The Gospel of Luke introduces the birth portion of Jesus' story in chapter 2:1–7. These verses describe his surroundings, suggest his purpose in coming, and provide the tenor of his story by beginning the human life of the Creator and King of the universe not in a palace but in a stable, probably built into a cave in the hillside, where no one would ever expect anything of great significance to occur.
Some scholars believe Luke likely received his detailed account of the birth of Jesus directly from Mary, Jesus' mother. According to church tradition, Mary was early in her childbearing years at the time she became promised to Joseph, and she lived some years after Jesus' ascension into Heaven. Biblical scholars believe Luke's Gospel and the other three Gospels were written in the latter half of the first century after Jesus' birth.
A fundamental teaching of Christianity is that Mary was betrothed but had not consummated her marriage with Joseph when Jesus was born. Without this teaching, the claim that God was Jesus' father would be disbelieved. Luke says that “in the sixth month” the angel Gabriel was sent from God to Mary in Nazareth, a town in Galilee, a region of the Israel of that time northeast of Jerusalem, to tell her God the Father had chosen her to:… bear a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
It's a widespread misconception that the “Immaculate Conception” is a technical term related to Jesus' virgin birth. The doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception,” taught only by Roman Catholics among the Christian communions, refers not to the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb, but of Mary's in the womb of her mother. The Immaculate Conception reinforces Mary's sinlessness. The teaching became an official Catholic dogma in 1854.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God … For with God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 2:31–35; 37).
Matthew's Gospel cites the virgin birth as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, “Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel’” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).
God with Us
Emmanuel is a Hebrew phrase meaning “God with us.” (El, the final syllable, is short for
Matthew, whose Gospel is tailored for Jewish readers, cites this verse from Isaiah as the first of many Old Testament prophecies he uses as evidence for the divinity and messianic mission of Jesus. Jesus, which is the name both Luke and Matthew say was given to Mary for her son, is from the Greek Iesous, which in turn comes from the Hebrew Jeshua (also written as Yeshua) or Joshua, all meaning “Yahweh is salvation.”
Shepherds and Angels
One indication of the humble milieu into which Jesus was born is that initially no great or powerful people were told about one of the most important events thus far in human history. But shepherds, no doubt faithful Jewish people whose major yearning was the coming of their Messiah, were let in on the news by angels they saw singing Jesus' praise in the sky over the starlit hills where they were camped. Luke devotes what now amounts to ten verses of his Gospel to the shepherds' adoration of the Christ child (the original text was not broken into verses).
What is the origin of the word
The early church's technical name of the day set aside for observance of Christ's birth is the Feast of the Nativity. Feasts are the resumption of a regular diet after a fast such as Advent, the 40-day fast preceding Christmas. The word Christmas comes from the English contraction of the Roman Catholic term “Christ's mass.”
Though two Gospels record details about the birth of Jesus, and some recognition of Jesus' birth is recorded in historical documents as early as A.D. 200, the Nativity does not appear in church records as an official feast of the church until A.D. 566 or 567.
The slow evolution of Christmas observance probably occurred mainly because early Christians thought that in the pagan Roman practice, “only sinners' birthdays were celebrated.” The first generations of Christians celebrated Jesus' baptism, as well as the adoration of the Magi, as the events that revealed him as God with us. This now-lesser feast of the Magi is known and observed to this day as Epiphany (or, in Eastern Orthodoxy, Theophany), which falls 12 days after Christmas; this is the origin of the tradition of the 12 days of Christmas.