The Saga of the First Christmas: The Focus
Act Three: The Focus of the First Christmas
As the crowds gathered, Mary instinctively covered the baby whenever people approached, her eyes searching out others’ intentions only as a mother could. Neither she nor Joseph were ready for the flood of attention surrounding Jesus, but over the last few months, God had added “Precept upon precept . . . line upon line . . . here a little, there a little” (Is. 28:13) as He unveiled the birth of His Son, who would be “a precious cornerstone.” (v. 16) And no one watched this grand drama unfold more intimately than Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The secret told her by the Archangel Michael was out.
She could not shake the words of Simeon, who appeared in The Temple as she and Joseph presented Jesus: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also).” (Luke 2:34-35). Mary had sensed that sword ever since the angel appeared to her, but recent events had pressed its cold, steel tip against her heart in the loneliest of ways. For most mothers, the pangs of childbirth subsided upon delivery. For Mary, those pangs only increased as the world focused on her baby.
She and her child quickly became a sideshow of sorts, and the more attention He drew, the more protective she became. She and Joseph knew that rumors of Jesus being King were dangerous, but rumors of Jesus being the Messiah were outright inflammatory. This whirlwind of speculation not only piqued the interest of the faithful and the sincere but also the opportunistic and extremists. Rome, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, the Zealots, the Herodians – all had their own agendas for the arrival of the King of the Jews. And none of them ended well for Mary’s baby, whether they worshipped Him as Messiah or not.
Herod’s intense focus further legitimized political fears about Jesus. The Priests and Scribes’ reaction affirmed Jesus’ religious significance. The arrival of the Magi gave credence to rumors of Jesus’ Kingship. And the lowly shepherds’ tales of angelic hosts visiting them caught the imagination of the common people. Most importantly, Jesus’ birth seemed to align perfectly with prophecies about the Messiah: He was of the lineage of King David. (2 Sam 7:12-13) He was born in Bethlehem. (Mic 5:2) And He was a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:23) The timing of His birth also perfectly aligned with interpretations of Daniel’s “seventy sevens,” (Daniel 9) which indicated the Messiah would appear soon. All political, social, religious, and prophetic signs pointed to Jesus.
The only logical outcome was an unrelenting and unending focus on the Child, beginning soon after his birth. The attention of the Jewish world funneled through Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, into the lap of the young mother named Mary. The pressure, confusion, and uncertainty must have overwhelmed her. Fear would have been not only natural but also prudent under the circumstances. Those who did not want to make the Child king wanted to kill Him. It all brought young Mary an unimaginable mixture of joy, dread, hope, and fear. Or . . . as a mother would describe it, love, and all of those swords pierced her heart.
The focus ultimately grew so intense that Herod “put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16) in an effort to kill her baby. No one knows how many districts Bethlehem had, or how many he killed. Historians estimate it anywhere from a few babies to tens of thousands, but the impact of that act alone would have seared the name of Jesus permanently in everyone’s minds, no matter how many babies King Herod slaughtered. One thing is certain: the parents of those murdered babies would never forget the name of Jesus, even if Joseph and Mary fled for Egypt, never to return. But as we will learn later, they returned to the area every year.
The circumstances and events surrounding Jesus’s birth culminated in Herod’s murder of innocent children and created every imaginable reaction, but most of all it created obsession. From the moment that the Priest Zacharias revealed that his son John would be the Messiah’s forerunner to the moment when Herod began killing baby boys indiscriminately, the name of Jesus became simultaneously famous and infamous. Mary and Joseph may well have brought the Messiah into the world in obscurity, but that would have been the last silent night of their lives. The birth of Jesus was too big to contain; too many critical elements came together at once. All of Jewish history had pointed to this moment in time, and everyone’s focus was now on some mysterious child named Jesus. And although they disappeared to Egypt until Herod died, the impact of His birth did not quickly fade away. Neither did the name of Jesus, which was on the lips of every mourning parent.
Over the next 30 years, Mary watched over Jesus with those same piercing eyes. And as the intense focus of the first Christmas began to fade, Mary witnessed its aftermath unfold.
Copyright Tom Deighan All rights reserved