As we are now halfway through the advent season, half the chocolates behind the doors have been eaten and preparations for the big family celebrations are busily being made, we thought we would take a look at the Christmas story.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos
Robert Wells and Mel Tormé
The story of the birth of Jesus Christ is one that is known across the world, even by people who have never read the story or even touched a copy of the Bible. It is one of the most well-known and most told stories ever.
You can find the story written in the Bible in the Gospel of Matthew as well as a slightly different version of the story as told by Luke. Both of these Gospels tell the story from different angles, as they were writing their story for different audiences. Matthew wrote for the Jews whereas Luke was writing for the non-Jews also known as Gentiles. The Nativity (the word used for the story of the birth of Jesus Christ) is put together from both accounts of the Gospels.
In this month’s article we thought we would have a look at the characters involved in the story and how they fit together.
The Angel Gabriel visited Jesus’ mum, Mary, in the months prior to his birth to tell her that she is with child. This amazed and surprised Mary as she told Gabriel that she was a virgin and therefore couldn’t be with child. The angel told Mary that the child was the son of God and would be named Jesus otherwise known as Emmanuel which means God with us. The detail of the visit can be found in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 1.
Mary and Joseph
It is thought that Mary was a virgin of about the age of 16 and she was engaged to be married to an older man Joseph. Some believe he would be about the age of 30 which in biblical times would have been the case for young girls to be engaged to marry an older man. At the time, the couple would have been the average couple in Israel, a quite poor pair. Joseph was a carpenter, which was a job by some religious leaders of the time as a religious duty and not that of a profession. Both Mary and Joseph were descendants of King David of Israel, and Mary was also related via her cousin Elizabeth to the traditional priest families of Israel.
For Mary to tell Joseph, was a scary thing for her, as in the biblical days according to God’s Law a woman who is engaged to one man but who willingly has sexual relations with another man is to be stoned to death. Therefore, telling Joseph and having her pregnancy start to show scared her. Mary knew that she hadn’t been immoral, but she was apprehensive as to how to tell Joseph and also what would happen. When Joseph was told by Mary that she was pregnant by means of God’s Holy Spirit, understandably he didn’t believe her and believed that she had been unfaithful. Joseph, however, knew that Mary was a decent woman, and that she had a good reputation. He also loved her dearly and didn’t want her to be stoned to death or publicly humiliated, so he resolved to divorce her privately. Back in the Bible days, engaged people were seen as married and the only way to end the relationship was via divorce.
During his sleep, according to the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph got a visit from Jehovah’s angel, who told him ‘to not be afraid’, the angel then went on to confirm everything that Mary had told him and again said the child would be called Jesus.
The visit from the angel cleared up the situation for Joseph and he vowed to support Mary, he publicly took her into his house, a sign that the couple are married, however he didn’t have sexual relations with Mary whilst she was pregnant with Jesus.
The couple lived in a town called Nazareth.
Where is Nazareth?
Nazareth is located in the north of Israel. It is at the most southerly point of the Lebanon Mountain range, about 25km (15.5 miles) west of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias). Nazareth has a population of about 70,00 people, predominantly Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. The official language of Nazareth is Hebrew and Arabic.
In modern day Nazareth there is a tourist attraction called Nazareth Village which is an open-air museum which re-enacts village life in Galilee at the time of Jesus.
Heading to Bethlehem
Caesar Augustus decreed that everyone should be registered, so Joseph and a heavily pregnant Mary must travel to his birth town of Bethlehem, to register.
The Journey to Bethlehem
Bethlehem is 73kms (45 miles) north-east of Gaza City situated in Palestine.
The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is 157.1km (97.6 miles), according to Google Maps the journey today would take some 33 hours on foot to walk. The Bible tells us that they went on a donkey Joseph walking, so we can assume that it took at least 33 hours to walk with the addition of rest time.
When they arrived in Bethlehem, the town was particularly busy with people returning to register. Mary and Joseph needed a place to stay while in the town, all the guest houses were busy, yet an innkeeper offered them a stable to stay in.
The rest of their story, as they say, is history; we move on to consider their son.
Jesus it could be said is the main character of the Nativity story.
The 2 Gospels both agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It is Luke however that clearly states that Jesus was placed in a manger because there was no safe place to lie him, especially as we realised earlier Mary and Joseph were staying in a stable, thanks to a kindly innkeeper who offered them that as he had nothing else available.
As per the Angel Gabriel’s words Mary and Joseph called their son Jesus, or Emmanuel. Jesus was visited by the Wise Men (Kings) and shepherds whilst staying in the stable.
Jesus, as the Bible tells us, went on to perform many miracles, founded the Church and died by crucifixion, before rising again 2 days later.
In the calendar, Jesus’ birth is remembered by the dates before his birth being known as BC, Before Christ, and those after are known as AD, Anno Domini, which is medieval latin and translates as in the year of the Lord.
King Herod was also known as Herod the Great and Herod I Roman King of Judea. He became King in 37BC. The Gospel of Matthew has the only reference to Herod’s killing of infants in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men,
was exceeding wroth, and sent forth,
and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem,
and in all the coasts thereof,
from two years old and under,
according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
There is a thought based on demographic clues of the time of the first century that the population of Bethlehem was only between 300 and 1,000 people and therefore Herod’s cull of children would have probably only amounted to between 7 and 20 children under 2. This is a much smaller number than the Bible’s Gospel leads its reader to believe.
The 3 Wise Men
The first thing to say about the Wise Men is that they do not actually visit the new born King on the day of his birth according to the Bible. Moreover, in fact they visit the house he is living in and only his mother is present. This contradicts the Nativity plays, but at the same time the Nativity plays allow both visits, the shepherds and the Wise Men to be included easily and without prolonging the show. Some believe the visit of the 3 Wise Men took place on the 6th January, therefore the same winter as that of the new born King’s birth.
We are obviously referring to the men as Wise Men however they are sometimes referred to as 3 Kings, there is nothing in the religious text to suggest that these men were rulers of any kind. The Bible in fact refers to them as Wise Men, with no number stated.
Why do we refer to them as 3?
Tradition has started to depict there being 3 Wise Men in the Nativity story, however, all the text states is ‘Wise Men from the East’. Due to the number of presents that are listed in the text, it has over the years made people think that there must have been 3 of them. Another term used for these men is Magi, this a term which is plural of the word Magus, therefore there must have been more than 1 man, but could have simply been 2.
Do the Wise Men have names?
If you go by the Bible text, then the answer to the question very simply is no they did not. This also ties in with the fact the Magi aren’t stated as to how many there were. Traditionally however, the Wise Men (Magi) have been named, in the Western Christian Church they have been all regarded as saints and are commonly known as:
Melchior – A Persian Scholar
Balthazar – A Babylonian Scholar.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica states them as having a different role as follows:
Melchior – King of Persia
Gasper – King of India
Baltahasar – King of Arabia.
Legends have also described the biblical Magi as follows:
The present Melchior delivered to Jesus was Gold.
He is described as having long white hair, with a white beard and wearing a gold cloak.
Casper’s present was Frankincense.
He is described as having brown hair and a brown beard, although sometimes he is depicted as not having a beard at all. Casper wears a green cloak and a gold crown with green jewels embedded within it.
Sometimes he is also referred to as the King of Sheba.
Balthazar brought the baby Jesus, Myrrh.
This magus is described as having black skin with black hair and a black beard, sometimes depicted however as not having a beard. He wears a purple cloak.
Tradition also says that he is the King of Tarse and Egypt.
What is Frankincense?
Frankincense is an aromatic resin that is used in incense and perfumes. It is obtained from trees in the Burseraceae family. The word is from Old French – Franc encens. The chemical composition of Frankincense is: C20H32O
What is Myrrh?
Myrrh is a natural gum or resin extracted from a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora. Myrrh through the years has been used in perfume, incense and medicine. Myrrh mixed with wine can also be ingested.
What do the presents signify?
The gifts themselves seem a little strange to give to children, however Christians believe that they have the following meanings:
Gold – Kings, and Christians believe that Jesus is the King of Kings.
Frankincense – sometimes used in worship in churches and showed that people would worship Jesus.
Myrrh – is a perfume that is used on dead bodies to make them smell nice and showed that Jesus would suffer and die.
It was the Wise Men that King Herod had asked to find Jesus and tell him where he was, he told them it was so he could go and visit him, but the ulterior motive was in fact to kill him!
Through this month’s article we have had a look at the characters in the Nativity story and some of the meaning behind certain aspects. We hope that you have enjoyed this look at the story.
As we bring this month’s article to a close, we thought we would look at a message the story gives us:
It doesn’t matter where you begin from in life, but it is about what you can achieve.
As we head into the Christmas period,
May we all here at The Training Fox
Wish all our customers, their and our families
A VERY Merry Christmas.