Preparing for Christmas, Part 1
By the Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer
Background text: Isaiah 7:14
Devotional text: Matthew 1:23
As Sunday, Nov. 27, has come and gone, we find ourselves in the midst of the holiday season.
I always look forward to this season of lights and goodwill. Most of the time holiday shoppers are full of joy and smiles as they buy or make gifts for their loved ones.
Along with all of the holiday preparations, there is also another kind of preparation that has been going on at this time of year since the fifth century; that is the preparation of the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day. We call this time of preparation Advent.
The word Advent actually comes from the Latin word translated into “coming.” Thus, as we prepare for the coming of Christ, we take the four Sundays that come before Christmas as the time of Advent.
Although little is known about the first celebration of Jesus’ birth by the newly-named Christians, we do know the first recorded celebration of Christmas. According to history, it took place on Dec. 25, 336 A.D., and was celebrated in Rome under the Christian Emperor Constantine.
While I was doing some research into Christmas celebrations, I also found the first recorded Christmas celebration in America. It took place in Tallahassee, Fla., on Dec. 25, 1539. It was during a time when voyagers from Spain had settled in Florida, bringing pigs with them as livestock.
Having introduced pork into the menu there, this first celebration was marked by a worship service followed by a feast that included pork, local fruits and vegetables, seafood and possibly a turkey.
Continuing my search for a beginning date for Advent, I could find no definitive answer. However, historical records note Christmas Advents from the fifth and sixth centuries.
One of the things I found most interesting about these early Advent seasons is that they covered both the birth of Jesus as well as his awaited Second Coming. During that time, the first two weeks of Advent focused on his Second Coming, while the last two focused on Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.
Through time, the focus changed to a four-week preparation based solely on the birth of Jesus, and each of the four weeks became based on a theme. Traditionally the themes are: week one — hope; week two — peace; week 3 — joy; and week four — love.
We find the life of Jesus from birth to resurrection and beyond in the New Testament. However, his birth is also prophesied throughout the Old Testament, in 2 Samuel to the greatest prophet Isaiah and the minor prophet Micah, as well as others.
Today, we will look at some of these Old Testament prophecies and show their fulfillment recorded in scripture from the New Testament. Many of these Messianic prophecies were made to the people of Israel 1,000 to 700 years before the birth of Jesus.
Beginning with Isaiah 7:14, we find these words: “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call him Immanuel.” (Immanuel is a descriptive name for Jesus which means “God with us.”)
Although theologians tell us this prophecy could have pointed to others, we find that in the New Testament Matthew used these same words to show their fulfillment in the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:23).
In the writings of Micah 5:2-5, scripture tells us the birth of the Christ would take place in Bethlehem: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times … ”
The fulfillment of this scripture is found in the gospel of Luke 2:1-7, where we read that Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem where Mary gave birth to her son, Jesus.
Continuing our read in the Old Testament, we find a number of scriptures referring to the coming of a Savior and that he would be a descendant of King David. In the book of 2 Samuel 7:16, we find scripture that speaks of a descendant of David who will rule forever. In Psalm 28, we read about the importance of the branch of Jesse.
Finally in Isaiah 11:1-5, we read, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord — and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”
Once again, we find fulfillment of these words in the New Testament. Matthew 1:1-10 informs us that the father of David was Jesse, and further down the line in verse 16 we find a man named Jacob who was the father of Joseph who would become Mary’s husband. Joseph’s lineage from the house of David is also mentioned in Luke 2:1,4.
Even though we know from Luke 1:26-38 that Mary would become pregnant through the Holy Spirit, Joseph would be the earthly father of Jesus. The genealogy of Jesus placed Joseph in the lineage of David, giving us fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah.
Today, more than 2,000 years later, we still celebrate the First Coming of Christ on Dec. 25 each year. We celebrate his joy and peace as our Savior.
Also at Christmastime today, we speak in anticipation of Jesus’ Second Coming, thus returning full circle to the early days of Advent.