Christmas is here once again, and many of us are busy making those last minute shopping trips to find just the right gift for that special friend or family member. And whether you live in an area with a snowy white Christmas or a warmer tropical setting or somewhere in between, the stress of holiday shopping and the budgetary strain seems to affect us all. Between fighting the crowds at our local mall or paging through the websites of our favorite on-line retailers, the commercial aspect of Christmas can be challenging. It is amidst all this stress that I’d like to encourage you to take time to reflect on the real reason for the season, the birth of Jesus Christ.
In this regards, it is very fortunate for us that Luke took the time to thoroughly research the facts surrounding the birth of Jesus while those facts were still contemporary and that he composed those facts into a written record that is still available to us today in his Gospel. But can we really trust the record Luke left? Well, the evidence supporting the historical accuracy of Luke’s narrative is myriad, but let’s look at one specific piece of evidence right now. First, we’ll start with an excerpt from the Gospel of Luke:
Luke 2:1-21 – At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.
This part of the Christmas story starts with a census being taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Publius Sulpicius Quirinius is known to have governed Syria during 6-9 A.D. Josephus records that a census taken in 6 A.D. sparked a violent Jewish revolt, this is also mentioned by Luke in Act 5:37. Quirinius oversaw this census and played a major role in putting down the rebellion. But this cannot be the census Luke is referring to here in the Christmas story because it occurred much too late to fit Luke’s chronology. Luke was far too meticulous in his recounting of events to be accused of such a chronological error.
And, indeed, archaeology has upheld Luke’s accuracy. A fragment of a stone tablet discovered near Rome in 1764 contains an inscription in honor of a Roman official who was twice governor of Syria during the reign of Augustus. The name of this official is not found, but details listed among his accomplishments could fit no one other than Quirinius. Thus, we conclude that Quirinius served as governor twice. And other ancient records mention a “first” census being ordered by Augustus in 8 B.C. Evidently, this earlier census was not carried out in the Palestinian region until 2-4 years later, perhaps due to political difficulties between Rome and Herod. But Luke does state in verse 2 that the events he recounts occurred at the time of the “first” census taken while Quirinius was governor (obviously indicating there were more than one). Thus, Luke’s accurate rendering of these historic events is validated by the evidence and can be considered completely trustworthy.
Based on this decisive evidence, we can conclude that Luke’s telling of the Christmas story is reliable and I hope by presenting this evidence here it helps you see that Christmas really is a celebration of true historical events. And, as such, it should inspire us to pursue a relationship with our Creator who loved us so much that He sent His one and only Son to live among us, to die for us, and to be raised again that we might be reconciled to Him. Yes, Jesus truly is the reason for the season!
With this in mind, then, we see that the greatest Christmas present ever is the gift of grace given by God through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This Christmas season is a perfect time to accept that gift, if you haven’t already. Just take a few minutes to get by yourself and talk to God. Admit your wrongs to Him and turn your heart and mind toward Jesus (this is called repentance). Then confess Jesus is Lord and promise to follow Him to the best of your ability. As it is written, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)
May you have a very Merry Christmas!
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