After their escape, King Herod realizes that the wise men have tricked him. They have not returned to him as they promised they would. In a rage, he orders his soldiers to go to Bethlehem and kill every male child 2 years old and under that they would find there and in the surrounding area, corresponding to the time that the wise men had said the star first appeared in the sky. The soldiers, being loyal to King Herod and having no love for the Jews, go at once and carry out their orders. The screams and cries can be heard for miles around, as the mothers and children mourn for their babies and siblings. Fathers in the fields with the sheep hear it and come running, but they are too late. And so a prophecy spoken by the prophet Jeremiah is fulfilled, which says, “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Matthew 2:16-17, Jeremiah 31:15
After the wise men have left and everyone has gone to sleep, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream. He says, “Joseph, get up, pack your things, and get ready to go on a journey. You are to leave tonight, as quickly as you can. You must take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape from King Herod. He is going to search for Jesus, to try to kill him. Stay in Egypt until I come to you again to tell you it is safe to come home.” Joseph awakes with a start. He jumps out of bed and gently wakes Mary. “Mary,” he says, “You must get up quickly.” “What is it, Joseph?” she asks. “An angel! Just now, in my dream. He warned me, we must flee to Egypt tonight. Pack everything and get Jesus ready, as fast as you can.” So they get everything they had brought with them, and the gifts that the people have given to Jesus, and load it all onto their donkey. Mary bundles Jesus up so he will be warm and comfortable on the long journey. They leave a note of farewell for their friends in Bethlehem who have taken such good care of them while they were there. And then they set off for Egypt.
The wise men depart, and seeing the star go before them again, follow it into Bethlehem. It stops over a little house. They stop, dismount from their camels, and look at each other in surprise. Could this really be the place? They expected a palace, not a little house in a little town. But they see the star, stopped right over the house, and they trust it as a sign from God. So they wash their hands and faces and feet, put on clean robes and fresh turbans, and prepare to present their gifts to the Child. They walk up to the door, and, hesitating only a moment, knock. Inside, Mary and Joseph exchange a surprised look. They are not expecting visitors. Joseph is worried that it may be soldiers sent by King Herod to find Jesus. He prepares to do whatever it takes to defend the Child. He cautiously opens the door and sees the wise men standing there. He is not prepared for what happens next. One of the men speaks to him, saying, “We are emissaries from the East. We have come on a long journey, seeking the One who has been born King of the Jews. We have followed His star to this house and have come to worship Him. May we see Him and present our gifts to Him?” Joseph is stunned! He opens the door wide, unable to speak, and beckons them to come in. They walk in, slowly, and look up to see – Him! They catch their breaths and stop for a moment just to look. Then they remove their turbans, kneel, and bow their heads to the floor, placing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh before them. They worship Him, and then, not wanting to impose upon the Holy Family, they depart. Since it is late, they decide to camp in Bethlehem for the night, and return to Jerusalem in the morning. But while they sleep, an angel visits their dreams and warns them not to go back to King Herod. So they leave for their homes in the middle of the night, taking a different route than the one the star had shown them. Matthew 2:9-12
On the night that Jesus is born, wise men in the East see the special bright star God put in the sky to announce His coming. They recognize it as a sign that the Baby King has been born and set off immediately on what could be a 2-year journey. The star guides them all the way to Jerusalem, where they expect to find Him. After all, Jerusalem is the capitol city of Israel, and that’s where kings are expected to reside. When they arrive, they seek an audience with King Herod to ask him if they can see the Baby King. “Your Majesty, we have come to seek the Baby who has been born King of the Jews. We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” King Herod says to them, “I am the only King of the Jews. I know nothing of this baby that you speak of. Wait here while I speak with the priests of the Temple.” He confers with the chief priests, and they tell him of the prophecies written by Isaiah that speak of the coming of the Messiah: “But you, Bethlehem of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah. For out of you shall come One who will be a ruler and shepherd my people Israel.” They tell him, “Your Majesty, the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.” King Herod returns to the wise men and informs them, “My advisors have told me that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem. But we have had no word of this happening. I want you to go and find him, and when you have done so to come and tell me where he is, so that I may go and worship him as well.”
Mary and Joseph stay with their new friends in Bethlehem, and when the Baby is 8 days old He is circumcised, and officially given the name Jesus, as the angels had told them. Joseph watches over Mary and Jesus carefully, knowing that King Herod is very jealous of anyone he suspects might be a threat to him. On the 40th day after Jesus’s birth, they travel to Jerusalem, the capitol city of Israel, to the Temple, to dedicate Him to the Lord. Mary and Joseph present sacrifices for Jesus’s dedication and for Mary’s purification after giving birth. Simeon is at the temple that day and sees them. He calls to them, “Come, and I will perform the Child’s dedication.” Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to Simeon, and he takes the Baby in his arms. He looks up to Heaven and says, “Lord, let your servant die in peace, for I have now seen your Salvation, your Jesus.” He looks at Mary and Joseph, amazement on their faces, and says, “This Child is destined to make many people fall and then rise again in Israel. He will be a sign that will be spoken against. And, sadly, a sword will pierce your heart as well. He will reveal the secret thoughts of many people.” He blesses them, and then Anna, a prophetess in her 80’s who has lived all her life in the Temple, comes over to them as well. She, too, knows that this is the Savior, and she proclaims, “This Child is Jesus, Salvation! He is our Messiah, and has come to save us all from our sins! Thank you, Lord, for sending Him to us!”
Leviticus 12:1-4, Luke 2:21-39
The shepherds of Bethlehem are watching over the flocks. It is the middle of the night, and they are startled by the sudden appearance of a bright light. They look up to see an angel standing over them, and the Glory of the Lord all around them. The angel announces, “Do not be afraid! I have come to bring you wonderful news for the people of the whole world! Today, in Bethlehem, the city of David, a savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord! And here is a sign that will prove this to be the true word of God – you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, a feeding trough for animals.” And suddenly, an enormous choir of angels surrounds them, singing, “Glory to God in the Highest! Peace on earth, good will to all men!” Then, as quickly as they appear, they are gone. When the shepherds recover from the amazement, they say to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem, and see this thing that the angels have told us about!” They run to Bethlehem and find Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus lying in a manger, just as the angel told them. They are so excited, they must tell everyone! They spread the news to the whole town and beyond before returning to their flocks, discussing everything that has happened as they go. But Mary watched quietly and treasured all these things in her heart.
Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome and leader of most of the world, decrees that there should be a census taken of the whole Roman world, and that everyone must go to the city that their descendants lived in to be registered and taxed. Joseph and Mary, being of the line of King David, have to go to Bethlehem. When they arrive, there were so many people who have come to be registered that there is no place in the inn for them to stay. Mary and Joseph stay in a shelter for animals, possibly a stable or a cave, and there Jesus is born. He is the first born Lamb of God, born to be a sacrifice for all, to take away the sins of the world. And he is born in the same place where the shepherds raise and care for the first born male lambs, set apart for sacrifice to God at the temple, to pay for the sins of the people.
Luke 2:1-7, John 1:29, 36
Mary goes to see Elisabeth and Zachariah after the angel leaves her. When Elisabeth sees Mary and hears her calling out to her, the baby in her womb jumps. God’s Holy Spirit speaks to Elisabeth, and suddenly she knows what the angel Gabriel had told Mary. She runs to greet her, saying, “Mary, you are blessed! How is it that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When the baby heard your voice he jumped for joy in my womb! And you are even more blessed because you believed what the angel told you.” And Mary sings a song of praise and joy to God.
Mary stays with Zachariah and Elisabeth for 3 months, until John is born. When he is 8 days old it’s time for him to be circumcised, and the rabbi ask, “What name will you give him?” Since Zachariah still can’t speak, Elisabeth answers, “His name is John.” The rabbi protests, “There is no one in your family line named John. It is customary to name the baby after someone in your family, or after your husband.” But Zachariah asks for a tablet to write on, and writes, “His name is John.” So the baby is officially named John and circumcised, and Zachariah’s voice is returned to him. He immediately begins to sing praise to God, and all the people present are amazed at all that happened. When Mary returns to Nazareth, Joseph can see that she is pregnant. He had signed a contract to marry her, but on the provision that she was a virgin. Legally, he could have her stoned to death for prostitution, but he doesn’t want to do that. He decides he will quietly break the contract so that no harm will be done to her. But before he can do that, an angel appears to him in a dream and tells him, “Joseph, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The baby within her womb was conceived by God’s Holy Spirit. He will be called the Son of God, and you are to name him Jesus. This is done to fulfill the prophecy written by Isaiah, saying, ‘A virgin will conceive and bear a son and will call his name Emmanuel, which means God With Us.’” When Joseph awakes, he does what the angel told him to do and marries Mary. But they don’t live as husband and wife until after Jesus is born.
Luke 1:56-79, Matthew 1:18-25
In a town called Nazareth, a girl named Mary is preparing for her wedding day. She is engaged to a carpenter named Joseph. Both are descendants of King David, who was the best king Israel had ever had. Mary is alone one day when she, too, is suddenly startled by a bright light. The angel Gabriel stands before her and says, “Don’t be afraid. God is pleased with you and is going to give you a special gift. You are to have a child and name Him Jesus, which means Salvation. He will be called the Son of God and will save the whole world from their sins. He will also be a descendant of King David and will rule on David’s throne as King of Israel forever.” Mary is shocked, but recovers enough to answer the angel, saying, “How is this possible? I have never been with a man, and I am not yet married.” Gabriel replied, “God’s Holy Spirit will do this. With God, all things are possible. Your cousin, Elisabeth, who could not bear children, will also have a son. She is in her 6th month of pregnancy.” And Mary, instead of the doubt that Zachariah showed, tells the angel, “I am the servant of God. Let it be done to me as you have said.”
At the temple in Jerusalem, it is business as usual. Every day people come to offer sacrifices to God to pay for their sins, to thank God for blessings, to dedicate their firstborn sons. And each person requires an animal as close as possible to perfection as their sacrifice. They could bring their own, of course, but they run the risk of not passing inspection. So, many people purchase sacrificial animals at the temple. Year-old, first-born male lambs without any imperfections are required for many sacrifices, and those sold at the temple are carefully selected from a special flock set aside as Holy and belonging to God. They are raised by hereditary shepherds in the little town of Bethlehem. It’s not a glamorous job and it’s very hard work, but these particular shepherds take their jobs very seriously. They know they’re raising lambs for the Lord, and they feel that is a great honor, even if the rest of society doesn’t feel that way.
Deuteronomy 15:21, Leviticus 1:10-13, Exodus 13:2