Well, it’s Christmas time once again. You know, Christmas- the holiday we often associate with things like online sales, crazy shoppers, and ridiculous commercialism. We can illustrate that part of the Christmas “experience” with a holiday song from another generation…
“I just go nuts at Christmas
On that jolly holiday
I’ll go in the red like a knucklehead
‘Cause I squander all my pay…
Oh I just go nuts at Christmas
When each kid hangs up his sock
It’s a time for kids to flip their lids
While their papa goes in hock.” (1)
There may be more truth behind those lyrics than we’re willing to admit- and that should make us stop and think. For example, do you ever get the feeling that people have missed the real meaning of Christmas? And what is the real meaning of Christmas anyway? Perhaps now is a good time to re-familiarize ourselves with the genuine Christmas story so we can avoid going nuts at Christmas.
We can start with a passage from the Biblical book of Luke…
“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26-27 NIV).
Parents typically arranged marriages for their children in the New Testament era. These marriages usually took place during the early to mid teenage years, with thirteen being the minimum age for boys and twelve for girls. Once the right person was agreed upon by each set of parents, a payment was negotiated with the future bride’s father. This payment could be in the form of money or services provided to the bride’s family to help offset the loss of their daughter as a valued worker. Once this arrangement was complete, the couple entered a period of “betrothal.”
The betrothal was something like the modern-day “engagement” that we see between couples today but was much more formal. First, the couple agreed to a binding marriage contract in the presence of witnesses. These legal agreements were taken very seriously. There were very few “broken engagements” back then for this agreement between the couple could only be dissolved through a process of divorce. This betrothal period could last for up to a year and while the couple were known as husband and wife during that time, there were no marital relations between them.
The groom typically spent this period working to prepare the couple’s future home. When everything was ready, the groom and his friends would travel to meet the bride and her bridal attendants. The bride and groom would join together for a reading of the marriage contract and then the groom would bring his new bride back to the home he had prepared. A great celebration then followed that could go on for a week or more.
So it was during this betrothal period that the angel Gabriel was sent to a young woman named Mary in the village of Nazareth, a town located about seventy miles (113 km) northeast of Jerusalem. Nazareth carried a rather undistinguished reputation back in those days and seemed to be an unlikely candidate for an angelic visit. That might help to explain Mary’s response…
“The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:28-29 NIV).
So Mary was confused and disturbed (NLT) by this greeting but there was more to follow…
“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33 NIV).
The focus of this angelic message was not so much upon Mary but upon the Son that was to be born to her. First, her Son was to be named “Jesus,” a common name in that day. Next, the announcement that He would be given the throne of his father David fulfilled a promise that God made to King David in 2 Samuel 7:12-13. In that passage of Scripture, God spoke to David through a prophet named Nathan and said this:
“When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (NIV).
So it was clear from the angel’s message that God was preparing to do something significant. But as we’re about to see, Mary had some difficulty comprehending the breadth of God’s plan.
(1) I Just Go Nuts At Christmas Yogi Yorgesson, Written by: Harry Stewart, Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC