The Saga of the First Christmas: The Expectation
The Saga of the First Christmas
Act One: The Expectation of the First Christmas
Week of December 2, 2018 by Tom Deighan
Being summoned to Herod’s palace was not out of the ordinary for leaders in Jerusalem, but this time something was terribly wrong. Each man soon realized just how different this meeting was as the most prominent Jewish scholars, scribes, and priests packed the room. Whispers filled the hall and word spread quickly that unknown dignitaries had arrived recently, but no one knew the connection, if any, to this emergency summit. To put it plainly, Herod was crazy, and no one could ever predict what he would do. One thing was clear, however. The strangers from the East troubled Herod by asking questions which directly threatened his kingship:
“’Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.” (Matthew 2:2-5)
Rumors spread quickly in Jerusalem, and while no one could always separate rumor from reality, everyone knew bad things happened when Herod was upset, so the entire city was on edge. If Herod was scared, the men in the room were terrified, because the rumors did not just start with the mysterious arrival of the Magi. Rumors of the Christ being born had circulated for months – something they unsuccessfully hid from Herod. This news not only threatened Herod’s authority; it threatened theirs, and the arrival of the Magi exposed it all.
Rumors of the Messiah surfaced over a year ago, when many of them personally witnessed one of their oldest priests, Zacharias, stumble from the sanctuary unable to talk and flailing wildly. No one knew why, but everyone knew something significant happened. Shortly thereafter, Zacharias’ barren wife, Elizabeth, revealed she was pregnant. (Luke 1) Rumors swirled around the couple. Everyone, including the chief priests and scribes, marveled at the possibility that their child could be the Messiah. Over the next nine months, Zacharias was not able to speak, but he was able to convey that he had seen an angel in the temple, and that the visit was directly related to Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Since he could not talk, however, speculation continued to increase exponentially, and Messiah fever spread through Jerusalem.
By the time the mysterious child was born to the old couple, public interest peaked. The baby’s dedication ceremony at the temple was a standing-room only event. That is when Zacharias miraculously regained his speech and revealed the mystery in front of all the witnesses, “You, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.” (Luke 1:76) People finally understood what the angel had told Zacharias. His son was not the Messiah; he was His forerunner, in the spirit of Elijah, which meant everyone expected the Messiah to soon follow.
All of these things flooded the minds of the priests, scribes, and scholars when King Herod asked where the Christ would be born. As crazy as he was, he had been good to the Jews, even rebuilding The Temple for them, but Herod would not tolerate any king, real or imagined, that threatened his rule. To make matters worse, they knew Herod knew what they knew. He knew what went on in The Temple. He knew The Scriptures. He knew The Prophets. He also knew the school of thought which interpreted many of Daniel’s prophecies as indicating that the Messiah could be revealed shortly (Daniel 9:20-27). Herod did not gather them to ask about some mysterious prophecies; he asked them to the palace to confirm a cover up and a conspiracy against his throne, for the rumors troubled him and the entire City of Jerusalem.
He must find this King of the Jews, so Herod demanded, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” (Matthew 2:4 NLT)
After an interminable silence, one of the Jewish leaders finally answered Herod’s question regarding the Messiah’s birthplace: “In Bethlehem of Judea.” (Matthew 2:5) They then reviewed all the prophecies and scriptures related to the coming of the Messiah with Herod. He listened intently, dismissing them as abruptly as he summoned them. One-by-one, the leaders of Judaism stepped out of the palace, dazed and confused, thankful to still be alive, but each of them wrestled with the reality of a coming Messiah.
Jerusalem had never been more crowded. A forced census consumed the entire Roman Empire. For many Jews, this meant returning to their ancestral homes and passing through Jerusalem. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see marvels like Herod’s palace and The Temple. Joseph and his pregnant wife, Mary, had likely passed through recently on their way to Bethlehem. The little town outside Jerusalem was not only the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah, but it was also the hometown of King David, from whose bloodline the Messiah would spring. Even by ancient standards, Bethlehem was a tiny place, but literally thousands of visitors packed it and its surrounding country as they attempted to fulfill the census. And since many scholars believe Jesus was born during the Feast of the Tabernacles, this means religious pilgrims from everywhere would have packed Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the entire region. No one had never seen such crowds.
Just try to imagine what those visitors heard and saw as they arrived: Widespread reports of Herod’s visitors and strange behavior. Open discussion by the Jewish leaders of the Messiah appearing soon. Crowds of Jews visiting from everywhere, hearing all the stories. And in the midst of it all, a strange but unforgettable caravan of foreign kings headed to Bethlehem. The entire region was thinking of the Prophet Micah’s words: “But you, 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.” (5:2)
And during a season when the entire Jewish world descended on Jerusalem, all of Jerusalem was now focused on the little town of Bethlehem with feverish expectation of that first Christmas, when the Messiah would be born.
Copyright Tom Deighan All Rights Reserved