The Story of Christmas: a special note by Dr. Blake

The Story of Christmas

Janet Blake, Associate Professor, Department of Human Rights Law, Shahid Beheshti University

The primary biblical sources for this story are the Gospels of Matthew and Luke which paint a vivid picture of the birth of Jesus. It begins in the town of Nazareth in Palestine with Mary, a young and devout woman betrothed to Joseph who is a descendant the Jewish King David. The angel Gabriel comes down from Heaven and reveals to Mary the divine plan that she will conceive the child who was foretold by the ancient prophets, to be named Jesus. The angel also told Joseph that the child would be the saviour of all people. 
At this time, the Roman Emperor Augustus announced a census which required Joseph and Mary to return to Bethlehem, the original city of the House of David. They arrived to find the city full of travellers and with no rooms available. They were forced to sleep in a humble stable among the animals, and it was in this stable that a feeding trough became Baby Jesus’ first cradle. After Jesus was born, an angel then appeared to a group of shepherds who were watching their flock near the city, and they were the first to visit and give homage to Jesus and to spread the word of his birth. In the East, three Zoroastrian priests and astrologers observed a celestial sign signifying Jesus’ birth which fulfilled an ancient prophecy. They embarked on a journey in search of the prophesied ‘King of Kings’ who was destined to bring eternal life. A heavenly star led them to Bethlehem, where they found Mary, Joseph and their baby Jesus. They presented Mary with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which symbolized his royalty, divinity, and the sacrifice he would one day make for humankind. 
The ultimate message of the story of Jesus’ birth is one of peace and salvation – that he would save humankind from evil and bring peace into the world. Sadly, this is a message that is of ever increasing importance in today’s world and, in particular, in Palestine where this historical tale unfolded. Another important message it contains is that Jesus, although the King of Kings, was born in the most humble circumstances and the first to visit him were humble shepherds, emphasizing that all people are equal before God. It is also notable that Jesus’ birth was the fulfilment of a prophecy known to the Zoroastrian priests and that they were astrologers, a recognition of the development of this scientific knowledge in that civilization. 
A further point of interest is that the choice of the date of 25 December for Jesus’ birth day (in western Christian tradition) reminds us of a shared ancient Indo-European cultural tradition. Pre-Christian pagans in northern Europe celebrated the winter solstice at this time of year, calling it “Yule” which quite probably has a connection with the Persian word “yalda”. Many Christmas traditions today – of eating dried fruits, burning a “yule log” in the fire and use of the colour red – have their roots in these pre-Christian and pre-Islamic cultures.