While presents, hot cocoa, and bright lights are hallmarks of modern Christmas, Christians around the world must not forget the core of the holiday: the birth of Christ and the beginning of God’s New Covenant with mankind. Thinker editor John Kolettis, who recently returned from a week-long trip to Israel, and editor-in-chief Declan Hurley consider several biblical verses that are essential to our understanding of Christmas.
As we pondered verses to include in this op-ed, we decided to commence with the Gospel of Luke’s depiction of the Annunciation.
“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus,” the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary in Nazareth. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31–32).
Mary submitted to God, saying, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). The Holy Spirit impregnated Mary (Matthew 1:18) and kicked off the majestic process by which God “gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Nazareth, Mary’s hometown and the site of the Annunciation, is one of the most beautiful cities in Israel. One of us (John) had the opportunity to visit two churches celebrating the Annunciation: the Orthodox Church of Saint Gabriel and the Catholic Church of the Annunciation, which are vastly different. Both of them, however, glorify Christ.
The chapel-sized Church of Saint Gabriel is filled with paintings of the Saints in Heaven, rows of candles from the faithful, and gold-adorned fixtures. However, I (John) was drawn most to a small crypt that descends from the side of the church. Within this crypt, and beneath a very old icon of Madonna and child, is the quiet trickle of a stream.
This spring feeds the well that, according to the Catholic and Orthodox, Mary was tending when Gabriel approached her and enacted God’s plan for the salvation of man.
Catholics offer a different, yet equally powerful, approach to the Annunciation. About 100 yards from the Church of Saint Gabriel stands the Basilica of the Annunciation. This massive structure houses the remains of what is said to be Mary’s childhood home, a large cathedral adorned with Marian art from around the world, and the location where Catholics believe the Annunciation occurred.
The basilica pairs traditional Catholic architecture with a modern look inside. This contrast draws attention to the living nature of the Church, which, even in the Holy Land, modulates its evangelization over time so that it reaches the faithful. If the Church of Saint Gabriel represents the Kingdom of Heaven, then the basilica represents Christ’s influence on Earth.
The Birth of Christ
An enrollment of Caesar Augustus brought pregnant Mary and her husband, Joseph, to Bethlehem. “[W]hile they were there,” the Gospel of Luke recounts, “the time came for her to be delivered” (2:6). “[T]here was no place for them in the inn,” however, and Mary “gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger” (2:7).
Nearby shepherds “keeping watch over their flock by night” saw “an angel of the Lord” who announced to them that “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:8–11).
The shepherds immediately decided to go Bethlehem to see our savior. “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them,” the Gospel of Luke recounts.
On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. It was on this day that “[t]he Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14), giving humans the opportunity to repent for their sins and enjoy everlasting life. “We have seen His glory,” John continues, “the glory of the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14).
Today’s pilgrims can visit the birthplace of Christ at the Church of the Nativity in modern-day Judea and Samaria. And like the shepherds, pilgrims can return to their temporal homelands, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20).
It is because of God that we have everything that we hold in esteem and the capacity to overcome obstacles in our path, and it is because of his son, Jesus Christ, that our trespasses need not damn us. Thus, “glorifying and praising God” is anything but a chore.
The most important part of my (John’s) trip to Israel was my visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which houses the site of the Crucifixion and Christ’s empty tomb. At this location, Christ fulfilled his birthright to be our Lord and Savior by overcoming the finality of death, signifying that our trespasses are forgivable in His name, and laying out a path to redemption for those willing to take it.
Here, at the most important site in all of Christendom, I (John) had the chance to kneel inside Christ’s tomb and before the site of the cross. This was the most powerful moment in my whole life, and it made clear the importance of Christ’s mission. God loves us so much and is an important part of our lives.
We wish you all a merry and blessed Christmas!
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
Declan Hurley is the Chicago Thinker’s Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. A rising third year at the University of Chicago who is studying Economics and History, Declan is also a small-business owner, the editor of FDL Review, and an active participant in the politics of his home state, North Carolina. He loves to partake in the battle over ideas, and in his free time, he likes to exercise, read, and review public-opinion polling.
John Kolettis, a Chicago Thinker editor, is a second-year student at the University of Chicago majoring in economics and political science with a minor in classics. John is a proud Floridian who plans to enter real estate and development after college. In his free time, John likes watching the Chicago Bears, hiking, and SCUBA Diving. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.