

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14)  …which translated means, “GOD WITH US. (Matthew 1:23)

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; and we saw His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3,14)

Immanuel was not meant to be a personal name. Instead, it was seen as the fulfillment of the Eternal and most Holy God humbling Himself by stepping down from the infinite into the finite; from Spirit into flesh. Read the words of a better storyteller than me, Max Lucado.

It all happened in a moment, a most remarkable moment. For through that segment of time a spectacular thing occurred. God became a man. While the creatures of earth walked unaware, Divinity arrived. Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious one in a human womb.

The Omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.

God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The creator of life being created.

God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen. He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluids of his mother.

God had come near.

He is God but chose to be an ordinary man. For what reason? 

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

How can we not sing…?

Joy to the world, the Lord is come

Let Earth receive her King

Let every heart prepare Him room

And Heaven and nature sing

And Heaven and nature sing

And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing

POST ADVENT Story Revealed part 15

Magi from the East

Again… in every Nativity movie and Christmas Pageant I have seen, the Three Kings or Wise men from the East would arrive in their lumbering camels just right after Jesus’ birth in the stable. On the golden screens, they followed a visible and very bright star on the night sky. That same star would also send down a single ray of golden sparkling light to pin point the spot of where the babe was born. The movies always made it look so magical. That’s Hollywood for you. But what does the Bible really say?

Matthew 2:1-2
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “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.”

Of course, the obvious question should start with… Who were the magi?

In a nutshell, they were the astrologers of the time. They intensely studied the movements and relative positions of celestial objects to gain divine information which they apply into human affairs. This is clearly supported in verse 2. That is, they interpreted something in the appearance of a star or stars which compelled them to travel from a distant land in the east to Jerusalem. What compelled them? They were inspired that God himself will be there. Their impulse was to worship.

Why were they called kings?

Tradition had labeled them kings based on these passages in the book of the Prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah 60:1,3,6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. They will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news of the praises of the LORD.”

How did the Magi know that the babe was to be King of the Jews?

Some have suggested that the Prophet Daniel may be behind this. You may remember him as the one being cast into the lions’ den and God protected him (Daniel 6). During the time when Judea fell to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, Israel were exiled to the east. That was about 500 years or so before the birth of Christ. Among the exiles were youths from among the royal family and of the nobles of Israel.

Daniel 1:3-4
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

Among those youths was Daniel. To make a long story short, God had made Daniel very special in the king’s eyes. Because of a mysterious dream that God placed in the mighty king’s mind and Daniel was only one who could interpreted it, King Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon (Daniel 2:48). (You can read the entire story in Daniel 2.)

The descendants of these wise men, the magi, had protected copies of Daniels written prophesies. It is suggested that when they saw certain signs in the stars that they scoured through his writings and by some divine inspiration they came upon the prophecies of the coming Messiah.

In the next post, we will look at the star that the magi followed.

ADVENT Story Revealed part 14

What Simeon Saw

Forty days after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. They did that in accordance to the Law of the Lord, “EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD”. (Luke 2:23)

Luke 2:25-33
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. 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. 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, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, and the glory of Your people Israel.”
And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him.

Why were they amazed?

  • It was not so much that Simeon foretold new things respecting the Child Jesus that they marveled; their surprise was rather that a stranger, evidently of position and learning, should possess so deep an insight into the lofty destinies of an unknown Infant, brought by evidently poor parents into the temple court. [Pulpit Commentary Biblehub.com]
Luke 2:34-35
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— and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Have you ever wondered why this part of the Advent story is rarely spoken around a Christmas dinner or during the early morning openings of presents? Even in every children’s production of the Christmas Pageant, there is not even a hint of it. For if you did include it, then the subject of what Simeon saw in this child would have to come up.

What did Simeon see?

He saw this holy child grow up into a man who would be rejected.

Isaiah 53:3
He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

He saw this child grow up into a man (who was without sin) die for our sins.

Isaiah 53:4-6
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

I can understand why parents want to leave this part out? For who wants to hear that the only reason for Jesus’ birth was that he was born to be sacrificed like a slaughtered lamb on the cross?

But the TRUTH is, without the cross His birth has no meaning and no real reason to celebrate Christmas. By the way, as a reminder, Jesus did resurrect and that is even more reason to celebrate Christmas.

ADVENT Story Revealed part 13

The Call of the Shepherd

Luke 2:8-9
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…

It is the day after Christmas and my thoughts lingered on the shepherds who were priviliged to be visited by an angel and instructed to seek the babe who would be the Savior of the world. I can imagine them coming together on the hillsides after watching a cascade of fiery angels lighting up the night sky and filling them with awe. I can just see them all wanting to head into the sleepy town of Bethlehem, but then some of the older shepherds hesitated to leave their flocks alone. So, some relunctantly stayed with the promise that they will be later relieved to seek out the Christ child also. Most eagerly rushed down the darkened hillside. They split up to scoure the overcrowded town, waking up the households with new born babes. There were probably a number of irated parents that night. For the shepherds woke them up and insisted to see their new born but quickly left because they have yet to find the new born in swaddling clothes laid in a manger. Of course, they found the house where Mary gave birth inside the empty animal pens. One of them blew a ram’s horn to signal the other searchers that the right babe was found. When asked of why this large group of shepherds came asking about Mary’s new born, they made known to them the statement which had been told them about this Child. When they eventually left…

Luke 2:20
The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

You know, shepherds were not highly thought of by the big wigs of that time. But God loves them. In the Old Testament, God favored them. Look up the stories of Abel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who were all shepherds. One shepherd in particular was so favored by God that he became Israel’s greatest king. He contributed a fair number of songs (psalms) in the Bible one of which was about ‘The Shepherd’ of them all.

Psalm 23:1-6 (A Psalm of David)
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

I know why God sent the angel to appear to the sheherds first. You see, He desires us to be shepherds just like them. I don’t mean literal shepherds but spiritual ones.

Like Jesus…

John 10:14-15
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Then we should…

Acts 20:28
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

And…

1 Peter 5:1-4
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

As to The Shepherd who look over us…

Psalm 79:13
But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.

ADVENT Story Revealed part 12

Why the Angels Celebrated?

Jesus was born. As he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger, something was happening at the nearby hills.

Luke 2:8-16
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 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; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
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.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.

Who truly was this child that inspired the angels to light up the sky with their fanfare?

Isaiah revealed His identity…

Isaiah 7:14
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel”.

Immanuel means ‘God with us’.

Isaiah 9:6
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The Apostle John said this…

John 1:1,14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Read the words of a better storyteller than me, Max Lucado.

It all happened in a moment, a most remarkable moment. For through that segment of time a spectacular thing occurred. God became a man. While the creatures of earth walked unaware, Divinity arrived. Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious one in a human womb.

The Omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.

God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The creator of life being created.

God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen. He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluids of his mother.

God had come near.

He came, not as a flash of light or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as one whose first cries were heard by a peasant girl and a sleepy carpenter. The hands that first held him were unmanicured, calloused, and dirty.

No silk. No ivory. No hype. No party. No hoopla.

Were it not for the shepherds, there would have been no reception. And were it not for a group of stargazers, there would have been no gifts. (Max Lucado Christmas article)

Wow! Join me and repeat the words of the angels.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

ADVENT Story Revealed part 7

Birth of the King’s Herald

In history, every important person entering a city, a building was always preceded by a herald. The herald’s functions is tell the people those things they needed to know about the visiting VIP.

  • In Buckingham Palace, the entry of the queen is preceded by the royal page announcing “Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.”
  • In the Supreme Courtroom, the entry of the highest judge is announced by the court bailer with a title like this: All stand to The Honorable (full name), Chief Justice of the United States.

In this advent story, the Lord inspired Luke (a New Testament author) to start his Gospel not with the birth of the King of kings but with birth of His herald.

Luke 1:5a
In the days of Herod, king of Judea…
  • Herod, known as Herod the Great, was the puppet king of the Roman Empire which had violently expanded it’s military control into the Middleeast. Herod was a typical despot of the time.
  • Judea of the first century was inhabited mostly by the remnants of Israel that had returned from 75 years of exile in Babylon. The Judeans or the Jews then had survived 400 years of servitude to other nation states then to finally under Roman control.
Luke 1:5b-7
…there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.

Again, does this sound familiar to the story of Abraham and Sarah? Well, it should. In the Bible, there are no coincidences.

Luke 1:8-10
Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.

Luke 1:11-13
And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.

What would be special about John?

Luke 1:14
“You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.”

This baby will grow up to live a way of holy discipline that is hard for many to follow. In the Old Testament it was called the Law of the Nazirites.

Numbers 6:1-5
Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to the LORD, he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. ‘All the days of his separation he shall not eat anything that is produced by the grape vine, from the seeds even to the skin. ‘All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long.”

Now, we come to his task.

Luke 1:15-17
“And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

You would think that Zacharias would have jumped and danced, but instead…

Luke 1:18-22
Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. “And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute.

Like the story of Abraham and Sarah, God kept His word.

Luke 1:24-25; 57-66
After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.”
Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.
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. But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. 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.

That is a very good question. This child will grow up to be the most unusual herald of them all. His name was…

John the Baptist

ADVENT Story Revealed part 6

Christmas in the Tent of Abraham

We now have enough dark background on the reason for Christmas. And there is nothing more darker than the fact of eternal doom hanging over the heads of all mankind because of SIN. By themselves, mankind is powerless to escape. Fortunately, the Lord God is there.

Deuteronomy 4:31
For the LORD your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers, which He swore to them by oath.
Nehemiah 9:31
But in Your great compassion, You did not put an end to them; nor did You forsake them, for You are a gracious and compassionate God.

Because of God’s compassion and grace, He set into motion a plan. “The Plan!” The plan for mankind’s salvation. And an intricate part of that plan involved a most unusual birth which took place in the beginning of the New Testament. But before that fantastic event, God decided to do… sort of… a dress rehearsal, so to speak. Let us go back to the book of Genesis.

God’s plan was to choose a specific family line of whom will be instrumental in the salvation of mankind. Following 24 generations in the line of Seth (a son of Adam), we come to Abram who would later be renamed Abraham.

Abram was given a very important promise.

Genesis 12:3b
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.
Genesis 22:18
“In your seed (offspring) all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…”

But Abram had a problem. His wife Sarai (Sarah) was barren. Does this sound familiar?

Then when Abram turned 99 and Sarai was 90, way way beyond childbearing years…

Genesis 17:1-5; 15-19
Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.”
Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”
Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”

Weeks later, the Lord came to Abraham again.

Genesis 18:9-15
Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?”
And he said, “There, in the tent.”
He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.”
And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid.
And He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Sure enough, when Abraham turned 100…

Genesis 21:1-8
Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.
Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

Merry Christmas Abraham and Sarah

ADVENT Story Revealed part 5

The Dark Side – The Consequence of the Original Sin

Now, I know that to many folks, Christmas time is all about smiles, gift giving and having a jolly good time. I promise you it will be and even more. For if you truly understand the reason why Jesus Christ was born, you will celebrate this holiday with a joy beyond comprehension.

So, we come to Adam & Eve eating the forbidden fruit.

Genesis 3:6-10
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.
They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”

When God made mankind in His image, He built into all of us an early warning system. I’m talking, of course, about our conscience. When Adam & Eve’s eyes opened (so to speak), that was really their consciences kicking into gear and telling them that they sinned! Like cockroaches not wanting to be seen, they hid from God.

Of course, God sees all.

Genesis 3:9-11
Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” Adam said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And the LORD God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
Jeremiah 23:24a
“Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord.

So, if God sees all, why did He ask, ‘Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’

Here is something about God that you should always know:

Our Lord God wants to FORGIVE.

2 Chronicles 30:9b
For the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate, and will not turn His face away from you if you return to Him.
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

But mankind blew it again and BIG TIME. Instead of confessing, they played the ‘blame game’.

Genesis 3:12-13
The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Eve basically said that “the Devil made me do it!” As to Adam, he implied that it was not just the woman to blame. He was really putting the whole blame on God.

Genesis 3:16-19
To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

You ever wonder why life is so hard. Well, the origin of that started here. The rest of the Adam & Eve story will show that they were cast out of Eden into a harsh and hostile world. And you only have to look at our history to see what sufferings humanity went through. But being kicked out of Eden to die was not the worst thing to happen to us.

Genesis 3:22-23
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden…

We were created to be with God for eternity but because of SIN, what we all face when we die eternal damnation seperated from Him in the fires of HELL. That is, in essence, the BAD NEWS of the Christmas story.

In my next post, we will look at the GOOD NEWS part which will start with this verse:

Deuteronomy 4:31
For the LORD your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers, which He swore to them by oath.

ADVENT Story Revealed part 4

The Dark Side – the Enemy Within

In literature, drama is defined as a composition in verse or prose intended to portray life or character or to tell a story usually involving conflicts and emotions through action and dialogue. And in every basic drama story, we always find three characters: a hero, a villain and a damsel in distress.

Now, in the last posting, you were introduced to the villain of the Garden of Eden: the Serpent who is really the Devil in disguise.

I know what question you want to ask. Why did God create a Devil? If you want to pursue it, you can click HERE.

There is much that can be said about this villain, but for the purpose of this advent story, let us look on what he did. Jesus said…

John 8:44
“…He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

How did the Serpent of Eden commit murder? Not biting them, for sure.

Genesis 3:1-5
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’”
The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Do you see his craftiness? First, he twisted God’s original words. Then he outright called God a liar and a selfish deceiver.

Clearly, the Serpent of old was the instigator of this tragic drama, but was he the only one?

Genesis 3:6
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.

You would think that Eve would be the damsel in distress of the story but in this case, she was far from being distressed. Instead, she was too inquisitive for her own good which led to a dangerous desire. This desire was so effective that she set aside God’s commandment and ate the forbidden fruit.

By the way, Adam was no hero here either. According to verse 6, he was there and witnessed it all. And he warned her not. He knew God’s commandment very well. Afterall, he had spent the longest time with God and yet he did not stop her… worst yet… he did not stop himself.

In the long run, they were their own worst enemies. They chose to think that they knew better than God. Unfortunately, there was a price to pay.

Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is DEATH…

When you think of the word, ‘wages’, the verse translates that death was earned! Adam and Eve earned death for themselves. Here comes the BAD NEWS for us.

1 Corinthians 15:22a
For as in Adam all die…
Romans 5:12
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…

In my next post, we really need to look closely at the consequences of sin and understand why the bad news is BAD for all of us. Again, do not be disheartened. . Here is a complete look at the Romans 6:23 verse to remind you of hope.

Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.