(My dad explaining the Nativity when I was a child)
During these several weeks, I have invited you along on an “Advent-ure” with me through the four Sundays (weeks) of Advent. I have shared my thoughts and readings and my research and studies about the Birth of Christ and what His Birth means to me personally. Advent is a time to celebrate Christ’s Birth and to actively anticipate His Second Coming by living a life worthy of His calling – a life that shines His Light to a needy world filled with darkness.
At the very beginning of the Christmas Season, we looked at the contrast between the British royalty of today and all the pomp and circumstance that comes with being royalty, with a peasant couple of long ago who were given the awesome responsibility of having God’s Only Begotten Son, the King of kings and Lord of Lord’s, to be born to them and parented by them. What a spectacular (televised) wedding Prince William and Princess Kate had. What humble beginnings Mary and Joseph had, with Mary already pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, and both Mary and Joseph not knowing what this all meant, at first. When Prince William and Princess Kate gave birth to their first son, Prince George, it is for certain that mother and baby had the best of care, in the best hospital in England, and the Royal Family – Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla, Prince Andrew, Prince Harry and other royal relatives – came to welcome the child who one day may be the King of England. When Jesus was born to Mary, it was in a little town called Bethlehem, in a stable where Mary wrapped the new born Baby Jesus in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger for a bed. It was big news when Prince William decided to be in the birthing room with Princess Kate. I was not there to be sure, but I think Joseph was not only there when Jesus was born, but He also delivered the Baby who was already King. Besides Mary, he was the only human being in Mary’s “birthing room.”! Instead of royalty, Jesus was welcomed into the world He created by barn animals, shepherds and “a great company of heavenly host” who did not stay very long (See Luke 2:1-20).
There are four Sundays (weeks”) in Advent which ends on Christmas Eve (December 24th), BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! (as TV “infor-mercials” say). There are the Twelve Days of Christmas, which begins on December 25th and ends on January 6th (or the Sunday closest to January 6th). The Sunday closest to January 6th is called “Epiphany Sunday.” It is also called “Little Christmas” or “The Feast of the Three Kings” in the Roman Catholic Church. In some Christian cultures, “Little Christmas” is BIGGER than the Christmas celebrated on December 25th. Gifts are exchanged on Epiphany Sunday to mark the time when the Magi came with gifts to the Baby Jesus. “Epiphany” means (among other things): “sudden realization: a sudden leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence” (Bing Dictionary). According to WIKIPEDIA, “The word ‘epiphany’ originally referred to insight through the divine…” Dictionary.com says that Epiphany is “a Christian Festival observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.”
The Christmas Story (His Story) is making a lot more sense, now that we see kings coming to welcome the King of kings into His world. How could God allow His Only Begotten Son, the Creator of The universe, enter into His Creation without any royal recognition? There must be something more than a stable and shepherds to the story of Jesus’ Birth. And there is! We see “them” as part of every Nativity Scene and we sing about “them” in Christmas Carols and we read about “them” in the Gospel of Matthew in “The Visit of the Magi”:
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi [Wise Men] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ [Messiah] was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a Ruler
Who will be the Shepherd of my people Israel.’”
(from Micah 5:2)
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the Child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may worship Him.’ After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed [MEGA-JOYED]. On coming to the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the Child and His mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him. So he got up, took the Child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod” (Matthew 2:1-15).
Before we go any further, we need to order the sequence of events concerning Jesus’ birth and what followed: 1. Jesus was born in a stable, in Bethlehem, and shepherds came to visited Him on that night (Luke 2:8-20); 2. When Jesus was eight days old He was circumcised (Luke 2:21); 3. “When their time of purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed [FORTY DAYS, according to Leviticus 12:1ff], Joseph and Mary took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22), in accordance to Exodus 13:2ff and Numbers 3:13, 8:17. (Please excuse the “poetic license” for the title of my last post. “On the fortieth Day of Christmas…” just didn’t sound right.); 4. The Magi inquired about the star to Herod (Matthew 2:1-2); 5. The Magi found Jesus and worshiped Him and gave Him gifts of gold, [frank]incense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11); 6. Both the Magi and Joseph were warned in a dream about Herod’s plot to kill Jesus. On that same night, the Magi “returned to their country by another route (Matthew 2:12) and Joseph escaped with Mary and Jesus to Egypt; 7. (One of the most heinous acts in all of Scripture) “Herod gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under (Matthew 2:16b).
When I see the “Three Kings” in the manger scene, I think, “Finally! Finally, Jesus is getting the recognition He deserves. We sing, “We three kings of Orient are: Bearing gifts we traverse afar – Field and fountain, moor and mountain – Following yonder star” (By John H. Hopkins, Jr.). But, did the Magi visit Jesus at the stable? Were the Magi really kings? Who were they, how many were they and where did the come from? How did they know about a Jewish Messiah? And why did they bring the specific gifts of gold, [frank]incense and myrrh? What is God telling me through the Magi? In order to keep one of my New Year’s Resolutions, you’ll have to wait until next time for the answers to these questions. I will say this one last think: Two of the three gifts, the [frank]incense and myrrh make “scents”. The gold makes sense too. I’ll explain next time.
[A special note: On many websites there is false information on the origins of the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The song was not used as a “catechism” song written in code to help young Roman Catholics learn the tenants of their faith, during the time period it was crime to be Catholic (1558-1828). This is what Phil Hamilton, from the Austin Library Research Department, wrote in a response to this false information:
“The Austin Public Library research department found information in the book “Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration and History,” by Leigh Grant, ISBN 0-679-74038-4. It says the words from this song first appeared in a book titled “Mirth without Mischief.” That book came out in 1780 (or 1783) in England. The tune apparently dates back much further and came from France. That 1780 book describes ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ as a ‘memory and forfeits game’ played by children at that time. The leader recites the first verse, the next child recites the second verse, and this continues until someone missed his or her verse and had to pay some kind of penalty in the game. ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ became popular at the “12th-night parties’ that took place in the Christmas season. For more information about the origins of this song and the false information that has been circulating via the internet, you can check out http://www.snopes2.com/.%5D
“…Jesus said, ‘If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you FREE” (John 8:32).