The Story of Christmas in The Bible

5 min read

You’ve probably heard the story of Christmas in the Bible, called the Nativity, a million times. Maybe you played a little shepherd in your school nativity play? Or you might have an advent nativity ornament with carved figures of each character.

The truth is, the classic Nativity story we all know and love has some major differences from the Christmas story in the Bible. This isn’t necessarily a problem; even with a bit of simplification and imaginative thinking, the Nativity still tells the story of the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, and connects us with a truly inspiring story at a wonderful time of year.

But it’s always interesting to look under the hood and see what inspired the traditions we celebrate today. Join us as we look at the story of Christmas in the Bible, but be warned, it might not look much like your school play!

Where is the Christmas story in the Bible?

First up, where do you find the Christmas story in the Bible?

The gospels of Matthew and Luke both give accounts of Jesus’ birth in the Bible. Much of our present-day understanding is based on these scriptures, along with a little tradition thrown in for good measure.

You can find Luke’s account in Luke 1: 26–38, Luke 2: 1–7, and Luke 2: 8–21. Matthew’s appears in Matthew 1:18–25 and Matthew 2:1–12.

Does it mention the story of Christmas in the Old Testament of the Bible?

The word Christmas doesn’t actually appear in the Bible. But there is a prophecy in the book of Isaiah that speaks of Jesus Christ’s birth.

Isaiah 9:6 says:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

This passage in Isaiah, which continues on to describe the rule and reign that Jesus will establish, played a large part in informing what the Israelites in Jesus’ day were expecting their saviour to be like.

Isaiah goes on to say, “Of the greatness of his government and peace, there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it.”

This prophecy lays the foundation, hundreds of years before, for the incredible juxtaposition of Jesus, king of all kings, being born to such humble and lowly beginnings. It’s contrasts like this that make the whole Bible, with the Christmas story included, so fascinating to read.

What about the word Christmas? Where did that come from?

The word ‘Christmas’ evolved from a tradition of taking holy communion, or mass, on the saint’s day dedicated to Jesus Christ: ‘Christ’s mass’. Whereas now this word is synonymous with December 25th, that is, historically speaking, a fairly modern development.

The Germanic word ‘Yule’ and the French word ‘Noel’ have also both been used to refer to the period we now consider the Christmas season, December through January.

The Story of Christmas in the Bible: How Is It Different?

Obviously, the story of Jesus’ birth in the Bible and the traditions connected to Christmas today are vastly different. You don’t need us to tell you there’s no Santa or mistletoe in the Bible! The truth is, Christmas is a festive blend of traditions and celebrations from around the world. Some, like the Yule log, are ancient pagan traditions.

But the loose narrative of Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem for Mary to give birth to the baby Jesus is true to scripture.

Here are some differences between the story of Christmas in the Bible and the nativity story:

The Bible doesn’t say that Mary rode on a donkey. She may have, as it was a popular form of transport then. She may have walked.

The part of the story about Mary and Joseph knocking on multiple innkeeper’s doors and being refused accommodation, only to end up in a stable, is the most romanticised part of the tale. Luke uses the Greek word for inn, which can also mean “guest chamber.” So they may have tried to stay at an inn. Or they may have been at a relative’s or friend’s house. Luke is clear that there was ‘no room for them in the inn’. So we can assume they weren’t staying in the main house and were, perhaps, in more rustic accommodation.

Neither Matthew nor Luke specify that there were three magi (often referred to as the three kings). This assumption comes from the fact that three gifts are detailed: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

While these differences are interesting, they are not material. The basic story is of a young virgin’s deep faith in God and in her husband’s trust and obedience. And the too-good-to-be-true truth of God, sending His only son to die for us, remains.

What does the Christmas story mean for my faith?

Needless to say, the story of Christmas in the Bible has captured the hearts of millions around the world. Endless songs have been written about the birth of baby Jesus. Schools and theatres fill up with people watching the classic story of the Nativity come December.

The Christmas story is atmospheric and beautiful; just imagine being a magi and seeing that star in the sky! Or being Mary and encountering the angel Gabriel. Incredible! But the story is so striking because of the compelling message it conveys.

Not only does Jesus’ birth fulfil prophecies in scripture from hundreds of years before, but it also reveals the wild extent of God’s love for us.

The moment that the ‘word became flesh’ and came to live among us shows God’s determination to be reconciled with His people. And to be able to live amongst us again. It shows that no price is too high for Him; He gave His only son. Jesus was humbled to the point of experiencing everything we do as humans. He was a baby; he had to learn to walk and talk like us. He lived among us and felt, as we do, the joys and sorrows of life.

All of that and Jesus’ priceless 33 years spent living on earth, from a baby in a spare room to a criminal on a cross, made it possible for us to have an intimate relationship with God today, thanks to grace.

There is no other story on earth so radically selfless.

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