I often think God is a God of few words... He writes and reveals for a purpose! To me, He does not often give lots of colorful background, the thoughts and feelings of the people in history or a flowery description of life and the culture of the times.

God is purposeful... He has a message and wants us to clearly understand His main points. It is literally a matter of eternal life for eternal death!

Today we are adding some cultural background and human thoughts to the real, raw and unrated Christmas story...

God's message in the Christmas story is... 

I am coming...coming to you in the form of a human. I will be called Jesus, GOD SAVES!  I, God will live with you... close and intimate. You will be able to hear and feel and touch me for a little while. I will love you with an everlasting love just like I have from the very beginning... and then I will sacrifice myself in your place because I want you to be with me forever. I want to share my riches and relationship with you forever. I love you more than you can think or know!

Most of us read about the birth of Jesus as a nice and pretty and sanitized story. Ah, the shepherds, and sweet Mary and faithful Joseph, and the mean inn keeper and the lowly donkey and the shining star and the multitude of girly angels in flowing gowns and halos playing harps and trumpet thingies, and the sweet smelling hay and the rosy cheeked blond haired baby and oh, the beauty and formality of the King's English version of the story!

Today I hope to change our  "squeaky clean" version of the Christmas story and let's get real...let's go to 1st century Israel... a time of terrible occupation by the Romans. To a time when a young Jewish girl lived in a once pioneer village of no more than 35 homes. A speck of a village on the side of a hill occupied by a Roman outpost. Let's visit THIS Christmas story...

Nazareth today... a far cry from the tiny village in Mary's time

Site in Nazareth of original Nazareth of Mary's time... now next to the Church of the Annunciation (the church that houses Mary's ancient  home)

First, Jesus was not, in all probability, born on December 25. I'm not going to speculate when, but we can be pretty sure that it was not December 25. 

It's also a sure bet that there was no snow or evergreens or mistletoe! 

Mary was a young Jewish girl... some say probably around the age of 15. She was not formally educated but was probably well taught in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the bible), the Law and the Prophets by her parents and also by her brothers who would have attended Synagogue.

She lived in a small home with her extended family. Not a whole lot of privacy there! In those day's a family animals were often taken into the back of the home at night in a dug out area. There they would sleep and eat from a feeding trough called a manger. No running water, no toilets, no heat or air conditioning, no Wallmart's, no electricity, no books or tv or computers or modern day conveniences. Just living! Basic and cramped and smelly!

Mary's home... contained in the church of the Annunciation, Nazareth Israel
See the smoke from oil lights and fires?

Like all young girls, Mary might have thought about being the mother of the Messiah ( the anointed One who would lead the Jews out of bondage and be the great ruler of Israel).  Never in Mary's wildest dreams could she imagine what her life would hold.

Her life was meager and common and everyday first-century-in-a-small-town-on-the-side-of-a-hill-in-Israel!

One day an angel, named Gabriel, appeared to her and  told her she had found favor with God.  Can you imagine an angel (not one of those girly angels... btw there is NO SUCH THING as a girly angel) appearing to you?

He said...

 “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him 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 Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33

I'm sure this scene had Mary in quite a state! But in true Godly form, we don't really get to see her emotion or thoughts!

But God does reveal how she answered the angel...

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

Mary, even though she was contractually bound to be married to another villager named Joseph, had not slept around! She and Joseph did not live together or had any intimate contact. They were good Jews and follower's of God's Law.  In Mary's day and age, according to God's word and His law, Marry kept herself pure. In Mary's time the penalty for sex before marriage was stoning... stoning to death! Can you see how important sexual purity was (and still is) to God? 

Mary, could not understand how she could ever conceive a child...

The angel replied...

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.” Luke 1:35-37

I like my English Standard Version translation of  verse 37... it says...


The bible does not tell us Mary's feelings or trepidation or fears or inner thoughts. God does, however give us Mary's obedient and succinct answer...  

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

This was a pretty together young lady!!!

We are never told of the detail of the reaction of her family or the village but we can see a glimpse of her espoused husband (sorta like engaged) Joseph...

Joseph. The bible calls him a righteous man. Meaning one that followed God's law and was found in right standing with God.

Joseph, hears the news of Mary's pregnancy and what does he think? He probably thinks that she has been unfaithful to him and broken a sacred contract. This must have shaken him to his core! 

According to God's law Joseph has every right to have her stoned to death. And it would be the right thing for him to do.  In doing so he would totally vindicate himself. It would let everyone know that he was not the child's father... he had not slept with her before marriage. He was a follower of God's law.

Stoning would save him for the shame (a very big deal in Joseph's time and culture) of a pregnant espoused wife!

Here we get a glimpse of Joseph's character! Here is what Joseph chose to do...

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Joseph chose life for Mary and her baby... even though he knew the baby was not his.  I'm not sure how quiet you can divorce someone in a small town. But the fact is... he chose life!

Now the plot thickens... and Gabriel enter's the story again...

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because 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, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Not only did Joseph chose life for Mary and her unborn baby... but by marrying her  he also took responsibility for Jesus as his son.

To the villagers and the rest of the people of Israel the marriage of Josehp to Mary was as good as admitting that he was indeed the unborn baby's father and he along with Mary were guilty of fornication (that's a word we don't hear often, meaning sex before marriage).

This probably brought great shame to the couple and great hardship within the community!

Mary and Joseph lived real lives, in real history, in hard times!

As the Christmas story progresses... can you see how agonized Joseph was when he got the news that he had to travel with his expectant wife to Bethlehem, the town of his ancestral birth, to take part in a census of the Roman government occupying beloved Israel? The time for this baby to be born was now... this baby that was God's son... This baby that he had charge over!

Can you see Joseph and Mary making a 10 day trip over craggy mountains and valleys to reach Bethlehem. Mary so uncomfortable and ready to give birth. Was it easier for Mary to walk or to ride a donkey?

Can you imagine "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" a real town just 8 miles outside of the capital of Jerusalem ... a small town but swelling and teaming with ancestors of David to take part in a decreed census.

Bethlehem today

Can you imagine that Mary and Joseph, tired and worn out,. were probably taken in by distant relatives... and as Mary went into labor she was taken to the back of a small crowded home where the family kept their animals?

Can you see Mary in real life labor with everything that involves?

And out of necessity can you imagine Jesus, God in human flesh, being laid in an animal eating trough?

Inside the Church Of The Nativity~ place of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem

My sister-in-law Sue kneeling under the alter to touch the ground through the hole in the floor of the church... the place of Jesus' birth.

Can you see the shepherds out in a craggy, ravine like valley at night. Shepherds... the lowliest of the low... being visited by a multitude of angels... of supernatural beings.. telling them the long awaited Savior had been born.

Shepherd's field today... still a field

Can you see them with dirty fingernails and dusty clothing... worn and tired... but determined to find the babe. Filled with wonder and awe... an probably a great deal of human confusion! 

Can you see God's love in sending His Son to be born in this time... in this place ... in this way!

It's important to see the drama and the struggle of the Christmas story! We need to feel the emotions of two people given a choice to make... a hard choice... to follow God's will knowing that following it will most likely reap some very unpleasant consequences from the world around them. We need to see the Christmas story from the customs of a first century, ancient, orthodox, oriental viewpoint. We need to smell the manure and hear the animal sounds and see sweat and dirt of the story!

We need to know that the three wise men were not present at the Christ child's birth. That they don't belong at the manger until almost two years later.

We need to know the world and times God chose to come to humanity! 

We need to get this story right and real!

Do you know the real, nitty-gritty, raw and beautiful story of Jesus' birth? Does it fill you with amazing wonder!

This Christmas I hope we will all keep Christmas REAL!

Here are more real aspects of the Christmas story and images from Israel


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