Well, it’s Christmas time once again. You know, Christmas- the holiday that many people associate with gifts, decorations, and “walking in a winter wonderland” which, of course, must seem pretty strange for people who live in places where it doesn’t snow.
Anyway, Christmas is a time that many people also associate with things like crowded malls, crazy shoppers, and ridiculous commercialism. That part of the Christmas “experience” was once illustrated by 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 *
If we’re willing to admit it, there’s actually a lot of truth behind those lyrics and this is something that should really make us stop and think. For example, do you ever get the feeling that people have missed the real meaning of Christmas? And what exactly is the real meaning of Christmas anyway? Maybe now is a good time to re-familiarize ourselves with the real Christmas story so we can avoid going nuts at Christmas.
To do this, we can start by looking at the Biblical book known as Luke, beginning in chapter one, verse twenty six (1:26)…
“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).
To understand what’s really going on here, it helps to know a little about what weddings were like back in the days of the Bible. You see, it was a common practice for parents to arrange marriages for their children back then. These marriages usually took place around the early to mid teenage years, with 13 being the minimum age for boys and 12 for girls.
Once the right person was agreed on 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 father to help “pay him back” in a sense for the loss of his daughter as a valued worker. After this deal was completed, the couple would then enter a period of “betrothal.”
The betrothal was a little like the modern-day “engagement” that we see between couples today but it was a lot more formal. First, a marriage contract binding the future bride and groom together was agreed to in the presence of witnesses. These were real legal agreements and they were taken very seriously. There were very few “broken engagements” in those days because the only way that you could get out of a betrothal would be to go through an actual process of divorce. This betrothal period could last for up to a year and while the couple were known as husband and wife during this time, they were not yet allowed to be together physically.
The groom would usually spent this period working to prepare the couple’s future home, often by building an addition onto his father’s house. When everything was finished, the groom and his friends would go to meet the bride and her “bridesmaids.” The bride and groom would then get together for a reading of the marriage contract and then the groom would bring the bride back to the home that he had set up for them. This was then followed by a party that could go on for a week or more!
So it was during this period of betrothal that the angel Gabriel was sent to a young woman named Mary in the town of Nazareth. Nazareth was located about seventy miles (113 km) northeast of Jerusalem and had a reputation as a place where the residents weren’t very Godly. This makes Mary’s response to this angelic visit very interesting…
“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).
Mary’s response gives us a little insight into her character because the fact that she was troubled by what Gabriel has to say about her shows how humble she really was. She seemed surprised to hear these things said about her- but there was a lot 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).
It’s important to notice that this focus was not so much on Mary but on the Son that was to be born to her. First, her Son was to be named “Jesus,” a name that was common in that day. He was also unmistakably identified as the Savior predicted in the Old Testament because Gabriel specifically pointed out that He would be given the throne of his father David in fulfillment of 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 that from the angel’s message that God was preparing to do something really, really big. And even though the Scriptures predicted what God was about to do, it was still something so incredible that Mary still couldn’t completely comprehend it.
* I Just Go Nuts At Christmas Yogi Yorgesson, 1949