6 Surprising Facts About the First Christmas
- The Wise Men Came Later. It is generally agreed upon that the wise men were not present the very night Christ was born; however, it was not that much later. Many have assumed they arrived two years afterwards because of Herod’s decree to destroy all male babies of that age and under. However, there is substantial evidence that Herod died shortly after Christ’s birth which would put the wise men at the scene much earlier than most people assume.
- Bethlehem was a very small village at this time with a population between 100-200. It is very likely that there was only one “hotel” or public guest lodge, and so it would not have taken many visitors before there would be no more room.
- There were many astronomical “signs” in the heavens in the immediate years before Christ’s birth. However, most believed in the polytheistic gods of the Greeks and Romans, and therefore, ascribed these signs to Augustus who was celebrating 25 years of peaceful rule in the same year that Christ was born.
- The taxation mentioned by Luke was a tax associated with a census ordered in collaboration of the celebration regarding Augustus’ reign. There has been much debate about this decree throughout the years, but this account of a census fits perfectly into the details of the story.
- Both Joseph and Mary were of the house and lineage of David. About 100 years before Christ’s birth, a small group of Davidic descendants migrated back to Israel and founded two villages: Kochaba (on the east of Jordan) which means village of the star and Nazareth (on the west of Jordan) which means village of the branch.
- The genealogies of Christ, preserved in Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts were assisted by these Nazarenes, who kept detailed genealogies because they believed strongly that the Messiah would come from their midst. They were right, but when Christ presented himself to them, he was not what they were expecting. They were the first to try to kill Christ by shoving him off of a cliff above the village.
2 Important Details
There are 2 details that God wanted the Shepherds to see and by extension all of us today! These details, I believe, are the 2 most important details about Christmas that we should have a clear understanding about.
Read with me Luke 2:12 and see these 2 details that were to be a sign unto them:
“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Clothes have always been a sign to people. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned, they knew they were naked, and so they made themselves a set of clothes from the fig leaves. Yet God knew those clothes were unsatisfactory, so He made them a coat from animal skins. Picturing the first death, albeit a substitute death, of many to come until the lamb of God himself should be sacrificed for the sins of the world. The Bible mentions special clothing to be worn by priests, and special clothing to be worn by kings! It speaks of the attire of a harlot, and it speaks of the attire of a prophet! When Christ was crucified, it speaks of his robe, and when arose from the grave, it speaks of the linen cloths and napkins.
So when his clothing is mentioned here at his birth, let us take a second look and see what might these swaddling clothes be a sign of. Swaddling clothes were long strips of cloth. Some have suggested that swaddling clothes were used only by wealthy people, and others have suggested that swaddling clothes were also used for corpses, and I can see the how that could fit into the narrative, but personally, I could not validate these two scenarios beyond a shadow of a doubt. However, there is one scenario that remains open and is no doubt a major sign. When a baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes, they were tightly wrapped to restrict nearly all movement. And it doesn’t matter the tightness of the bind, the very fact that the all-powerful God who has existed from eternity past to eternity future could indeed ever be bound is beyond human comprehension!
In the garden of Gethsemane, when Christ was betrayed, Peter struck off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest, Jesus responds with a rebuke to Peter, and he says in Matthew 26:53,
“Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” Can we not think about this for one moment?
Christ could have called 10,000 angels to destroy the world and set him free! Even more so, for he could have called 12 legions of angels! Yet, Christ laid down his life willingly. My friends, were not those same angels attending his birth? Could he not have freed himself from the limitations which were placed upon him? I believe there was more than swaddling clothes that were constraining him at birth! There was more than human flesh that was restricting him here on this earth! Can I say…There were more than nails that were holding him to a cross! Jesus Christ declares in John 10:17-18, “… I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”
What was it that took Heaven’s Prince from eternal glories down to a manger scene…but love! What was it that took Heaven’s Prince from the lowly manger scene to a cruel cross…but love! 2 Corinthians 8:9:
“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”
But lest we overlook the manger, can we not observe a simple point here as well? God has always spoken to us in terms we understand. To the fisherman Peter, he says – Follow me and I will make you fishers of men! To the woman at the well, he says – I am the living water! And to Shepherds here at the Christmas scene, He says you’ll find the babe lying in a manger! The humbleness of Christ’s birth was not overlooked, but the powerful sign to the shepherd’s was that the Lamb of God was here!
Yet this Lamb was also the Good Shepherd! And here at his birth, he demonstrated the very truth he was communicating to all his followers as he taught them in John 10:15, “… I lay down my life for the sheep.” Here at birth, he was to be found lying in manger. And at his death, he was to be laid in a tomb! Christ laid down his life that we might be saved! And I stand in awe of the power of God, for he willingly was bound that we might be free! A lot more meaning comes to life when you read the words of Christ in John 10:17, “… I lay down my life, that I might take it again.”
He was bound at birth! He was laid down at birth!
He was bound at death! He was laid down at death! But on the 3rd day, he was loosed, and he arose. And because of him, we too can be freed, and we too will rise again!
With so many Christmas carols to sing, maybe we should look at one of the originals! Simeon was right on when he said he to Mary, the mother of Jesus in Luke 2:34, “… Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel…”