1. Since Bethlehem was the City of David, (i.e., King David’s town of origin), then the shepherds who were tending their sheep outside of the city were likely in the same fields that David was in when he was a shepherd boy. So the same fields upon which the angels declared the glory of God to the shepherds may likely have been the same fields where David learned to aim a sling, play his lyre, and maybe even compose songs.
2. Speaking of shepherds, here are some other famous figures in the Bible who spent some time as shepherds: Moses, Joseph, Abraham. Apparently leaders are grown in shepherd’s fields.
3. Mary’s spontaneous response to her cousin Elizabeth is known as The Magnificat (not to be confused with The Aristocats), a prayer of praise to God. Her prayer alludes to several Old Testament biblical passages, most notably the book of 1 Samuel 2. So the young Mary apparently knew her scriptures pretty well, I think.
4. Everyone knows that there weren’t just three wise men following the star. Some scholars believe the Magi to be a learned group of followers of Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion. They weren’t following a star per se, but they had noticed that a star attributed to the King of the Jews had “risen.” So while they were technically from the east, they certainly weren’t from the orient. What I find interesting is that this Persian religion, far removed from the Hebrew faith, had their own prophecy foretelling the coming of a Hebrew Messiah.
5. A manger isn’t a stable, it’s a feeding trough for livestock. Of course, that doesn’t make for a very good song: “Away in a feeding trough, no crib for a bed…”
6. Speaking of Christmas carols, “Gloria in excelsis Deo” is Latin for “Glory to God in the Highest.” This is what the great company of the heavenly host proclaimed to the shepherds. Although probably not in Latin. Makes me wonder what language they were using. And if angels are bilingual.
7. The word, “incarnation,” comes from the Latin in- meaning “into” and carn- meaning “flesh.” God makes himself into flesh—muscle and tissue, skin and bone, blood and breath. But more than fleshing out his essence in human form, he fleshes out his love for us. Creator indwells His creation. The Artist God indwells His own art by becoming a baby. Really, this should strike astonishment and dumbfoundedness in each of us every time we think of it.
8. One of the parts of the Christmas Story we understandably don’t dwell on is the is the mass slaughter perpetrated by King Herod. When Herod found out that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he ordered the killing of all male children ages two and under in Bethlehem. Herod, jealous for his own kingship, wanted to ensure that the prophecy would not come to pass. So amidst the great beauty and grace of this God-breathed miracle is a great unspeakable sorrow, one shared by both the mothers of Bethlehem and God himself.
9. Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, actually had three dreams, not one. His first dream was with an angel who told him to take Mary as his wife. He also had a dream directing him to leave to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. Many years later, after the death of Herod, Joseph had a third dream, directing him to move the family back to Nazareth in Galilee.
10. So Jesus was born a homeless refugee.
11. I think it’s pretty important to read the Nativity Story and celebrate the season in light of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This passage is usually associated with the cross, not with the manger, but I think it revelatory not only to the crucifixion but to the incarnation as well. As you contemplate the virgin on the donkey, the star in the sky, the shepherds in the field, the baby in the manger, consider these words:
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Colossians 1:15-20 NIV
12. Because the Nativity Story is so well-known, it can be easy to lose the sense of appropriate wonder. May you have a holy and peace-filled Christmas filled with awe and wonder.
[Image by Keith Elliott.]