We as Christians celebrate (symbolically) the birth of Christ Jesus on December 25th. That day has passed now, and I admit that I have never given much thought to what the family may have gone through in the days following his birth. The scriptures offer a few hints, but really not much in terms of details. Since only Matthew and Luke offer accounts of Jesus’ birth, let’s go there.
Days 1-8: Jesus is born, in a flithy stable, surrounded by oxen and asses. These are the first living beings to worship the Messiah. God chose shepherds to be the first humans that were let in on the wonderful news of his birth, and they hurried to see him. Is it a coincidence that these simple laborers were the first to receive the good news? Of course with God, nothing is a coincidence, but it is an interesting point to ponder. They were likely not devout Jews, had no social status, perhaps not even families of their own. You can make the argument that religious and political leaders were to pious and full of themselves to pay attention to a baby born in Bethlehem. But there wasn’t at least one who loved the Lord truly, and would listen to the Angels announcing the birth of his son? What we can certainly point to is the overwhelming symbolism of the Shepherd. David was a shepherd, Jesus is called the good shepherd, and the first to receive the news… regular ol’ shepherds.
In keeping with the simplicity of the gospels and Jesus’ entire life, I think that it is likely that the shepherds were a source of support for Mary and Joseph while they were in Bethlehem. We know that they were not wealthy themselves, and the shepherds probably helped provide them with some food and even different lodgings while they were there.
On day 8, Jesus was circumcised (Luke 2:21), known in the Christian calendar as the day of Epiphany. This would be the first day that Jesus was introduced to the public, and likely baptized as well. There is no reference in the scripture though to people realizing on this day that Jesus was Christ the Messiah.
Days 8-39: Looking at the timeline of the Bible, it is likely that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were in Bethlehem for a several weeks following the birth. Perhaps the registration took longer than expected, or that Mary and Joseph wanted for Jesus early rituals to be completed in the land of his Fathers. The latter seems more likely to me, though I have not done the research to back it up.
Day 40 and Onward: There is also the story of Simeon, found in Luke 2. At the beginning of that story, in verse 22, there is a hint as to how much time has passed since Jesus’ birth, “And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord”. In the Law of Moses, a mother had to go through the ritual cleansing 40 days after the birth of a son. There is some biblical back-and-forth on whether the family was at the temple for her or their cleansing, but I’ll leave that to the scholars.
Now there is the visit of the Wise Men, only mentioned in Matthew. They came from the east, asked King Herod where they could find the new King (which troubled Herod greatly), and headed to Bethlehem. The modern nativity scene that we have cooked up has the Wise Men visiting Jesus in the stable, but that may not necessarily be the case. 1st, there is the visit of the Wise Men to Herod, where they spilled the beans about the new King. Herod sent them along to Bethlehem, asking them to find the child and report back, so he could also worship him. The distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is only about 5 miles (didn’t know that), so the trip could have easily been done in a day, especially since the Wise Men were on camels or horses. There are a couple more hints in the scriptures that insinuate it was well after the birth, and they were no longer in the stable. Matthew 2:9 says that the star “came to rest over the place where the child was”, and then verse 11 even says they were “going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother”. So a house, not a stable. They worshipped him, and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The Wise Men were then warned by Angels not to return to Herod (Matthew 2:12), they went back to their own country another way. Similarly, an Angel appeared to Joseph in verse 13, and told him of Herod’s intentions. Joseph was also instructed to “flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you”. Verse 14 tells us that Joseph did so right away, wasting no time. It is because of this passage in Matthew that it stands to reason the story of Jesus’ presentation at the Temple in Luke 2 was before their visit and the family’s flight to Egypt.
Now also, there is Luke 2:39-40, stating that “And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him”. Which offers its own timeline difficulty, asking the question of whether or not the flight to Egypt occurred within the scope of performed everything to the Law of the Lord. And I won’t even get in to the argument of the contradictions present in the accounts of Jesus’ birth (but you can read one here and here if you like).
So there is my little day after Christmas research project, I like to sit back and think about what else might have been going on the gospels that wasn’t written down, which is obviously personal speculation. But I hope you enjoyed it and it made you think a little bit more about the wondrous days that are upon us, and the ever-present hope of Christ’s return.
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