When we seek and yearn for God with a willful mind and open heart, reaching for guidance found in His Word, we find Him (Matthew 7:7-8).
It’s Christmastime! At some point, we will hear the story of Jesus’ birth and His beautiful and humble beginnings. A story of wonder and compassion. One that evokes an emotional response begging for us to see our God in a whole new way, as a pure and innocent child. A child who enters this world with one purpose—to save the world!
While Luke 2 is often the “go-to” and universal Gospel to read during Christmas, it often alludes to endless questions as we seek to understand God’s overall message to us. This leads me to think, are there other accounts and Gospels that fill in missing pieces of this priceless story? Do different translations and various wordages offer a different perspective of the story?
The truth of the matter is that God is always revealing Himself in new and mighty ways. When we seek and yearn for God with a willful mind and open heart, reaching for guidance found in His Word, we find Him (Matthew 7:7-8).
This year, I invite you to rediscover Luke 2 with me. Let’s take a deeper look and see an underlying theme that may have been missed in years past. Maybe it will allow us to see our God in a new and beautiful way as well.
The accounts of Jesus’ birth story are found in both Luke and Matthew. Why not Mark or John? While there is some speculation (and many have a variety of views on this), we must first look at the timeline and understand who these four men were and how they came to know Jesus.
Matthew wrote the first Gospel in the book of the New Testament. He was the infamous tax collector who was well-educated and fit into the political circles at the time. In the very first chapters of Matthew, we are introduced to the genealogy of Jesus. His account was written for the Jewish people to proclaim that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah.
Mark, also known as John Mark, wrote the second Gospel and was much younger and most likely in His teens when He met and followed Jesus. His account was most likely written for the Gentiles because he assisted and traveled with Paul around Asia Minor to preach the good news of Jesus.
Luke, who wrote the third Gospel, was a physician by trade, making him most likely a trusted person and one many spoke to willingly. We see this in the up-close encounters he shares throughout his book. His audience was both Jews and Gentiles. However, the most profound fact is that he didn’t follow Jesus until “after” His death. In other words, Luke didn’t know Jesus personally. However, he did travel with Paul to preach the good news and relates the many stories he heard along the way in his account.
John, who wrote the final Gospel, was also referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 13:23) and was also the youngest of the disciples. His account was most likely written for the people of the world, for all. His purpose was to declare that Jesus is the way to the Father.
So, why Luke? Luke and Matthew present Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament and Savior to all people. Not that Mark and John didn’t mention those things, but their narrative was different. Mark tends to focus on Jesus’ death and his selfless sacrifice, while John focuses on Jesus being the Son of God and our eternal hope.
The Tricky Timeline
Luke 2 may quite possibly be the most-read chapter in the entire Bible. It is opened every year by churches around the world and shared with congregations, family, and friends. Some can even recite it by heart. But as a story is passed down over the generations and read time and time again, it often makes us wonder, are there any details we are missing?
The problem is that over time, we may tweak, add, or delete things that were never mentioned in Scripture. While Jesus’ birth story is unconventional at best, here are a few interesting tidbits that may surprise you, and may even cause you to reopen Luke 2 and rediscover it for yourself.
Luke speaks to eyewitnesses to figure out the exact timeline of when Jesus was born. Based on Luke 1:5, Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth was with child, John the Baptist, during the reign of Herod. This tells us Jesus was most likely born between 6 B.C. - 4 B.C. But why B.C.? Have we gotten the date wrong all this time? Well, yes, quite possibly.
Based on Scripture, scholars believe we have a generalization but not a precise timeline. With Jesus being born during a census, and the other details portrayed in the life of John the Baptist and Jesus’ later life, we can use the history of those events but can’t pinpoint the exact day or time.
This brings up another point. December 25th was never mentioned in the Bible either and is still a source of great debate. In other words, Jesus' birthday was most likely not on December 25th. Reasons conclude that shepherds most likely wouldn’t have been in the fields in the cold month of December, censuses were generally not taken in the winter months, and patterns and star formations don’t line up to that timing.
The timing may not be exact, but we must realize that each Gospel account still shares the same story. What started as storytelling, being passed down to generations for centuries, was eventually captured in these writings and accounts with God’s authority and supervision. This tells us that God provided the words that we need to know in the confines of The Bible—the rest is history.
An Unconventional Story
What about the other details?
Who were Mary and Joseph really? Mary was just a teenager, most likely around the age of 14 when she was arranged to be married to Joseph, who was roughly around the age of 30. It was customary at that time to pre-arrange marriage into certain families. Mary lived with her parents until the official cohabitation and consummation, which lasted roughly a year. Joseph was most likely preparing a house for them, known and seen as a humble but hard worker. There is not a lot of mention of Joseph in the Bible, not a word recorded by him in Scripture. However, his actions speak louder than words, and his character is portrayed throughout Matthew and Luke as faithful, law-abiding, and trusting in the Lord (Matthew 1:19, Matthew 2:13, Luke 1:27).
Was Jesus really born in a stable? Or was it a cave? Maybe a barn? The only thing mentioned in Scripture is that there was no guest room for them in the inn (Luke 2:7). Rather, Jesus was placed in a manger, which is a food trough for animals. With Joseph returning to his hometown, it is probable that he made an attempt to stay with relatives, but seeing that every guest room was full, they most likely stayed in a lower level of the home where the animals were kept.
What is the significance of the shepherds? We often picture shepherds as loving and nurturing, maybe because throughout Scripture, Jesus is referred to as the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:11,14). However, shepherds in that time were seen as anything but loving. Instead, they were viewed in the public eye as unclean and poor. Many times, their sheep wandered off and caused problems for others. They were actually considered the lowest in society. Yet, they are told by angels to go and visit the Messiah (Luke 2:9-12). The symbolism here is stunning! God chose them first! He sure has a beautiful way of reminding us that His ways are not our ways and that He sees past our outward and inward appearances.
Why was Jesus wrapped in cloth? The angels told the shepherds that they must go visit a baby, wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12). This is significant because shepherds would often wrap newborn lambs in swaddling clothes after they were born to protect them. They needed to keep them unblemished to use them for temple sacrifices. This gave the shepherds a way of knowing just Who the Messiah was when they arrived. Once again, we see the symbolic nature here as Jesus being the Lamb of God.
The Overall Message for Us!
This account of Jesus' birth in Luke 2 is such a beautiful depiction of how God orchestras every detail and uses the “least” of these to fulfill a greater purpose. From the hidden fear that Mary must have had to the heartbreak Joseph must have felt upon hearing the news of Mary’s pregnancy, all the way to the confusion of the shepherds when the angels appeared, goes to show how unorthodox this story truly is. Yet, they all trusted God. They followed through with the plan and with humble hearts, they witnessed the greatest prophecy of mankind.
The message God has for us is this: He is with us. He is for us. And He can use us to fulfill a plan so much greater than we can on our own.
As you read Luke 2 this year with your family or hear it in your Christmas Eve service, ponder the way God brought the Savior to this world. How His humble beginnings offer us a way to reflect on our own lives.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/jodie777
Alicia Searl is a devotional author, blogger, and speaker that is passionate about pouring out her heart and pointing ladies of all ages back to Jesus. She has an education background and master’s in literacy. Her favorite people call her Mom, which is why much of her time is spent cheering them on at a softball game or dance class. She is married to her heartthrob (a tall, spiky-haired blond) who can whip up a mean latte. She sips that goodness while writing her heart on a page while her puppy licks her feet. Visit her website at aliciasearl.com and connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.