Have you ever been at a Christmas sermon and the minister/reverend/priest goes off topic? I know it peeves my wife Laney, and you may feel the same way. Because during Christmas church services, we want to hear about one thing—the story of the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem.
If you go looking for the baby Jesus story in the Bible, you’ll see that only two gospels cover the actual birth, Luke and Matthew. (When Mark and John pick up the tale, Jesus is a grown man.) But if you look closely at the two gospels that talk about the birth, while there is some overlap, the details vary.
One mystery of the Nativity: who visited Jesus at his birth?
In Matthew, the first visitors to greet the newly born Jesus are local shepherds who come in from the countryside. But in Luke, the visitors are Wise Men who are not mentioned in Matthew. (A note here: while we often think of there being 3 wise men, the number is not mentioned in the Bible.). Some biblical scholars see the Wise Men as invented by the author of Luke; but others believe the Magi came second, visiting up to 2 years after the shepherds.
What I’ve done is compiled the best of both gospels to tell the Jesus story in one coherent tale. I’m combining the names of Matthew and Luke into a single word and calling it the Gospel of Saint Mattuke. For easy reading, I’m using a simple translation provided by Yvonne Jeffrey in The Everything Family Christmas Book. I’ve then modified the language further to tell the story of Jesus’s birth in direct, modern-day English.
To set the scene, both Mary and Joseph, the mother and father of Jesus, had been told of his impending birth. The angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary and told her, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” An “angel of the Lord” appeared to Joseph and told him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”
I’ll pick up the story at the point King Herod becomes aware of the birth of “the King of the Jews” and summons the Wise Men to try and get more information, though his intentions are less than honorable. According to the Bible, he would later order the murder of all infants in Bethlehem in a failed attempt to get rid of the baby Jesus.
The Birth of Jesus As Told by Saint Mattuke
King Herod called the Wise Men and asked them about the bright star that had appeared in the East. They told him it was a sign of the birth of the King of the Jews. He directed them to “go and search for the child. When you find him, tell me, and I will also come and worship him.”
Many miles away, in a small town called Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to her first-born child and named him Jesus. She wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.
Nearby, in the countryside, shepherds were watching over their flocks at night. An angel from God came upon them, shining a bright light. They grew fearful.
The angel told them to not be afraid, for “I bring you and all people news of great joy. Born on this day is Christ the Lord. You’ll find him wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
More angels appeared and before they disappeared into the heavens, the shepherds heard them exclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to all.”
One shepherd said to the others, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this baby which the Lord has made known to us.”
They came as fast as they could and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. They praised God for all the good things they had heard and seen.
Some time after, the Wise Men followed the star in the east until it also brought them to the baby Jesus. When they came into the manger, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and fell to their knees in worship. They opened their treasures and presented the baby with gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The Wise Men had been warned by God in a dream that they should not return to Herod. Instead, they departed and headed into the opposite direction from which they came.
God then appeared to Joseph, the father of Jesus, in a dream. Jesus was instructed to “take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt; for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” The next night Joseph, Mary and Jesus departed.
A virgin visited by an angel, who asked her to become a mother; a father who agrees to travel and protect a baby that is not his own; shepherds and wisemen that came from far away to honor a newborn baby in a manger. It’s a great story. But most amazing is the birth of Jesus himself, a gift from God that each year has the power to lift our spirits, renew our sense of faith and open our hearts even wider with love and compassion for all. That’s powerful.
Merry Christmas to you and your family.