07 Dec Unknown Truths about the Christmas Story
Christmas is coming! I know you are going to hear a lot about the birth of Jesus over the next couple of weeks, but I wanted to dive into the story deeper and give you some insight into the story that most people don’t know. When you study Hebrew interpretations and traditions, you learn so much more about what was really going on and why God did what He did surrounding the birth of Jesus.
So why did God choose Bethlehem for the birthplace of Jesus? 750 years before the birth of Jesus, it was prophesied in Micah 5:2, ““But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah (eff-ruh-thuh), though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Shortly after the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds guarding their sheep at night and announced to them, “Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). And the sign given to them was that they would find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
Of all the possible signs that could have been given to these shepherds, why did the Lord choose a baby lying in a manger and wrapped in cloths? When we explore the Jewish context of this passage we learn so much more!
First of all, these were no ordinary shepherds. They were Levitical priests, shepherds trained and tasked with the responsibility of tending and guarding the flocks used for holy sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem.
When it was time for one of their flock to give birth, the shepherds would bring the sheep into one of the caves surrounding Bethlehem that were used for this purpose. These birthing caves were kept in a state of ritual purity since these lambs were destined to be used as sacrifices in the temple. In fact, many of the male lambs born around Bethlehem would be used for the Passover.
Since there was no room at the local inn, Mary and Joseph used one of the caves around Bethlehem. Our Messiah was not born in a stable behind some old world Motel Six. He was born in one of the caves used for birthing sacrificial lambs, because He Himself would be the ultimate sacrificial Lamb. Not only would the location of Jesus’ birth be significant to these priestly shepherds, but so would the fact that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling cloths.
These holy shepherds were responsible for making sure that the newborn lambs did not get any defects, for only animals without spot or blemish could be used as a sacrifice in the temple. Baby lambs are very clumsy when they are born, so many scholars believe that these shepherds would swaddle their newborn lambs in order to prevent these future sacrificial lambs from becoming blemished by injuring themselves on jagged parts of the cave.
Another key aspect of swaddling in ancient Israel was “salting” a newborn. After Jesus was born, Joseph would have washed and scrubbed Him with salt water. The salt killed any bacteria found on an infant’s body. There is so much spiritual symbolism in this act as well.
Salt was symbolic of friendship and loyalty in the ancient world; it was a sign of covenant, as in the phrase “a covenant of salt” found several places in scripture. A salt covenant is used to denote the eternal covenant of friendship and kingship that God made with David and his heirs: “Don’t you know that the Lord, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt?” (2 Chronicles 13:5).
Jesus was not only born in Bethlehem, which is the city of David, but He was also the promised Son of David, the Messiah and King who came to fulfill the Davidic covenant – God’s promise that one of David’s descendants would live on the throne forever.
So not only was the Messiah born in the same location as the temple offering, but He was also washed in salt as part of the swaddling process, which points to His future sacrifice as the Passover Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world and inaugurate the new covenant. This is also significant because Jesus told us that we are the salt of earth and not to lose our flavor.
Not only was the process of salting and swaddling significant to the shepherds, but the actual garments in which the baby Jesus was swaddled were also meant to be a sign. One of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith is the menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum used in the temple. The Levitical priests lit the menorah every evening and then cleaned it out every morning, replacing the wicks with new ones.
What were the wicks of the menorah made from? They were made from the priests robes. Any priestly garment that got to the point that its stains could not be washed out was no longer acceptable to be worn during priestly service. These unusable garments were not destroyed; instead were cut up, and the fabric used for another holy purpose. The robes of the priests were used to make wicks for the menorah that was to burn continually in the Holy Place in the temple.
So the three Magi who came to visit Jesus and bring gifts were also priests. They would have recognized that this baby was born in the purity caves where the lambs used for sacrifices were born and swaddled. There they saw the baby Jesus swaddled like a sacrificial Passover lamb in priestly garments that were used for the lighting of the menorah in the temple, which symbolized the eternal presence and promise of God!
Now we understand why a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger would be such a significant sign for the priests and for all the world; for it pointed to Jesus being the Lamb of God and the Light of the World, fulfilling all the prophecies of the coming of the Son of God, the Messiah, and our Deliverer.
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end.
And the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
We are now in the season of Advent. Advent in Latin means ‘Coming’. Advent is the four weeks prior to the birth of Jesus. How many of you have ever had a baby? Do you remember the last month of your pregnancy? Your mind started working and thinking of how to prepare for the birth of your baby. Do you have a room ready for them? A place for them to sleep? Clothes to wear, diapers, and food. Do you know the way to the nearest hospital? Your mind started preparing for the birth.
It’s the same way for us with the birth of Jesus. Advent is the time that we prepare our hearts for Him and remember what the true meaning of Christmas is. It’s a time to reflect on our own lives and our need to have a true and meaningful relationship with the Messiah, Jesus the Savior of the world. Our bodies are the temple or the holy caves where the Savior is born, and our hearts become the manger that will hold the Savior.
Is there room for Him in your life? Or is your life too full? Do you see the need to prepare your heart and mind to receive Him when He comes and accept His help and His love in your life? Or do you feel like you have everything under control?
Christmas is so much more than shopping, decorating and preparing your home for the holidays. It is the time we recognize the birth of our Lord and Savior, the Messiah Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of prophecy, and the one set to save us from the burden of our sins. This incredible and important event cannot be lost in the wrapping paper and glitter.
Jesus is worthy of our praise and our worship. Make this Christmas season more meaningful by preparing your heart to receive our Savior Jesus and to know the Christmas story fully (Luke 2:1-20 and Matthew 1:18-2:23).
Jesus is coming soon and you will want to be counted among those who know Him and are waiting for His return!
Many thanks to an angel Kathie Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel for some of this revealing information about the birth of Jesus.