What Is the Miracle of Christmas?

As we set out the nativity scenes around our homes this Christmas season, it is important to remember that the Christmas “story” is not just a heartwarming story about a couple traveling on a donkey and giving birth in a stable. It’s not some fascinating tale of shepherds hearing a chorus of angels in the fields with their sheep. And it isn’t about the journey of wise men following a star from the East.

The celebration of Christmas is truly about the birth of Jesus. While it was heralded by the angels, witnessed by the shepherds, and honored by the wise men, those were not the first announcements of the birth of Jesus. The birth of Jesus had been foretold by the prophets some 700 years earlier.

Born of a virgin

Isaiah was a prophet to Judah (the southern kingdom) during the reign of four different kings between 739-686 BC. From the 66 chapters in the book that bears his name, Isaiah is quoted directly in the New Testament over 65 times and mentioned by name over 20 times. Isaiah is full of Messianic prophecy. And in Isaiah 7:13-14, Isaiah writes, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”

Of the line of David

The prophet Jeremiah was active as a prophet from the thirteenth year of Josiah, king of Judah (626 BC), until after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 BC. He prophesied the Messiah would come from the line of David. It soon appeared as though this prophecy would go unfulfilled. The kingdom was broken, there was no longer a king, and the people were living in exile. How could a Messiah come from the line of David? Had God forgotten about His promise to David that “his seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me” (Psalm 89:35-36)?

Yet Jeremiah prophesied this promise given from God to David would still be fulfilled. In Jeremiah 23:5-6, he writes, “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely. Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

Out of Bethlehem

The prophet of Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, prophesying between 735 – 710 BC, during the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah just prior to the fall of Samaria (the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel) to the Assyrians. Micah prophesied the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. Micah 5:2 states, “Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”

From just these three prophecies we find the Messiah would be born of a virgin, would be of the line of David, and would come out of Bethlehem. None of those are things that a human can contrive in order to make their lives align with the prophecy. You have no control over who gives birth to you, who your ancestors are, and where you are born. Yet each of these things are literally fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.

In Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, we see the fulfillment of two of these prophecies. Luke notes that the angel Gabriel came to the virgin Mary, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph of the house of David. Gabriel tells Mary that she had been chosen by God to conceive and bear a son, “and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” This one section alone confirms the virgin would give birth and that the son will be of the house of David, whose kingdom would never end.

There is further confirmation from both Luke’s and Matthew’s genealogies that this Jesus would be of the line of David. Matthew traces the lineage back from Mary’s family, and Luke traces the lineage back through Joseph’s family. But both trace back to David.

While Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, his lineage is still important because it is part of the fulfillment of the prophecy from Micah, that the Messiah would be called out of Bethlehem. But in Luke 1, the angel Gabriel went to see Mary in the town of Nazareth in Galilee. So how does the prophecy of Micah get fulfilled that the Savior would come from Bethlehem?

Bethlehem was the birthplace of David (1 Samuel 16). It literally means “house of bread” because the area was a grain producing region south of Jerusalem. But at the time of Jesus’ birth, all of this region was under Roman control. So when the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, ordered there be a census that year, everyone had to return to the city of their family line in order to be counted. Therefore, Joseph left Nazareth with his soon-to-be wife and traveled to his family’s hometown of Bethlehem.

Because of a census commanded by a Roman emperor at that specific time of Mary’s pregnancy, and because Joseph was of the line of David, and because he agreed to stay betrothed to Mary, the 700-year-old prophecy of Jesus’ birth being in Bethlehem is fulfilled. And out of Bethlehem came the “One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”

The fulfillment of prophecy, a virgin giving birth, the continual appearance of angels, clearly there are lots of miraculous things surrounding the birth of Jesus. But none of those are the biggest miracle about the birth of Jesus.

The true miracle is the Almighty Creator, Lord over all things, Perfectly Holy God stepped out of His throne room of heaven and into His creation. We sometimes lose sight of the magnificence of this event. We have heard the story too often maybe that we forget what really happened – that God, in all His power and glory, not diminished in the slightest, came down to earth.

Look at how Paul describes Jesus in Colossians 1:15-19: 

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.”

This amazing God chose to enter into His creation as a baby who then would grow on this earth in wisdom and stature.

Why would God do such a thing?

The angel Gabriel in his message to Joseph reveals this to us. “She will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Of course, saving us from our sins would require the penalty of our sins to be paid. It would require Him to lay down His life in our place. Therefore, the journey of our amazing God to the cross began at the cradle.

This is the true miracle of Christmas. It should cause us to pause and ask the question, “What is man that You, Oh Lord, are mindful of him?” – and mindful enough of man to endure life among His creation to face death so we would be saved from our sins. A God who does this kind of miracle is worthy of our unlimited devotion and praise.

2 thoughts on “What Is the Miracle of Christmas?”

  1. That was REALLY good – thank you! I like how you connected prophecy fulfillment, which is pretty miraculous in and of itself, with the miracle of God lowering Himself to our level, and not as a 30 year old man or teenager or 5 year old or even as a newborn. But first as an unborn Child, the most helpless and innocent of all.

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