What was it really like when Jesus was born?
Let us understand the circumstances of Jesus' birth.
We will look at Joseph's dilemma, the meanings of Jesus' names and whether or not Mary remained a perpetual virgin.
Joseph had a dilemma (Matthew 1:18). He was betrothed to Mary but found her pregnant. A betrothal in those days was as binding as a marriage contract. The groom typically prepared a home, either as an addition to his parent’s home or a free-standing one depending on his financial ability. That could take a year. Then when all was prepared, the bridegroom would come to collect his bride. Hence the biblical pictures of Christ as the bridegroom who comes for his bride the Church. Finding Mary pregnant, Joseph had a dilemma. He was mindful to cancel the whole deal privately rather than put Mary to public disgrace and possible stoning by the more self-righteous in the community. Joseph was encouraged by an angel that this was a prophesied sign of a new age of peace and security for Israel.
Imagine you are Joseph
Imagine you are Joseph, engaged to Mary. You are busy preparing a home to receive her. Then you discover that she is pregnant. You feel betrayed, deeply hurt. You are a righteous man who believes in faithfulness before marriage. That means that the both of you are to be virgins on your wedding night. But, you also believe in mercy because righteousness demands it. You contemplate breaking the engagement quietly, because you really love this woman and don’t want to disgrace her, nor have her punished. But you were not fully decided when you had a dream in which an angel said not to hesitate marrying Mary. Her pregnancy was of the Holy Spirit and would bring salvation. You marry her knowing you will be gossiped about, but that the child’s name would be “God saves” and “God with us”.
An awkward start
Marriage ideally begins with a savings account, a house already built and a good job. But, many of us did not begin with any of those things. Joseph and Mary also did not begin their married life with the ideal start. They had an awkward and embarrassing pregnancy and a birth in a stable. The embarrassment was caused by knowing that many would not believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Even Joseph must have thought that Mary had betrayed him at first. There was also stress and anxiety and poverty. Today we would call them homeless. Yet this awkward, itinerant, not quite official couple on the edge of society was to give birth to the One who would save his people from their sins. “God with us” was born into human poverty to bring peace to the world.
Saved from Terrible Consequences
Jesus (Luke 2:15-21) was so named because he would save people from sin (Matthew 1:21). Wrongdoing has consequences both now and forever. Having false gods causes us to rely on things that cannot rescue us from calamity. Idolatry causes people to look in the wrong direction for help. Misusing the name of the Lord causes us to take the only one who can help lightly. Not taking a day of rest causes stress and early death. Dishonoring our parents causes broken families, poverty and crime. Murder destroys families and neighborhoods. Adultery breaks marriages and families, and spreads distrust and disease. Theft takes away the peace and security of our neighborhoods. Bearing false witness fills the land with false advertising and distrust. Coveting causes crime and war. Only Jesus can rescue us from the consequences of our bad decisions.
Holy Name of Jesus
Jesus was so named when he was circumcised (Luke 2:15-21). It means “Jehovah [God] is salvation.” Salvation is liberation or help from God. Jesus would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). His name would be the hope of the whole world (Matthew 12:15-21). The disciples complained about those who healed in Jesus’ name without authority, but Jesus said not to stop them. Anyone doing a miracle in his powerful name is on our side (Mark 9:38-40). The Catholic Society of the Holy Name is a fraternity that prays for those who blaspheme the name Jesus. In Greek Jesus’ name is Ἰησοῦς [capitalized ΙΗΣΟΥΣ] pronounced yay-soos. The first three letters capitalized in Greek were a common abbreviation for Jesus ΙΗΣ. In our English alphabet, those letters are written IHS, letters used to decorate churches everywhere.
(References: http://www.biblestudytools.com | http://www.newadvent.org/cathen | http://christogenea.org)
The study of Jesus is central to Christianity. Christology studies Christ, his birth as "God with us" (Matthew 1:23), his resurrection, salvation in him and his two natures. Theologians see Jesus as both divine and human. Controversies over who Jesus was are not just modern news, but raged in the early centuries too. The Council of Chalcedon took place in 451 AD. It was the 4th Ecumenical Council and the last one that is widely recognized by Protestants. Its contributions to the Christian Church are perhaps the greatest consensus of opinions on Christology from church history. These are summarized in the 3rd great creed, the Chalcedonian Creed. In regard to Christ and Christology, the Chalcedonian Creed affirms the Trinity, Christ's virgin birth, his humanity and his deity, and the hypostatic union of his two natures in one person.
Technology or God with us
As we look down into the future of our planet, we see possible devastation by an asteroid and eventual certain death of the planet as our solar system collapses and life on earth becomes impossible. Science tells us that Earth is only a temporary home. So we look to a long term solution of eventually having to abandon our solar system and find another earth-like planet far, far away. In short, we see our salvation as a species in “technology with us.” Whether or not we could eventually find a far away home planet is not quite certain. However, there is another solution to our dilemma, God. The Bible also tells us that Earth is only a temporary home and that our real long-term solution is found not in “technology with us” but in “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
Jesus & Joshua
Jesus (Iesous) is from Greek for Joshua (Jeshua, Jehoshua). There were two men named Joshua whose lives were forerunners of Jesus Christ. It was under Joshua the son of Nun that Israel conquered 31 cities in the land of Canaan beginning around 1400 BC. Jesus (Luke 2:15-21) was given a name which means “God saves” because he was born to save each one of us (Matthew 1:21). We cannot save ourselves from death, but Jesus can if we let him. Joshua leading Israel into the promised land is symbolic of Jesus leading the saved into eternal life. A lesser known Joshua in the Bible, Joshua the son of Jozadak was the first person named as high priest after Israel returned from national captivity in Babylon (Haggai 1). Jesus is our high priest who offered himself (Hebrews 8:3-5).
(References: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen; The Oxford History of the Biblical World. 1998. Oxford University Press; http://www.biblearchaeology.org; http://www.orthodoxytoday.org)
IHS and Xmas
What are those funny “IHS” signs we see everywhere from communion tables to pulpits? Is it some kind of secret code for “in his service” or is it Latin, Greek or Hebrew? Some have thought that the letters stood for the Latin words “Jesus Hominum Salvator” meaning “Jesus Savior of Men” but that is not the case. Many original New Testaments were written in Greek capital letters and thus Jesus was written ΙΗΣΟΥΣ and the first three letters in English letters would be transliterated as IHS. That just happens to also be an ancient abbreviation for Jesus. What about Xmas? Is it x-ing Christ out of Christmas? In Greek Christ is Χριστός and the first letter in Greek, X is also an abbreviation for Christ. Xmas does not X Christ out of Christmas; it is an ancient abbreviation for Christmas.
Jesus was God with us, is God with us every hour of every day and will be God with us forever.