The Saga of the First Christmas: The Aftermath
Act Four: The Aftermath of the First Christmas
Christians consider Jesus’ childhood the silent years, but The Gospel of Luke tells us that “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.” (Luke 2:42) Every year, they returned to where it all happened, reconnecting with friends and family, refreshing the intrigue attached to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Every year, the name of Jesus subtly spread throughout the city, reopening old wounds and awakening expectations of The Messiah. When He was twelve years old, however, he disappeared completely for several days, and once again Jesus became the center of attention.
Joseph and Mary were among the faithful, travelling to Jerusalem every single year from Nazareth, and Luke tells us it involved such a large group of relatives and close friends that they actually lost track of Jesus on one of those trips, “supposing Him to have been in the company.” (v. 44) An entire day passed before they realized that their 12-year-old son was missing. This indicates such a large and close-knit community that Joseph and Mary did not even worry about Him. They felt safe with this group in a time in history when children faced the most horrific possibilities if separated from their parents. The very real consequences of losing a 12-year-old boy in a city like Jerusalem was beyond anything we can comprehend in the modern world. Joseph and Mary felt safe and secure with this group that they traveled with each year from Nazareth to Jerusalem, just a few miles outside of Bethlehem where His birth ushered in such chaos and pain.
For safety reasons alone, their friends and relatives knew Jesus’ story, and common sense dictates that secrets are impossible to keep in close-knit, extended families. Some of their relatives likely even accompanied Jesus and Mary to the census twelve years ago, witnessing His birth firsthand. Likewise, relatives in Jerusalem and Bethlehem remembered Jesus’ birth turning their world upside down. This Jesus who captured the attention of all Jerusalem. This Jesus whom shepherds worshipped. The very Jesus whom the Magi sought and the priests investigated. The same Jesus whom Herod feared so much that he indiscriminately killed baby boys a decade earlier in a mad quest to kill the Messiah.
After they “sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances,” (v. 44) a terrified Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem, the biggest and scariest city these small town folks could imagine. Such a close-knit group would not have sent Joseph and Mary back alone; it simply was not safe. And when the group arrived in the big city, they would have checked with relatives in Jerusalem and Bethlehem first, who would then have also joined in the search. The only logical conclusion: a lot of people were looking for Jesus again, twelve years after His birth. Jesus’ name once again filled the streets of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, but His name did bring joy to everyone.
Matthew’s gospel tells us that Herod killed every boy in “Bethlehem and in all its districts.” (Matthew 2:16), but there is widespread disagreement as to what that meant. The Byzantine Church estimates that 14,000 baby boys were killed by Herod, while Syrian sources estimate as many as 64,000. Others believe that only the babies in Bethlehem itself suffered, which would indicate that only a handful were murdered. But even if it was a handful, they were all related to Mary and Joseph in some way. Their loved ones would know the name of Jesus, and they would never forget it. Each year, as Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem, they reunited with people who lost their boys because of Jesus. It is even possible that some of those traveling in their company lost a son at the hand of Herod. In some circles, Jesus may have been the only boy his age – a constant reminder of not only how special He was but also the impact of His birth. Just imagine modern towns without any boys for two entire grades in school – that’s not something people forget. Not in twelve, short years. Not in a lifetime. Not ever.
If Jerusalem and Bethlehem had forgotten about the Magi or the reaction of the priests or the prophecies or the shepherds or even the panic of Herod, the grieving mothers and fathers would never forget The Slaughter of the Innocents. And each year Jesus of Nazareth returned, reminding everyone of the amazing spectacle of His birth, the rumors about Him and His family, and the speculation about their disappearance into Egypt. His annual return reminded everyone of the unthinkable possibility that He really was the Messiah. Most vividly, however, His return to Jerusalem each year reminded untold numbers of parents that their children died because of this mysterious boy. It is simply impossible that the birth of a child, who simultaneously ushered in so much rapturous hope and unforgettable tragedy, would be forgotten. That is the aftermath of The Slaughter of the Innocents that Jesus and His relatives faced every year.
Joseph and Mary finally found Jesus “in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (v. 46-47) The search was called off and word of this would have brought back a flood of joy, hope, sorrow, and pain that was the Aftermath of the First Christmas. And just imagine the sense of possibility that was rekindled in those who realized that the baby whose birth caused such a spectacle was still astonishing everyone who crossed His path. He really might be the Messiah.
The Bible says that Mary “kept all these things in her heart,” (v. 51) a phrase that repeats itself several times in scripture as the mother of Jesus watched the Baby turn into a Boy. Every day of her life, Mary remembered the sword prophesied by Simeon at Jesus’ dedication in the Temple. (Luke 2:35) It pierced her heart and many others’. She kept all of these things in her heart: the Expectation of the Messiah . . . the Spectacle of His birth . . . the Focus on a peasant child named Jesus . . . and the enduring Aftermath of that first Christmas. It was too joyful and too painful and too memorable to ever be forgotten by Mary, their relatives, or Jerusalem. All of this prepared an expectant and hopeful Jewish people for His ministry. When he finally proclaimed Himself the Messiah, Jesus simply stepped into the legend that had been growing in the aftermath of the first Christmas.
Copyright Tom Deighan All Rights Reserved