THE ADVENT OF THE MESSIAH
THE BIRTH OF THE MESSIAH
We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God,
despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers.
O ever glorious and blessed Virgin.
This prayer, entitled in Latin, Sub Tuum Praesidium, which means "Under Your Protection," is the oldest, most complete ancient prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is dated to circa 250AD(1)
The gates of a blessed eternity, closed after the
first sin, and guarded by an angel with a flaming sword, are at last to be
opened for the triumphal entry of the Savior of the world.
Blessed Ildefonso Schuster
In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your
Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the
source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will
deliver our souls from death.
Byzantine Liturgy, Troparion, Feast of the Dormition, August 15th
Click for The interior of the
Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The exterior of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The church was built over the site of Jesus' birthplace.
To the right and left of the altar is the entrance to the birth cave.
|The site where Jesus was born in Bethlehem|
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Matthew 1:1-17: Jesus'
Royal Lineage and the Angel's Revelation to Joseph:
1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4 Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, 6 Jesse the father of David the king.
David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah. 7 Solomon became the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asaph. 8 Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah. 9 Uzziah became the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. 10 Hezekiah became to father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amos, Amos the father of Josiah. 11 Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the Babylonian exile.
12 After the Babylonian exile, Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 Zerubbabel the father of Abiud. Abiud became the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 Azor the father of Zadok. Zadok became the father of Achim, Achim the father of Eliud, 15 Eliud the father of Eleazar. Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah [Christ]. 17 Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
Only the Gospels of Saints Matthew and Luke contain birth narratives of Jesus. St. Matthew begins his Gospel with Jesus' genealogy. These important genealogical lists in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke were what the Jews were looking for as proof that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah who was a descendant of both father Abraham and King David. In Hebrew such a genealogical list is called a toledoth. The value of the Old Testament genealogies is that they provide proof of Jesus' ancestry. The Redeemer-Messiah, who was prophesized in Deuteronomy 18:17-19 to come as God's supreme prophet, had to be an Israelite descended from Jacob/Israel. God told Moses to tell his people: From their own brothers, I shall raise up a prophet like yourself... (Deuteronomy 18:18). The Messiah also had to be a descendant of the great King David, as prophesized by the holy prophets like the 8th century prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14; 11:1-12) and the 6th century prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:23-24).
St. Matthew began his genealogy by naming two men, but notice that he names David before he names Abraham who lived a thousand years after David. It is the link to the great King David that is the most important genealogical link. These two men are the most important ancestors of the Messiah who shared a physical and spiritual bond in lives that were separated by about 1,000 years (see Genesis 22; 2 Samuel 24:10-25; 2 Chronicles 3:1). Abraham was the "father" of the Israelites. It was to Abraham that God made the covenant promises that would be fulfilled in the Messiah. David was the descendant of Abraham from whose line the Messiah was prophesized to come (Isaiah 11:1-12; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Ezekiel 37:25b-26, etc.). Both men were chosen by God to play an important role in salvation history. Both men had visionary experiences on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem that involved sacrifice: In obedience to God, Abraham offered his son beloved Isaac in sacrifice, and David offered himself and the prosperity God had promised him for his family if God would spare David's people from a plague.
The visionary experiences of Abraham and David on Mt. Moriah:
According to St. Matthew's toledoth, Jesus is also the descendant of both Isaac and Solomon, the sons of Abraham and David (Matthew 1:2, 6-7). Jesus, on the slope of Mt. Moriah, will offer Himself as a sacrifice for His people, just as David offered himself as a sacrifice for his people. Jesus will become the "substitute" sacrifice that Abraham offered in place of his beloved son, when Abraham prophetically uttered the statement: My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering [the sacrifice] (Genesis 22:8).
St. Matthew organized his toledoth around the Hebrew gematria (letter number equivalent) of the spelling of David's name in Hebrew and has a value of the number fourteen: DVD = 4 + 6 + 4 = 14 (Hebrew was originally only written with consonants). He divided the names of the genealogy into three sets of 14 generations which totaled forty-two generations: 17 Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
In order to have a total of forty-two generations, Matthew had to drop three king names from the genealogy (the three kings who came between Jehoram/Joram and Uzziah; see chart below), and he had to use Jechoniah's name twice, once at the end of the second set and also at the beginning of the third set (verses 11 and 12).
|Jehoram (Joram) 848 - 841|
|Queen Athaliah (mother of Ahaziah, dau. of Ahab and not a Davidic heir) 841 - 835|
|Jehoash 835 - 796|
|Uzziah (Azariah) 781 " 740|
The division of names in St. Matthew's genealogy was an intentionally formulated plan. In addition, the fourteen generations can also be seen as three sets of 2 times 7 names, with Jesus' name completing the sets in verse 16. For a chart on the pattern of this genealogy see "Matthew's Toledoth".
In every generation St. Matthew listed the father and his son except in the last generation where he writes: 16 Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah [Christ]. It is significant that all the other names are of fathers and their sons, but no son is listed for Joseph. This is Matthew's statement that Jesus is not Joseph's biological son. Jesus is only the biological son of Mary.
Matthew 1:18-25 ~ An Angel
appears to Joseph
18 Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. 20 Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that the child has been conceived in her. 21 She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means "God is with us." 24 When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. 25 He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.
According to most Bible translations, Joseph was a carpenter. However, Joseph was more than a carpenter; he was a trained artisan in hard materials including wood. The Greek word used to describe Joseph' occupation in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 is tekton. A tekton was an artisan trained to work with hard materials like wood, stone, or metal.
As a young girl, Mary was betrothed to the tekton Joseph of Nazareth. A betrothal in ancient Judea was much more than our modern concept of a marriage engagement. In a betrothal, when a bride price was paid by the groom or his family, a dowry was provided by the girl's family and a marriage covenant was signed, the couple was considered to be married in every sense with the exception of the ratification of the marriage covenant. The ratification of the covenant occurred when the bride was taken to the groom's house and their families and friends celebrated their marriage in seven-day feast, with the physical consummation of the union taking place on the first night (Genesis 29:27; Judges 14:12; Tobit 8:20, 27). The betrothed woman called her betrothed "husband," and he referred to her as "wife." To dissolve a betrothal contract required an official rite of divorce, submitted by the husband to the local Sanhedrin (Jewish Law Court).
When Mary left for Judea to
visit Elizabeth she was betrothed to Joseph (Luke 1:27).
When Mary returned to Nazareth her pregnancy was probably beginning to show. At some point Joseph was shocked to discover that his betrothed virgin was with child. A Jewish girl who broke her betrothal through an attachment to another man was considered to have committed adultery. Scripture states that Joseph was a "righteous" man. Under the obligations of the Sinai Covenant, what determined if a covenant member was righteous or not was his or her obedience to the covenant with Yahweh according to the commands and obligations recorded in the Law (Exodus 19:5; 24:4; 34:27; Leviticus 26:3-16; Deuteronomy 11:13-11; 28:1-2). When Joseph discovered that Mary was with child, as a righteous man he turned to the Law (see Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22-29). Since Mary had never claimed to have been attacked, if Joseph brought her condition publically to the Jewish court she could have been stoned. Since Joseph did not want to see Mary publically disgraced, but since he also did not want an unrighteous wife who bore another man's child, he sought to set the betrothal contract aside privately. It was not too difficult for a man to break a betrothal by obtaining a rite of divorce. All he had to do was to basically declare the woman "unfit" (Deuteronomy 24:1-4), a condition of the Mosaic Law that Jesus would later pronounce unacceptable (Matthew 19:3-9).(2)
Some Catholic scholars have suggested that Joseph's decision to divorce Mary stemmed from his feelings of inadequacy in parenting the future Messiah, assuming that Mary had told him that she was going to bear the Messiah. There is no basis for this interpretation. First, if he knew Mary's pregnancy was through divine intervention, he would have been acting contrary to God's plan in rejecting his espoused virgin who he was destined to wed by abandoning her and not offering his protection. Second, the definition of "righteousness" under which Joseph lived demanded that he, as a member of God's holy covenant people, not become ritually defiled through marriage to a loose woman. It was perfectly in character for Joseph, as a righteous Jew and not yet being aware of God's plan, to decide to set Mary aside but without publically condemning her. In addition, there is nothing in the angel's revelation to Joseph to suggest that he already knew the unique condition of Mary's pregnancy. God solved Joseph's problem by sending an angel to reveal to Joseph, in a dream, that the child Mary carried in her womb was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and the son that would be born was the promised Redeemer-Messiah; the one destined to save His people from their sins.
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said
through the prophet: 23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a
son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means "God is with us."
The prophet Scripture refers to in verse 22 is the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah and the prophecy that the inspired writer says is now fulfilled in Mary and Jesus is found in Isaiah 7:14 in the Septuagint Greek translation: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel." You might ask, why is it that the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 records that the virgin's son would be called Emmanuel (Hebrew = immanu-el) "God-with-us" when Joseph and Mary were commanded to name the child "Jesus"? Scripture does not say the child is to be "named," but only that he will be given the title (called) "God-with-us." Jesus will refer to Himself this way after His Resurrection in Matthew 28:20 when He promises: And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time. Jesus is literally "God-with-us."
24 When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had
commanded him and took his wife into his home. 25 He had
no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.
The English translation: He had no relations with her until she bore a son gives the wrong impression of Mary's continued virginity. The Greek word heos, sometimes translated "until," or "till," does not mean "until" as we use the word to mean a condition did not exist but later the conditioned changed. Instead the Greek word heos was usually used in the sense that a condition did not exist in the past and continued in the same way into the future. The Greek word heos (pronounced heh'-oce) and the corresponding Hebrew word ad, is used as an adverb, preposition, or conjunction meaning "continuance, even, length as to time, until or til". (3) In the Bible the Greek word heos is an adverb of continuance used to mean that some action did not happen up to a certain point; it does not imply that the action did happen later, which is the modern sense of the word "until." Some examples from Scripture (in these examples the word in the Hebrew text is ad and in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament the word is heos):
It has always been a teaching of the Church that Mary remained a virgin all of her life and that she had no other children other than Jesus:
The Bible passages which are problematic concerning Mary's continuing virginity are found in Matthew 12:46, Mark 3:31, and Luke 8:19. These verses mention that Jesus had "brothers and sisters" using the Greek words adelphos/adelphe: "brother or sister from the womb," meaning from the same mother (delphus is "womb" in Greek). However, in Hebrew there was no separate designation for siblings, or half-brothers, or step-brothers. It is true that the Greek word used to designate Jesus' family relations is adelphos/adelphoi (plural); however, this does not mean these are Mary's children. In the New Testament the Greek word adelphos is not used in the Greek sense; it is instead used in the Hebrew sense that a "brother" is a full brother, a half-brother, a step-brother, a kinsman, a countryman, or a member of the covenant family.
A few examples of the use of the Greek word adelphos (adelphoi, in the plural for "brothers" or "brothers and sisters"), meaning "brothers" not in the context of siblings born of the same mother:
In fact the word adelphos/adelphoi is the only word used for "brother/brothers" in the entire New Testament just as adelphe (sister) is the only word used for Christian women or kinswomen.(5) For more information see the document: Did Jesus have Brothers and Sisters.
Luke 2:1-7 ~ The Birth of
the Messiah in Bethlehem
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
There is a problem with what is historically known of the census during the time when Quirinius was the Roman governor of Syria (Luke 2:2). The 1st century AD historian Flavius Josephus recorded that Cyrenius Quirinius was ordered to conduct a census about the time Archelaus, the son and successor of Herod the Great, was deposed and exiled by the Romans (Antiquities of the Jews, 17.13.5). Scholars date Archelaus' banishment to 6 AD. However, St. Luke wrote that this was the first census in verse 2. That there is no historical record of an earlier census does not mean that a census in about 3/2 BC didn't take place. In the pursuit of the historical record, it is always wise to remember: "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."(6)
According to St. Luke, the Roman census required that heads of households register in their hometowns. The prophesy that is fulfilled when Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem in Judea for the birth of Jesus is Micah 5:1 ~ But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah, from you will come for me a future ruler of Israel whose origins go back to the distant past, to the days of old (NJB).
A question that is often asked is, "Why did Joseph take Mary with him?" The journey from the Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem, just a few miles from Jerusalem, would have been extremely difficult for a woman almost 40 weeks pregnant. The Romans were careful to keep a record of all those who had a claim to the royal blood line of the previous rulers of a Roman province. These claimants were always a potential source of rebellion "either possibly leading a rebellion against Roman rule themselves or by being used as pawns by insurrectionists. Usually claimants who were a threat were murdered, as in the case of the last member of the ruling Hasmonean family of Judea, John Hyrcanus II and his teenage grandson Aristobulus. Bishop Eusebius recorded (4th century AD) that in the reigns of the Roman Emperors Vespasian (69-79AD), Domitian (81-96AD), and Trajan (98-117 AD) that the Roman governor of Judea was commanded to search for any descendants of King David still living in the province.(7) Considering the Roman attitude toward the families of past rulers, it was perfectly reasonable that Joseph, as a descendant of King David, and his pregnant wife, who was carrying the next Davidic heir, should be required to register not only for the Roman tax, but to be examined by the authorities as to their "threat-status."
The etymology of the Hebrew word "Bethlehem is itself prophetic: in Hebrew bet means "house/place" and lehem means "bread." The name of the village was, "house/place of Bread." The village of Bethlehem is also the birthplace and ancestral home of King David (Ruth 1:19, 22; 2:4, 11; 1 Samuel 16:1, 4, 18; 17:15, 58; 20:6, 28), and the place where the Prophet Malachi prophesized the Davidic Messiah was to be born (Malachi 5:1).(8) How fitting a birth place Bethlehem was for He would become the "Living Bread" come down from heaven (John 6:33-35, 51). And how fitting it is that every true church of the New Covenant in which the miracle of transubstantiation takes place becomes a "house of the Living Bread!"(9)
6 While they were there, the time came for her to have
her child, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
Luke 2:7 states that Mary gave birth to a son, her "firstborn." In ancient times, the title "firstborn" emphasized the dignity and rights of the first male child born from a woman's womb. Usually, the "firstborn," re'shyt, was the title of the son by the senior wife who was the designated heir. It was the right of the "firstborn" heir to inherit a double portion of the father's wealth and property, as well as the spiritual blessing as the father's successor and head of the extended family (i.e. Isaac the son of Abraham and Sarah).(10) But after the Exodus experience and the sin of the Golden Calf, every "firstborn" had to be redeemed by sacrifice and a redemption tax, since every man and animal that was the first from the womb belonged to God (Exodus 13:11-15; Numbers 18:15).
However, Jesus is the first-born son in a much more significant sense that is independent of either paternal rights or biological birth. Writing in the 8th century AD, St. Bede expressed the views of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church concerning the title of "firstborn" as it was applied to Jesus when he wrote: "Truly the Son of God who was made manifest in the flesh belongs to a more exalted order not only because he is the Only-begotten of the Father by virtue of the excellence of his divinity; he is also firstborn of all creatures by virtue of his fraternity with men: concerning this [his primogeniture] it is said: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brethren' [Romans 8:29]. And concerning the former [his being the Only-begotten] it is said we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father' [John 1:14]. Thus, he is only-begotten by the substance of the Godhead, and firstborn through his assumption of humanity; firstborn by grace, only-begotten by nature. This is why he is called brother and Lord: brother, because he is the firstborn; Lord, because he is the Only-begotten" (The Gospel of Luke, The Venerable Bede).
The Church has always taught that Jesus' entrance into to physical world through Mary's womb was like "light passing through glass," with Mary retaining her virginity all of her life and with Jesus' birth sanctifying her virginity. In the Profession of Faith and in the Eucharistic Prayer we publically profess this belief. For example, Eucharistic Prayer I (the oldest) reads: "In union with the whole Church we honor Mary, the ever-virgin mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God."
From the earliest centuries of Christianity, it has always been a teaching of the Church, and is a defining dogma of Catholic faith, that Mary remained a virgin after Christ's birth and all of her life. As you may recall, Isaiah's prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 wasn't that just that "a virgin" would conceive but that "the virgin" [ha almah in Hebrew] would conceive and bear a son. It was the testimony of the Fathers of the Church, like the great Archbishop of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom (circa the late 4th century AD) that the Christ was born "not injuring the honor of virginity" and that "the Virgin remained inviolate" (Homilies on St. Matthew, 4). In addition to Mary's bodily integrity remaining intact, the Church Fathers of the West also wrote that she did not experience the ordinary pangs of childbirth. The Fathers of the East also focused on this aspect of Jesus' birth by teaching that in this cosmic event of supreme joy, there could be no pain. Reflecting the teachings of both the Eastern and Western Early Church Fathers, the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium states: "... then also at the birth of Our Lord, who did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it, the Mother of God joyfully showed her firstborn Son to the shepherds and the Magi" (The Documents of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 57). The Fathers of the Church taught that Mary did not suffer pain in childbirth because pain in childbearing was a curse of the Fall (Genesis 3:16), but as the Immaculate Mother of the Word made flesh Mary was free from all sin and concupiscence and so it follows that her childbearing would be free of such a consequence of sin.
It is a dogma (profound truth) of the Church that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of the Savior and throughout her entire life. This dogma was restated in the documents of the last great council of the Church, Vatican II: "Joined to Christ the head and in communion with all his saints, the faithful must in the first place reverence the memory of the glorious ever virgin Mary, Mother of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in regard to her perpetual virginity: This union of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ's conception up to his death [...] then also at the birth of Our Lord, who did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it, the Mother of God joyfully showed her firstborn Son to the shepherds and the Magi" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 52, & 57, Vatican II).
There are four Marian Dogmas that one must believe in order to be Catholic:
7b She wrapped
him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room
for them in the inn.
The word translated "inn" is the Greek word kataluma, rather than the typical Greek word for "inn," pandocheion, as it is translated in Luke 10:34 in the story of the Good Samaritan who takes the wounded man to a house that took in overnight guests. The Greek word kataluma is more appropriately translated as "room" or "living space," as it is in the NJB translation of this passage and in Luke 22:11 where the Apostles Peter and John find the prepared "room" [kataluma] for the Last Supper.(11)
That there was no room for Joseph and Mary in a house may indicate that there was no entirely separate living space in Joseph's family home in Bethlehem for a woman to give birth without rendering the other members of the household ritually impure. Any issue of blood or bodily fluids contaminated anyone who was touched in any way or was in close proximity to the contamination (Leviticus 12:1-8). Those persons considered capable of causing ritual pollution were to be set outside normal living areas (Numbers 5:1-3). Purification required bathing in the ritual pool called a mikveh, with ritual purity restored at sunset, which begins a new day (Leviticus 15:46; Numbers 19:22; Deuteronomy 23:11). Contamination by coming in contact with a dead person required a seven day ritual purification (Leviticus 12:1-8; 15:19-30; Numbers 19:10-22). One was in effect "excommunicated" from the community until the contamination had been ritually purified.
According to Church tradition, the place Joseph found for Mary to give birth was a cave that served as a shelter for domestic animals. As soon as He was born, Mary wrapped Jesus tightly in strips of cloth and then placed Him in the animal's feeding trough. It was a manger (from the Latin manducare, "to eat," the etomology of the French verb: manger, "to eat"). From our modern perspective, we find it bizarre that Jesus should be born in a space that housed animals, but in the ancient world (and in third world countries today) it was common for humans and their livestock to share living quarters at night. It wasn't until fairly recent times (in the span of human history) that humans and their animals began to live in separate quarters. The animals that were allowed to graze during the day were taken into enclosures or caves at night and livestock that were part of domestic daily life, like the milk cow or the household goat and the chickens, were kept in the front part of the house at night while the family slept in the rear. The house provided protection for the valuable animals from predators, and in the winter months the animals provided additional warmth for the humans.
The houses in the Holy Land were often natural caves, many of which had been expanded by carving out additional space in the limestone. The region is riddled with limestone caves that could provide protection from the elements and are both cool in the summers and warm in the winters. When St. Helena, the mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine I, went to the Holy Land to identify those holy sites associated with Jesus and the birth of Christianity, the Christian Bishop of Jerusalem immediately took her to both the site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial and to the place of his birth in Bethlehem. Wanting to discourage Christian veneration, the Romans had erected pagan Temples over the places which were sacred to Christians. Their efforts only helped to mark the holy sites and preserve them in the memory of the Christian community for three hundred years. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was built over the birth cave.
Luke 2:8-12 ~ An angel appears to the shepherds in the
8 Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. 9 The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. 10 The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
That night in Bethlehem the announcement of the birth of the King of Kings was received by the humble shepherds watching their flocks. God has always had a special love for shepherds from Abel to David, and these humble shepherds were the first to receive the "good new" that the Messiah-Redeemer had come. It is a sign that the salvation that Christ brings to us is offered freely to everyone without distinction of status or race, as St. Paul stated in Colossians 3:11 ~ Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.
The lambs for the daily Tamid sacrifice at the Jerusalem Temple were kept in fields between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Perhaps these were the shepherds who kept the lambs sacrificed daily for the sins of the people through which fellowship with God was restored. Perhaps the shepherds of the Tamid lambs were the first to look on the face of Him who would one day be given as the only pure sacrifice for the sins of mankind, thereby cleansing and elevating mankind to a restored communion with God the Father. Perhaps it was the cave in which they kept their animals on dreary cold and rainy nights that became the birthplace of the Messiah; He who was to be the perfect, unblemished Lamb of sacrifice which father Abraham had promised "Yahweh Himself will provide" (Genesis 22:8).
In Jesus' birth, His divinity and his humanity were perfectly manifested in the tiny baby in Mary's arms. How perfect was God's plan that He who would feed the world spiritually in the transformation of bread and wine into His Body and Blood, should be placed as an infant in a manger, a feeding trough. The Advent of the Son of God would culminate in the formation of the eighth covenant of salvation history (see the chart on Yahweh's Covenants). Seven covenants had preserved the "holy seed" promised in Genesis 3:15 before the coming of the Messiah. The symbolism of numbers in Scripture designates seven as the number of completion and perfection. The Old Covenant would be fulfilled and completed in the coming of the Son of God. In His perfect sacrifice He established the eighth and last covenant of the New Covenant people of God. In the significance of numbers in Scripture, eight is the number of salvation, redemption, and re-birth. It is also the number of Jesus name in Greek, the language of the New Testament. The gematria of Iesous in Greek is a trinity of eights = 888.(12)
Luke 2:12-14 ~ 12 "And
this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling
clothes and lying in a manger." 13
And suddenly there was a multitude
of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 14 "Glory
to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor
The angel promises the shepherds a "sign." In Scripture a "sign" is always something concrete; it is a visible indicator of the greater spiritual blessing from God. Some other examples in Scripture:
The sign the angel promises is a baby wrapped in swaddling close laying in a feeding trough for animals.
After announcing the birth of the Son of God the angels began a song of joy. The second line of this hymn can be translated two ways: "on earth peace for those He favors," or "on earth peace among men of good will." The translation "peace to men of good will" or "peace on earth and God's favor towards men" does not render the sense of the Greek which makes the "peace" dependant upon man's response to God (see New Jerusalem Bible page 1691, note f).
In their hymn of praise the angel's make a petition to God; the fulfillment of the petition depends on a certain action from human beings. The angels are asking for peace between God and the men and women who seek reconciliation with God. The reconciliation about which the angels hopefully sing is not a result of anything man has merited but is solely reliant on God's merciful response to man's repentance and desire to be restored to fellowship with his Creator. Such reconciliation will bring true peace on earth. The child Jesus is the means of this hoped-for reconciliation.
The hymn of glory of the angels sang to God after their announcement to the shepherds inspires the hymn of the "Gloria" in our earthly liturgy. The Gloria hymn is of great antiquity. It is among the earliest of all Christian hymns. There is no phrase in it which does not also appear either from the Gospel of St. Luke, the epistles of St. Paul or in the letters of St. John. We glorify God by recognizing the glory he already has, which is manifested in heaven. Therefore we can also say, as we do in the Gloria, "We praise you for your glory;" that is, for the glory which is already God's, not the glory we give him. The book of Revelation gives us the vision of the heavenly, angelic choir (Revelation 7:11) and the Saints joining in song (Revelation 7:9) as they sing a cosmic hymn of praise to the glory of God (Revelation 7:12). Just as we sing our hymns of praise to God in the Sanctuary during the Mass, St. John saw the angels and saints singing a hymns of praise to God in the heavenly Sanctuary as they stood before His throne: After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which one could not count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation comes from God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb." All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed: "Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen" (Revelation 7:9-17 NJB).
In the Mass, our hymn of praise is to Christ begins with our words: "Glory to God in the highest...." coming directly from Scripture in the first words sung by the angelic choir that greeted the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14). In the "Gloria" of the Mass, we not only recall the praise of angels at the birth of Jesus, but our song is a foreshadow of the praise we will give God once we have entered into His Glory when we join the angels and all the Saints who have gone on before us in singing "Glory to God in the Highest!" Our Gloria is sung or said on Sundays outside Advent or Lent, on solemnities and feasts, and for special, or solemn celebrations.
Luke 2:15-20 ~ The
Shepherd seek out the Christ-child
15 When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. 18 All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. 19 And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
The coming of the promised Redeemer-Messiah is the hinge upon which all of human history turns, and yet God orchestrated the events so that they took place quietly with the only witnesses being a humble man and woman, lowly shepherds and the animals that looked upon the birth that was the beginning of a renewed creation. The response of the shepherds to the announcement of the angels is beautifully endearing. How touching it is that without the slightest hesitation the shepherds ran immediately to the Christ-child. Would that all of us would respond with such enthusiasm to God's call to grace!
Scripture records that Mary "kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." This verse tells us a great deal about Mary: about her serenity, her intelligence, her faith, and her love for God. She thoughtfully considered everything that had happened from the visit of the angel announcing the birth of her son to the fulfillment of the promise. She contemplated all these wonderful events in her own quiet humility and stored this knowledge and these experiences in the tender recesses of her heart. Her response is a lesson to us all to carefully treasure God's revelation of Himself to us in our prayer life and in our daily lives in the company of others. Mary's intimate and quite spirituality is a model of Christian faith.
Luke 2:21 ~ When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
The birth narrative in St. Matthew comes to an end with Joseph's obedience to the God's revelation through His angel/messenger. Joseph takes Mary into his home and when the child is born, he gives Mary's son the name revealed to him by the angel. In naming Jesus, Joseph acknowledges the child as his legal son (see Matthew 1:24-25). The birth narrative in St. Luke's Gospel comes to an end with Jesus' brit, His circumcision and naming ceremony in accordance with the Law of the Covenant (Genesis 17:9-14; Leviticus 12:3). From the first week of His birth, Jesus perfectly kept all the precepts of the Law of the Old Covenant He had come to fulfill.
Picture of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This church was first built by Queen Helena, mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. It was later rebuilt by the Christian Emperor Justinian in the 5th century.
1. Introduction to Mary: The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion, page 27.
2. The question remains, why did God allow Moses' amendment to the laws concerning divorce? Sometimes God allows what is an imperfect practice to prevent a greater sin. It may be that since a man could not take a younger wife so long as his older wife was still living that the older wives were dying of "accidents" under suspicious circumstances. In India today, when a family wants to rid itself of a son's wife when the marriage to another girl will bring a much bigger dowry the unwanted brides often die of suspicious "kitchen fires." Jesus raised the bar on what was required in the New Covenant in Matthew 19 and tied such obedience to the sacrament of marriage to salvation in Matthew 19:12 for those who accept marriage as a vocation and those who accept celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom.
3. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon; Brown, Driver, page 268; Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon, page 723-24.
4. All quotes are from The Faith of the Early Fathers, volume I
5. See Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, pages 151-152.
6. Outside the mention of Pilate in Sacred Scripture and the few comments made of him in the writings of Josephus, Philo of Alexandria, and Tacitus, no artifact or inscription which offered proof for Pontius Pilate's rule as governor of Judea existed until 1961 when a few coins and an official Roman inscription naming Pilate was discovered in Caesarea Maritima, the headquarters of the Roman governor of the province. Many Bible scholars considered the story of King David to be a myth until a stele (stone tablet with a carved commemorative inscription) was discovered in 1993/94 which named a King of Judah from "the house of David," proving David was a historical figure.
7. Bishop Eusebius records that the Emperor Domitian ordered that any descendants of Judah's King David were to be arrested and killed (Church History, Book III.19.1). Information was given to the Romans that the grandchildren of St. Jude belonged to the family of David. These men were arrested and examined to determine if their descent from King David might in the future prove to be a threat to his sovereignty in the region of Judea. St. Jude was the author of the Letter of St. Jude , and he was the brother of St. James Bishop of Jerusalem. Both St. Jude and St. James were kinsmen of Jesus. Jude's grandchildren admitted that they were descendants of David. However, after questioning them it was determined that they were just simple, poor peasants and no threat to the Empire (Church History, Book III.20.1-8). This careful scrutiny of any threat to Roman sovereignty from a province's past royal bloodline is repeatedly recorded in the historical record. Eusebius also records that after the Jewish revolt, the Roman Emperor Vespasian (69-79AD), also rounded up any Jew who could claim a royal bloodline in Church History, Book III.12, and Eusebius mentions the same act by the Emperor Trajan in chapter 32.
8. Dictionary of the Bible, page 92.
9. "Transubstantiation" is the name the Church gives to the miracle that takes place when a validly ordained priest repeats the words of Christ at the Last Supper and the congregation's gifts of bread and wine are completely changed in substance into the substance of Christ's Body and Blood, just as He promised in Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:15-20. While belief in the miracle always existed since the times of the Apostles and their disciples, the term itself was a later development. The Eastern Fathers of the Church favored the expression meta-ousiosis, meaning "change of being" (introduced in the 6th century). The Latin Church applied the word transubstantiation, meaning "change of substance" (trans = "so as to change," + substantia = "substance"). This term was first incorporated into the creed of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.
10. God, however, did not always recognize the designated firstborn as the son fit to carry forth His plan for man's redemption as in the case of Cain versus Abel, Ishmael versus Isaac, Esau versus Jacob, etc. In each of these families, God designated the re'shiyt.
11. Resources: Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon; The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon; Strong's Exhaustive Concordance..
12. Jesus' name in Greek is Iesous: I = 10, E = 8, S = 200, O = 70, U = 400, S = 200; to total 888.
Michal Hunt copyright © 2008