Pastors, preachers, and Bible teachers: Have you thought about your Christmas sermon or lesson yet? If you want to help people celebrate Christmas this year (and every year) in keeping with established facts—not later legends, traditions, or popular imaginations—start by avoiding these common mistakes.
1. Don’t add details that aren’t in the text.
This might seem obvious but bears repeating because it happens so often. The massive annual proliferation of Christmas cards, nativity scenes, and TV specials perpetuates these added details and gives the impression that they are facts.
The... Read More
It’s that time again, the most wonderful time of the year!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer.”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
And on it goes …
So what’s the most wonderful time of the year? Christmas, of course! Little has changed since Andy Williams first recorded this song in 1963. We love Christmas, because it’s a time to be with family and friends and to feel cozy and warm.
Lost in the Shuffle
And yet, while we love Christmas, sometimes Christ gets... Read More
As a little boy, I was blessed to grow up in the small country of Austria, the land of “Silent Night, Holy Night” and of The Sound of Music. Christmas was truly a special time of the year, and many Christmases were in fact white. My sister and I would leave our wish list for the Christ child on our window sill the night before Christmas (we celebrated on Christmas Eve), and then, on Christmas Eve, behind closed doors, we heard our Christmas tree being set up and decorated by (we surmised) angels. Later that evening, we would enter our living room, and, lo and behold, find most of the... Read More
The following Advent Reading Plan, reproduced from The First Days of Jesus: The Story of the Incarnation by Andreas J. Kӧstenberger and Alexander E. Stewart (foreword by Justin Taylor; Wheaton: Crossway, 2015) includes six readings from the Old Testament, six from Matthew, nine from Luke, and four from John.
The readings, keyed to The First Days of Jesus, move from some of the major Old Testaments texts expressing messianic expectations to the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke to John’s prologue. Ideally, these Scripture passages should be read in conjunction with the respective... Read More
When you think of Christmas, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Perhaps you think of the manger scene with shepherds and wise men, presents, a Christmas tree, decorations, shopping, relatives, Santa Claus, Christmas cards, snow, caroling, or the January credit card bill. Despite what some Christians may want to believe, Christmas, as celebrated by many Americans, is a cultural, not a religious holiday. If Jesus were to be completely removed from the equation, Americans could continue to celebrate Christmas with hardly an interruption. People would still decorate their houses and work... Read More
In order to appreciate the significance of Messiah’s coming—and thus to understand the true meaning of Christmas—we need to travel back in time, back to the first Christmas, before this event even carried that name. We can’t offer you a time machine, but we can point you to the earliest written witnesses to the first Christmas: the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
These Gospel authors wrote their accounts on the basis of the eyewitness testimony of others; neither Matthew nor Luke was there on that fateful night in Bethlehem. Luke even explicitly alerts his readers to... Read More
God does not always do things the way that we think he should or act as we might expect. He does not always act in accordance with human wisdom (Paul develops this point in 1 Corinthians 1:18–25, 27–29). Nowhere is this clearer than in the infancy narratives of Matthew 1–2 and Luke 1–2. The birth of Jesus fulfilled God’s promises in a way that bypassed contemporary expectations. Our familiarity with the Christmas story unwittingly causes us to miss the unexpected wonder, shock, newness, and scandal which accompanied these events.
The Scandal of the Virgin Conception
Matthew provides... Read More
In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the question of whether or not Jesus was born on December 25. To continue the conversation, here is what I continue to be the best article on the subject, by Paul Maier, Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at the University of Michigan. The piece appeared originally in Chronos, Karis, Christos: Nativity and Chronological Studies presented to Jack Fingan (ed. J. Vardaman; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1989), and appears here with permission of the author. Read More
Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter every year, but few know when Jesus was actually born and when he died. Not that any great doctrine rests on the calculations below, but it sure is nice that we can have reasonable confidence that the dates of Jesus’ birth and death are secure and can be gleaned from a combination of biblical and extrabiblical historical data. I may not be willing to stake my life on the accuracy of the data below, but I am confident enough of these calculations that the license plate of my van reads as follows: 5BC–AD33. Read More
When was Jesus born? And how can we know? Could it be that Jesus really was born on December 25, the day we celebrate Christmas? While many have disparaged the traditional date of December 25, J. Stormer, PCC [Pensacola Christian College] Update (Winter 1996), cited by G. E. Veith, “Evidence December 25 is the right day,” has argued for December 25 as a possible date of Jesus’ birth on the basis of the course of temple duties for the clan of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5, 8; cf. 1 Chron 24:10).
The Argument for December 25
The argument goes as follows. The sons... Read More
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and... Read More
Any of you ready for a “Puritan Christmas”? Be careful now, because—some of you already guessed this—a Puritan Christmas is in fact—no Christmas at all. That’s right, as The Globe and Mail notes on its Facts & Arguments page, in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain, on Christmas Day the poor customarily went to the home of the richest person in town where they were given food and strong drink, resulting in jolly, though at times a bit tipsy, celebration (citing an article by Jeff Guinn in The Fort-Worth Star-Telegram).
The Puritans, however, set out to... Read More
NOTE: The following is an actual sermon preached by Dr. Köstenberger at Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.
When we think about Christmas and the Bible, we naturally think of Matthew’s account of the virgin birth and the visit of the Magi or Luke’s account of Gabriel’s visit to Mary and of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. We think of the decree going out from Caesar Augustus, of Joseph and Mary going up from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and of Mary giving birth to Jesus in a manger. We think of the shepherds in the field, of the heavenly host announcing peace on earth to those of... Read More