Christmas: Biblical Reflections

[Editor’s Note: This article was first published on Catholic Stand, December 6, 2014. We are republishing here for your holiday enjoyment.]

With Christmas coming up around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at some connections in sacred Scripture that may not be evident to the casual Bible reader.

The story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem is rife with meaning. The inn-keepers of Bethlehem had no room for Mary and Joseph, even though Joseph probably told them that Mary was about to give birth. The moral sense of this story (how it applies to us) is a question we all must ask ourselves – “Do we have room in our heart for the Holy Family?”  Or are we too busy with the affairs of this world to give Jesus, Mary, and Joseph their proper due?

“O Little Town of Bethlehem”

The fact that Jesus chose to be born in Bethlehem is very important. Bethlehem is the city where David was born, the second King of Israel. Jesus, the last King of Israel, by being born in Bethlehem, follows in David’s footsteps as the royal heir to the Kingdom of God.

Bethlehem is a Jewish word that means “House of Bread.” Jesus declared Himself to be the Bread of Life in John 6:35. When the Blessed Virgin Mary placed Jesus in a feeding trough (a manger) for sheep inside the stable, she gave us a foreshadowing of the Eucharist – the stable represents the church, the manger is the altar, and Jesus is the Eucharist, or the supernatural Bread of Life. We are His sheep who come to the altar on Sundays to commune with Him.

“We Three Kings of Orient Are”

After Jesus was born, the three Wise Men, all Gentiles, came to worship and adore Jesus.   Of course, this had all been predicted by Isaiah the prophet 700 years earlier, in Isaiah 60:6: “Caravans of camels shall cover you, dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and heralding the praises of the LORD.”  They had been harassed by King Herod, who wanted to kill the baby Jesus before doing this.  Today, the government is also harassing the Church with its HHS mandate to make the Church of Jesus Christ pay for killing babies with abortifacients and birth control in its health care plans, but still, we Catholics go to Eucharistic Adoration to worship and adore Christ, just like the three Wise Men did. The term “Wise Man” should also make us think of the wisest man in the Old Testament, King Solomon, who had a lot of gold and who also built the original Temple in Jerusalem. One of the gifts that the three Wise Men brought Christ was gold. It’s almost as if the former wisest man in the world, King Solomon, is now coming by proxy to worship the eternal King of Israel, Jesus, with his gold.

Jesus, by the way, also declared His body to be a temple (John 2:19) in Jerusalem!  And then the three Wise Men worshiped the baby Jesus with Mary holding Him. They didn’t tell Mary to take a hike while they gave glory to Christ alone.   Mary, who is not divine, is always united with Christ (1 Corinthians 6:17). She was full of grace when Gabriel appeared to her, she was full of grace when the three Wise Men came to view Jesus, and she is still full of grace today!

Gold represents royalty, for sure, but the other two gifts that were given to Christ, frankincense and myrrh, are also significant. Frankincense is used for worship, and myrrh is a spice used for burial. So we see that the three gifts given to the baby Jesus tell us who he really is – a royal King who is to be worshiped, and who one day will be buried in a tomb.

“Away In A Manger”

There are no animals mentioned in the gospels which were present at Jesus birth, but if Jesus was indeed born in a stable, in all likelihood there were oxen and sheep present there. As it turns out, each one of these animals was once worshiped by the Egyptians as a god, and also by the Israelites who had once adopted Egyptian gods as their own during their 400 year captivity. Now, it seems, each of those former animal “gods” from the Old Testament is coming before the real God in the New Testament in a kind of reverse worship – animals coming before the one true God in the form of a man, instead of man worshiping animals.

“While Shepherds Watch Their Flock”

One of my favorite scenes from the Bible is when the angels appeared to the shepherds in the field to announce the birth of the Savior, in Luke 2:8-14.  Notice that the angels didn’t appear to King Herod, or to the rich and powerful in Jerusalem. Rather, the angelic host appeared to ordinary shepherds, who were not exactly the upper crust of Israel. These lower caste people were chosen by God to be the first worshipers of Christ after Joseph and Mary, who were also lower class parents from the backwater city of Nazareth. This points to the fact that, although the rich and powerful can be saved, it is the meek and lowly who God calls first to come and worship Him.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

The name “Nazareth” means a “branch,” or a “shoot,” which means that the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1“But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom”– was fulfilled with the birth of Jesus. In a similar manner, the prophecy of Micah 5:1 – “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathaha least among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.” – was also fulfilled, because Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The fact that both of these prophecies were fulfilled by one man, Jesus – who was a Nazarene born in Bethlehem – is a million to one shot, and helps to prove that Jesus is indeed the Christ foretold of in the Old Testament.

“Let There Be Peace On Earth”

There is also a historical tradition that says that there were no wars going on at the time of the birth of Christ. This would mean that the Prince of Peace, Jesus, did bring peace to the world, albeit for a short time. This hearkens back to Deuteronomy 12:10-12:

But after you have crossed the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you as a heritage, when he has given you rest from all your enemies round about and you live there in security,  then to the place which the LORD, your God, chooses as the dwelling place for his name you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and personal contributions, and every special offering you have vowed to the LORD. You shall rejoice in the presence of the LORD, your God, with your sons and daughters, your male and female slaves, as well as with the Levite within your gates, who has no hereditary portion with you.” 

The Israelites were to rejoice in the presence of the Lord when they were given rest from all of their enemies! This prophecy came to pass in the days of King David and his son, King Solomon. Likewise, the shepherds and the three Wise Men rejoiced in the presence of Jesus when there were no enemies trying to kill them in war.

The Bible is full of these kinds of parallels, all inspired by the Holy Spirit to lead us to the one true King of Kings, our brother, our creator, our lover, and our Loving Father, Jesus Christ!

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4 thoughts on “Christmas: Biblical Reflections”

  1. Pingback: Pastoral Sharings: "Third Sunday of Advent" | St. John

  2. The bible only mentions magi from the east. It doesn’t say there were three of them or that they were kings. It also mentions them visiting the child in a “house”.

  3. Quaint story written to fit OT prophesies: Really, about Bethlehem…the Judea of King David? I really think Luke and Matthew should have referred to Bethlehem of Galilee rather than Bethlehem of Judea….two different locations. The Nativity Story which was only written about in Luke and Matthew also somewhat alluded to in Mark, and not at all in John was written to be religious narrative without connection to true chronology or accurate historicity.

    “But while Luke and Matthew describe Bethlehem in Judea as the birthplace of Jesus, “Menorah,” the vast database of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), describes Bethlehem as an “ancient site” with Iron Age material and the fourth-century Church of the Nativity and associated Byzantine and medieval buildings. But there is a complete absence of information for antiquities from the Herodian period–that is, from the time around the birth of Jesus.

    I had never before questioned the assumption that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea. But in the early 1990s, as an archaeologist working for the IAA, I was contracted to perform some salvage excavations around building and infrastructure projects in a small rural community in the Galilee. When I started work, some of the people who lived around the site told me how Jesus was really born there, not in the south. Intrigued, I researched the archaeological evidence for Bethlehem in Judea at the time of Jesus and found nothing. This was very surprising, as Herodian remains should be the first thing one should find. What was even more surprising is what archaeologists had already uncovered and what I was to discover over the next 11 years of excavation at the small rural site–Bethlehem of Galilee.

    Aviram Oshri is a senior archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority


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