Christmas, the untold story
Were there only three?
The bit that's never told
To me, the amazing thing about the Christmas story is all the different little pieces that take part in it and the way it all seems to come together. Each one of us probably has a favourite
Maybe it’s Mary and Joseph, after a pretty difficult journey arrive in town and there’s nowhere to stay! The only place they can find is a seeming hovel that’s part human accommodation and part barn! There’s just nowhere else for them to stay.
Mary is a young teenage bride pretty close to her due date, but a seeming cruel edict has come down from an uncaring ruler in a land far away that says a census has to be taken for tax purposes (now who likes to pay tax?) and that means her new husband has to make the trip all the way to the city of his ancestors to get registered!
There's already all kinds of horrible rumours flying around about Mary, everyone thought she was a 'good Jewish girl' but now she's pregnant and not married, worse yet there are even rumours it might be by a Roman soldier!!!
Joseph is probably a little older, around thirty, but he’s a carpenter, not the richest dude in town, and what’s worse is his wife is carrying someone else’s child (that’s what he thought at first) and he was trying to do right by her while at the same time saving his own reputation, that was until an Angel went and put his big foot in it! HE TOLD JOSEPH IT WAS ALL GOD'S DOING!
Where the story begins (for me)
My favourite part actually probably didn’t happen at Christmas! It probably happened a few years later, when Jesus was a toddler and even though there’s not much evidence outside the Bible for the events around the time of Jesus the events leading up to this are all documented and really did happen.
520 BC eight hundred miles to the East of Jerusalem stood the great city of Babylon, it had just been conquered by the Medes and the Persians but it was still a great metropolis and two of the most important figures in the new Medo-Persian empire lived there, one of them was about to have a vision that would change history forever, it would give the precise time that the Jewish Messiah would appear, and it would give a timeline from when certain events would happen that those with wisdom would be able to figure out when he would be born
The Seventy “Sevens”
20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill— 21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:
24 “Seventy ‘sevens’[c] are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish[d] transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.[e
25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One,[f] the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.[g
(New International Version)
Here is the strange thing that most folks don’t realize, the man who had the vision was also head of the ‘wise men’ of the East and had regular dealings with a tribe called ‘The Magi’ who were heredetory priests and astrologers.These priests were from the Zoroastrian religion but knew of the teachings of the Jews in Babylon and especially they knew the Prophet Daniel.
The prophecy tells us that 490 years after the order to rebuild the city of Jerusalem is when the Messiah would come, that order was given in 449 BC (if you use the Julian 365 day calendar, if you use the Jewish 360 day calendar it was 460 BC). come forward the 490 years and you literally come to 28 Ad and the date that Jesus entered the Temple at the triumphal entry.
Come forward four centuries and Jerusalem had been rebuilt, the countdown had begun just as the prophecy of Daniel had said it would but then something strange happened, something that would show just how dangerous a world the Messiah was coming into.
Everyone has a part in this story
Just outside Jerusalem is where Jesus was
Where Daniel was in 520 BC
One tradition has them xoming from here, and buried.
Another says they were Jewish Kings from Yemen (Yemen was ruled by a Jewish family at the time)
The Western tradition has their remains buried here.
New power rising
There was a new superpower in the region, one that was going to dominate the known world for centuries, but Rome was lead by three very ambitious men at the time, it was still a ‘republic’ in name, but in reality it was easily controlled by men with ambition and three men held the reins at the time. Julius Caeser, Pompey and Marcus Crassus.
Crassus was already famous for putting down the slave rebellion led by the infamous 'Spartacus' but his fame was dim compared to that of Pompey who'd annexed whole countries for Rome and was about to be overtaken by the 'upstart' Julius Caeser (none of them liked each other very much, but held off from fighting each other as they knew it would tear the Empire apart!)
Pompey had annexed Judea in 69 BC literally at the request of the ruling Jewish families to stop the infighting that had been going on for nearly forty years, he was the senior but the other two were just as ambitious and Crassus was the wealthiest man in the Empire, he decided to do what all good Romans did when he saw gold, to take it for himself.
In 53 BC he marched with seven legions plus support troops for what he thought would be an easy victory against the successors to the Medes and Persians.
Carrahae is known as one of the most spectacular defeats of the Roman Army in history! An army of 40,000 met an army of 15,000 in the field and lost in spectacular fashion, the Empire was left so weak in the East that there was nothing stopping the Parthians taking everything from the Tigris right through to Egypt itself.
Desperate to shore up what support they could muster and dealing with a rebellion in Jerusalem at the same time the Romans turned to a middle civil servant who was governing Galilee at the time a young man by the name of Herod to take over Judea and try to stave off the inevitable Parthian onslaught that they felt was coming.
There were those in Jerusalem who thought that life under the Parthians would have been better as there were already large Jewish communities under their rule where they got special privileges and Herod wasn’t a full Jew! He was from Idumea which was Edomite country! Herod always knew the Jews would get rid of him as soon as they could, but he was determined to hold on!
The Roman General
Herod and Judea
As it happened.
We’re not totally sure when the star appeared, or even what kind of star it was (Edward Halley calculated it was possibly the Comet he discovered as that comes round every seventy years and would have been in the sky then) but the men from the East knew to look for a sign for the star, they knew he who was coming was to be ‘King of the Jews’ and probably going to be born in or near Jerusalem but beyond that they knew little, but picture the scene, they may be wide men, but they are about to go into enemy territory to worship a baby they’ve no idea where, just that the prophecies foretold of his coming!
Now imagine the scene at Herod’s palace when men (we presume because there were three gifts that there were three of them, but it might have been a lot more with bodyguards, attendants/servants) clearly men of influence and their retinue come to worship a baby?
Meanwhile, somewhere in Bethlehem a young family are about to have their evening meal and have absolutely no idea the firestorm coming their way in the night, a night when they’ll have to literally run for their lives and desperately try to reach the relative safety of Egypt before the tyrant in the Palace realizes they’ve slipped out of his grasp!
it's early evening, Joseph has just finished for the day, he's looking forward to seeing Mary and the child, maybe he's managed to put the crazy events out of his mind for a while, after all the child is just a toddler running around just like todders do.
The knock at the door is pretty loud, but it's just probably Avram from next door, he can be pretty loud at times, he opens the door and just stands there transfixed.
"Who is it honey?" Mary sort of shouts from the back room, he can't say a word. There stand a group of the best dressed gentlemen he's ever seen, and they're armed to the teeth! Not the gentlemen themselves, but the guards with them.
"We want to see the boy" they demand and just wait. Mary's come out of the Kitchen now and the infant followed her, Joseph wants to run and scream to get them out of there but he can't move, he's rooted to the spot in terror. The men just walk in and kneel in front of the child!
Jesus was probably a toddler when all this happened, that’s why the order was given to kybe ill all the children under two years old!
Just try to put yourself in Joseph and Mary's position when this goes on. How would you feel? Herod isn't known for suffering usurpers and even children have disappeared in his murderous rages, and here is your child recieving worship from folks who are clearly not just Herod's enemoes but enemies of Rome!
Some interesting facts
Many try to say today that the whole 'Nativity narrative' may not have happened, it certainly wasn't put together in the form that we see in our plays today until St Francis of Assisi, but there are a few facts that we can look at and see what the record says
520 BC The Prophecy really was given and a timeline was established, the Jews knew when the Messiah was coming. Some try to claim that the Book of Daniel was a later book written around 200 BC but it doesn't matter because the timeline it gives stays the same and it works to the day!
Was that order really given? No one can really say beyond the Biblical record except that we do know Herod had his own infant son murdered five days before his own death in 4 BC and it was said it was safer to be a dog in the streets than to be a Prince in Herod’s Palace!
The Romans were routed at Carrahae by horse archers, men with such legendary skill firing their bows as they retreated the Romans gave us a phrase to describe them as they rode away taking a ‘parting shot’ (it was originally known as 'The Parthian shot')
Herod took over Judea and was a despot No one argues about that, and he had his own infant son executed just before his own death because of a supposed plot to kill him and put the son on the throne! in his time on the throne he was known to have had sixteen of his own family murdered including at least two wives and five of his own children.
Joseph and Mary fled with Baby Jesus. To Egypt where they lived for a few years until they heard Herod was dead, only then did they return home, but even then Bethlehem wasn’t safe for them so they went North, to a Garrison town called Nazareth
The Wise men and the Star
Your favourite part
What's your favourite part of the Nativity narrative
This isn’t the kind of ‘Christmas hub’ I wanted to write, I wanted to write something more cheerful but some of the things I’ve come across recently really challenged me and made me think about stuff that I try not to at this time of year, I try to think of happy stuff but this year probably because of some of the things happening in this world I’ve found myself thinking of Jesus as a refugee!
They didn’t ask for the jobs they were given, they didn’t go looking for the trouble that came down on their heads, trouble that largely came through fear and insecurity of those in authority.
Think about it, it’s a few days after Christmas now, maybe it’s the time of year that Joseph and Mary were hurriedly packing whatever they could carry as the ran for their lives with the toddler Jesus in tow.
When you think of Jesus coming in this way it kind of puts a new twist on the plight of the refugees streamnig across the borders in this world, running for their lives, not always running for their own safety but to try and keep their families together and to protect their young ones from the evil that persues them. Some will spend years in camps, unable to work because no one will give a refugee a job. Then they'll be sent to a country that they know little about and often with very little assistance to re-adjust they'll just be expected to cope!
We may not be able to go to the lands they come from. we may not be able to show them what Christmas really means over there but we can show the folks in our street what Christmas is like, we can show them what Jesus would be like if we could see him today and in doing so maybe we'll see Jesus in them and they'll see him in us! What do you think?
Are you with me in that?