57 Now Elizabeth's full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.
59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60 His mother answered and said, "No; he shall be called John."
61 But they said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name." 62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.
63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, "His name is John." So they all marveled. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, "What kind of child will this be?" And the hand of the Lord was with him.
[It was not necessary to settle upon a boy's name until the 8th day when he was to be circumcised to be dedicated to the Lord. As soon as he obeyed the Angel in naming his son John, Zacharias regained his speech. John was born to be a prophet preparing the way for the Lord.
It's telling us here the he lived out in the wild dressed like Elijah in camels hair sackcloth (2 Kings 1:8) living off the land eating locust, one of the few clean insects according to the law (Lev. 11:22), and wild honey. But people responded to his preaching for he was filled with the Spirit.
Now I want to turn your attention back to Mary. Here is a young pregnant unwed teen aged girl, who went to visit relatives for 3 months. If this happened today someone would advise her to seek an abortion, so she could return home and no one there would ever know she was pregnant. But Mary had a different answer she said "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." So she returns to Nazareth 3 months pregnant probably showing and could endure 6 months of shame and gossip as people make up their own tales of how this young woman became pregnant. Remember the angel Gabriel had called her blessed and highly favored; and some people with a man-centered theology won't understand how God's favor and blessing could cause public shame and disgrace for Mary. But her blessing would be in seeing and participating in God's plan for the salvation of Israel and the Gentiles.]
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."
22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," (Isaiah 7:14) which is translated, "God with us." 24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.
[I brought you back to Matthew 1, to focus on Joseph and his response when Mary returns from a 3 month visit and either then or soon after Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant. Joseph may not have all the details, but he knows that he is not the father. This is a blue collar guy a carpenter by trade, not a lot of money now nor the hope of wealth or power anytime in the future. For a guy like this his hope and dream is to Marry a good woman, raise and provide for his family, and just be loved and respected in his own home and community.
For Joseph finding his fiancée pregnant would rock his world and shatter his dreams. By right and by law he could direct all his anger and embarrassment at Mary and have her publicly condemned as an adulteress. But instead he is just and merciful and decides to privately break the marriage contract, and release Mary, so he himself could mourn this loss and hopefully start over with another woman who would be faithful to him.
But God intervenes for Mary and for Jesus; when an angel of the Lord probably Gabriel again, appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him Mary is not an adulteress but rather is the mother of the Messiah, the child of the Holy Spirit, who will save his people from their sins. So Joseph keeps the marriage, takes Mary as his wife though not yet consummating the marriage, and in doing so takes all the shame and embarrassment from Mary and her family and transfers it to himself. Letting people think that it was his fault that Mary was pregnant before their public celebration of marriage; but he accepts this in obedience to the vision and the angel's instructions. What an amazing faithful man of God.]
1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
[This is a Bible passages that drives skeptics crazy. The Bible does not say what year Jesus was born and the clues we are given make a confusing time line. Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus ruled Rome from 27 BC to 14 AD and is considered the first emperor of Rome, records show Quirinius was governor of Syria from 6-9 A.D., but Herod the Great King of Judea died in 4 B.C., and most scholars put the birth of Jesus from 5-4 B.C. So how do we make this fit when Herod who talks to the Wise men in Matthew 2, was dead before Quirinius was Governor? I see two possibilities. 1) The word "first" in verse 2 is the Greek word "protos" which also means "before". So verse 2 could mean the census has held "before Quirinius was Governor of Syria. 2) The secular records do not record who was governor of Syria 4-1 B.C., so it's possible that Quirinius either served two terms as governor, or was directed by Caesar to supervise the census in place of, or to assist some other governor possibly Varus who was governor until 4 B.C. Either is possible, I think the second is more likely. In fact a fragment of a headstone called the Lapis Tiburtinus, found in 1764 near Tivoli Italy describes an unknown person who was legate of Syria twice. The title "legate" refers to a military officer who is also a member of the Roman Senate and Quirinius was such a person. It is also important to note that the word "governing" in verse 2 is an adverb in the Greek text not a noun like the title "governor".
The second objection to the passage is the idea that everyone went to their own city, the hometown of their family to be registered. But in Rome the local authorities would execute Roman orders in a way fitting with local customs. For Israel the census was always done by tribe and family the Jews kept careful genealogies both for the priesthood and for the sake of land ownership rights, dating back to the land grants in the time of Joshua. There is even a census recorded in Egypt about this time that ordered all migrant workers back to their home towns to register. So you will still find some people objecting to this passage, but their objections are all undone by careful scholarship.]
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
[Here we see Joseph going to Bethlehem because he was a descendent of David. Given the hit that his reputation has taken as the result of Mary's pregnancy, Joseph is probably glad to get out of town for a while. A lot has been made of the "no room" theme but Bethlehem at this time was a small town of maybe a few hundred people. So imagine all your relatives show up at once, where will you put everyone in your house? Nazareth to Bethlehem is 90 miles; imagine ladies traveling 90 miles probably on a donkey while 9 months pregnant, then taking that last shelter available, an animal crib, maybe an open sided shed or even a partial cave; just in time to give birth.]
Glory in the Highest
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 " Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"
[Very familiar passage here, no controversy, but 3 things to remember that will help us understand the rest of the story. 1) the shepherds living out in the fields was a practice observed from fall to spring and not something they would be likely to do in the winter. If you look at the winter months in Israel the average nightly low would be 40 degrees with 5 inches of rain for the month, not the time to be camping out. 2) Remember the visible glory of the Lord shining as that will help us later. 3) The swaddling clothes were strips of cloth and they would wrap or bind up the infant to comfort them and make them feel secure. But the clothing and the bed (a manger) were declared as a sign to the shepherds by the Angel of the Lord.]
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him,
they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
[How do we respond when we find Jesus in our lives? The first response in verse 17 is witness, they told everyone what they had experienced. Second they worshiped, glorifying and praising God! Should our response to Jesus be any less than the shepherds?]
Next lesson we will look at the Wise men, the Christmas star, and I will show you why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th (hint: it's probably not what you think!).