This Christmas season, we invite everyone to reread and reconsider the Nativity story (Matthew 1:18-24; Luke 1:26-38, 2:1-20) from a fresh perspective. Since Christians are familiar with the birth narratives, we can sometimes take them for granted, missing key truths. So, take a few extra minutes this year, reread these amazing accounts and marvel at the lessons they reveal about God and our Savior, Jesus.
First, we must keep in mind that the birth narratives are recounting real history and are not simply folklore or allegory. Both Matthew and Luke are written as genuine, detailed accounts that provide thorough genealogies and specific facts. Luke describes how he “carefully investigated everything” in order to “write an orderly account” (Luke 1:3). Because of this fact, and his repeated verification by archaeologists, Luke has been described as “an historian of the first rank” that should be “placed along with the greatest of historians1.”
Skeptics often attack the accounts in Matthew and Luke as being inaccurate because they contain supposedly contrasting and contradictory details. This claim is utter rubbish and has been debunked by Christian scholars for centuries. The two accounts do provide different perspectives and details, with Luke tending to be more thorough and focusing on Mary’s perspective while Matthew is more concise and focuses on Joseph. But the differences are hardly contradictory. Rather, they actually increase the reliability of the two gospels since they prove that they are from independent sources, yet agree on the central, core truths.
We have written on the general topic of biblical accuracy (here, here, and here) and the specific attacks levied against the Nativity story elsewhere. It is important to realize that the supposed errors and contradictions within the birth narratives all have viable explanations, and frequently more than one. Finally, as has often been the case with biblical criticism, initially claimed “errors” within the Nativity story have often been debunked with subsequent historical and archaeological findings.
There is an interesting truth revealed in Luke 2:8-20 that is often glossed over. The fact that God announced Christ’s birth to shepherds, rather than priests or political leaders, is very important.
Though there is some debate, the general consensus based on rabbinical writings is that shepherding in Jesus’ time was not the respected profession it had been in the Old Testament era ~400+ years earlier. Shepherding was dirty work that often left people “ceremonially unclean” and required working even on Sabbath days. Consequently, shepherds were looked down upon and were not even allowed to testify as witnesses in court.
That God chose to announce the birth of our Savior to social outcasts reveals some powerful truths:
- Pragmatically, this detail lends credibility to Luke’s authenticity. Since shepherds were not considered reliable witnesses by society, their role in the birth announcement would never have been included if the Nativity story was simply fabricated.
- God loves and cares for everyone, regardless of their station in life (e.g. Romans 2:11, 2 Peter 3:9)
- God judges human value by completely different standards than men do (e.g. John 7:24)
- God values and rewards humility (e.g. Romans 12:16, James 4:6)
- Worldly power and status can easily draw our focus away from God (e.g. James 4:4)
- Compared to God, all of us are unworthy…but He loves us anyway! (e.g. Isaiah 64:6, Romans 5:8)
Characteristics of God
Details of the Nativity story reveal significant insight into the characteristics and nature of God.
God sovereignly and supernaturally directs numerous world events (e.g. the census) to bring about Jesus’ birth in accordance with dozens of Old Testament prophecies made hundreds of years earlier. The virgin birth is another supernatural display of His power.
God can accurately describe dozens of facts about Jesus’ birth centuries in advance because He exists outside of time and knows every detail of the past, present, and future.
The fact that an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent God would lower Himself to become a man and experience human limitations shows incredible humility. But He went even further by subjecting Himself to human authorities, exemplifying servant leadership, and choosing to suffer persecution and execution for crimes He didn’t commit. A human choosing to trade places with a dung beetle doesn’t even begin to approach the humility God displayed.
Most of all, Jesus’ birth illustrates God’s love. As we will see, God was willing to humble Himself and suffer to save us from our own rebellion. It was because of His love and desire for a personal relationship with us that He endured all of it.
Why He Did It
Logic & Light has covered why God came to earth in human form in other posts (here and here), but a brief summary is appropriate. Jesus came for at least three reasons: 1) To personally teach the truth about God, 2) To provide the perfect example for us to follow, and 3) To pay the price for our sins and reconcile us to God. This last point needs a bit of explanation.
God is holy and perfect and cannot co-exist with sin. Unfortunately, each of us repeatedly chooses to disobey God, rightly earning His condemnation. But God loves us too much to simply write us off. So, He came to earth in human form and lived the live of perfect obedience we could not. He then willingly endured suffering and death, accepting the punishment our sins deserved. He then makes us a simple offer. If we will acknowledge our sin, accept what He did on our behalf, and trust Him as Lord and Savior, God will accept Jesus’s payment for our individual sins, freeing us from judgment. In so doing, Jesus offers an invaluable Christmas gift with eternal significance.
This year, make an effort to not just read, but truly consider, the truths of the Nativity story. Think about the insights it reveals about God, His love for you, and what He was willing to do to have a relationship with you. And then begin or strengthen that relationship today!
- McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Thomas Nelson 1999. 61