Jesus and Christmas: The Things You Never Knew

I hope you are enjoying the beautiful season of lights, songs and overall joy in the air. It’s the time of year when find yourself decorating, baking, eating and dancing to Christmas carols. Some of us have Christmas traditions we’ve followed that were passed down through generations. Others may have created new ones that will last for years to come.

Over the last few years I started thinking not just about the traditions of Christmas, but about the details of the biblical Christmas story. As I read through the first few chapters of Luke, I see a beautiful story of our Savior’s birth, but there are some details that stand out to me.  I want to reveal some fascinating nuggets of gold from the story of Jesus’ birth.

The Birth of Jesus

To begin, let’s take a look at Luke 2, verses 8-12.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

In these verses we see there are shepherds in the fields watching over their flocks. An angel appears to them and shares the good news that the Savior of the World has been born. Then the angel says,  “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Have you ever thought about why a baby being wrapped in cloths would be a sign? Most people do not even think about this small detail, but as you will see, it is no small detail at all.  It is actually an enormous detail!

To understand why a baby being wrapped in cloths was a sign, let’s look at some bible prophecy that describes the Messiah.  Micah 5:2 says,But you, 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.”  This verse shows the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  Most of us are familiar with this verse and fully understand it.  

But what about this one from Micah 4:8-  “As for you, watchtower of the flock, stronghold of Daughter Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem.”   This verse prophesies that the Messiah would be announced at the watchtower of the flock. 

Migdal Eder: The Tower of the Flock

If you do some research into what this watchtower is, your eyes will pop wide open. The actual name of the tower is called Migdal Eder.  This was a two story tower that was located in a pasture just outside Bethlehem.  Most of us assume the shepherds mentioned in the story of Jesus’ birth were of low status.  But this may not be the case.  The tower that would announce the birth of Jesus was not a place for lowly shepherds. It was actually a place for shepherd-priests!

Alfred Edersheim ( a renowned Messianic historical writer and scholar) in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, describes Migdal Eder in this way:

“This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheepground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem.”

He goes on to say, “A passage in the Mishnah leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices, and, accordingly, that the shepherds, who watched over them, were not ordinary shepherds.”

The Tower of the Flock

There were two levels to this tower.  Shepherd-priests on the top floor would be keeping watch over the flock of sheep in the pasture below.   The shepherd-priests on the second level had a different job. They would bring pregnant sheep  into the bottom floor of the tower. The pregnant sheep in this tower would be no ordinary sheep!  They  would be birthing sacrificial lambs to be used for temple sacrifices.  All temple lamb sacrifices had to be unblemished.  To make sure these lambs would be born unblemished, the shepherd-priests did something interesting! As soon as the lamb was born, they would wrap it in STRIPS OF CLOTHS that were made from old priestly undergarments.  These strips of cloth would protect the lamb’s fragile body from blemishes.  Do you see anything amazing in this????? Now, here’s the kicker! After the lamb was wrapped in cloths it was placed in a……………… wait for it…………A MANGER!   The lamb was placed in the manger to protect it from being trampled by other sheep.  Say what????  Now do you see why it was a sign  that the baby Jesus would be wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger!!!!!!  Jesus is the Passover lamb of course. He died on the cross at Passover at the exact time the Passover lambs were being sacrificed! If you want to read more about the amazing connections of Jesus to Passover read this blog I wrote back in April.

Where did the cloth strips come from?

Here’s something else to think about! Where did the cloths wrapped around baby Jesus come from? How did these special cloths come into Mary and Joseph’s possession?  Well, let’s remember that Mary had a cousin named Elizabeth who was married to a priest named Zacharias.  It is possible that Elizabeth may have given Mary the cloths to be used at Jesus’ birth. After all, Elizabeth and Mary were pregnant at the same time and even visited together before Jesus’ birth. Elizabeth was carrying John the Baptist, who would be the forerunner to Jesus.  Elizabeth knew Mary was carrying the promised Messiah, thus she knew he would be the Lamb of God- the Savior. Thus, it is very plausible that Elizabeth got the swaddling cloths for baby Jesus from her husband, who was a priest, and then gave them to Mary. These cloths would have been used by priests in the Temple. How fitting that these priestly cloths would swaddle the King of Kings!

 How were the cloths used in the Temple?  The Temple Priests and the Menorah

Here’s something else you may not know about the cloths. The undergarments of the Temple Priests were stained with blood after sacrifices were performed.  At some point these garments were no longer usable and at that point they would be cut into strips and placed in a basket. Then, the strips would be used for the wicks of the temple menorah.  The pants and belts of the Priest’s uniform would be used for the wicks of oil lamps used in the water libation ceremony on the Feast of Tabernacles.

What’s fascinating about this is that we see the menorah being lit by the use of these strips of cloth. Without the olive oil and wick of the menorah, no light will shine.  Thus, Jesus, being wrapped in these priestly cloth strips, represents  the Light of the World.  He is the embodiment of the menorah itself.  Not only that, these cloths would have been stained with blood at some point. Jesus, the Savior of the World, shed his blood as the sacrificial lamb so we would no longer walk in darkness. He brought light to our hearts and lives through his blood!

Jesus attended the Feast of Tabernacles and this is what he had to say about himself:

‘When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”’

Jesus is the Menorah

Jesus knew what he was doing when he made this statement. He knew the people understood what the menorah represented and he made reference to this idea in his statement.  The menorah was made of pure, hammered gold.  It was filled with the purest olive oil and used priestly garments for wicks.  In this one statement he pointed to his purity, which was the highest standard possible – pure gold.  He pointed to the Holy Spirit, represented by the olive oil. He pointed to his priestly status, represented by the wicks. But, most telling is the light itself.  During the Feast of Tabernacles giant menorahs are lit so the entire Temple area is illuminated.  Here at this Feast Jesus was declaring he’s the light of the world.

Jesus is the Light

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5.   

Daniel 2:22 says about God, “He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.”

Genesis 1 shows us that the first thing God did was create light.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”

And what’s even more revealing is that we know Jesus was there when God said, “Let there be light!”  Why? Because he is the light.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

In John 1 it is made clear Jesus was there in the beginning.  Jesus is the Word of God and the verses speak to this truth.  We also see how he is the light!

The cloths wrapped around Jesus were an amazing sign!

When the shepherds were told by the angel that seeing the Messiah wrapped in cloths would be a sign,  it was for a reason!  The cloths were a sign pointing to THE LIGHT- JESUS!  The very cloths wrapped around his body declared his destiny as the High Priest, and as the unblemished sacrificial lamb for mankind.

Jesus and Hanukkah

It’s interesting because as Christians all of us are familiar with the customs of Christmas, but we don’t know much about Hanukkah, which is referred to as the Festival of Lights.  Yet, we should know about it because it is in the Bible! Jesus actually went to the Feast of Hanukkah! It is called the Feast of Dedication in the Bible because Hanukkah means dedication!  It is at this very feast where Jesus revealed exactly who he was- the promised Messiah!

“Then came the Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah) at Jerusalem. It was winter,  and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.”  John 10:22-30

In these verses Jesus is clearly saying he is the Messiah.  He says he and the Father are One, and he says he gives his sheep eternal life.

Antiochus compressed
A statue of Antiochus

What happened during Hanukkah?

During the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) the Jews were celebrating the re-dedication of the Temple that had occurred in 167 BC.  An evil Syrian King named Antiochus had forced the Jewish people to reject the God of Israel and instead follow the pagan Greek gods.  Antiochus demanded the Jewish people engage in idolatry by worshiping Greek gods and he outlawed the Torah and circumcision. To keep the Jews from worshiping, he placed idols in the Temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar. Antiochus even demanded to be worshiped and gave himself the name Antiochus Ephiphanes, which means “God manifested”.

Luckily a brave group of warriors known as the Maccabbees rebelled against Antiochus and fought the Syrians tooth and nail.  They were able to drive the Syrians out of Israel and retake the Temple.  This was no small feat.  A lot of blood was shed.

The Temple had been desecrated and needed some deep cleansing. One of the first things they had to do was light the menorah.  Unfortunately, there was only enough oil for one day.  It would take at least eight days to obtain and purify enough oil to use in the Temple thereafter. They took a chance and went ahead and lit the menorah.  Miraculously, the oil lasted for not just one day, but for 8 days!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen Jesus made the declaration that he is the Messiah at the Feast of Hanukkah, he was pointing directly to his association with the Temple!  He fulfilled all aspects of the Temple from the sacrifices to the priesthood to the light within the Temple!  The oil in the miracle of Hanukkah lasted for eight full days.  Even this points to Jesus because the number 8 points to new beginnings.  This symbolism is shown in the story of Noah’s Ark where 8 people are saved.  Also, Jewish males were circumcised on the 8th day, pointing to a new heart, or a new beginning.   Receiving Jesus as Savior brings a new life and a new heart to all who believe!

When the Jewish leaders asked Jesus if he was the Messiah, he clearly told them yes!  These leaders were looking for a warrior to save them and overthrow the government, much like the Maccabees who overthrew Antiochus’ armies.  But, Jesus answered them by saying he is the shepherd of the sheep.  He said his sheep know his voice.  This ties in beautifully because we know Jesus’ birth pointed to this very idea.  The strips of cloths wrapped around him pointed to him being the sacrificial lamb. Shepherds, of course, lead lambs. The Jewish leaders didn’t realize that Jesus came to rule their hearts and bring the kingdom in a humble, but more effective way.  The Jews wanted freedom from the Romans, but Jesus offered them freedom from darkness- freedom from sin- freedom from Satan.  He offered them LIGHT!

When you look at a a Hanukkah menorah (called a Hanukkiah) don’t look at it simply as a “Jewish thing.”  It’s actually a Jesus thing!  And remember, Jesus is Jewish! Hanukkah is a holiday that brings us closer to God’s beautiful people the Jews! How wonderful it would be to see Christians, Messianic Jews and Orthodox Jews celebrating together!

As Christmas approaches, take some time to really soak in the amazing truths about Jesus! Reflect on the signs God used to point to our redemption through Jesus! The more I study scripture, the more I see how God leaves clues all over the place for us to find.  Sometimes, they are in plain sight.  Other times, it takes some digging. But, it’s worth the dig. I plan on digging for the rest of my life because I know I will keep finding nuggets of gold.

When is Hanukkah 2019?

If you are interested in celebrating Hanuakkah this year, it will begin at sundown on December 22 and last until sundown on December 30, 2019. How do you celebrate? I love lighting the menorah and giving my son small gifts each night. There are also Messianic and Orthodox synagogues that have celebrations. It is traditional to eat oily foods like potato latkes and donuts. This is a reminder of the miracle of the oil.  Oh, and don’t forget to spin the dreidel !!!!

Whatever you do, of course, remember Jesus and have a wonderful time of fellowship with your family and friends.  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and  Shalom!!!!

 

Resources:

Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts by Michael Norten

https://jewsforjesus.org/

https://hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Winter_Holidays/Chanukah/chanukah.html

Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feasts by Richard Booker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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