The After-Christmas Story
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This piece is AI-free. These words are my creation minus the mechanics of artificial intelligence. You are welcome here!
When I was a girl, my parents gave me a nativity set they purchased on a trip to the Holy Land. The crèche and characters, carved from olive wood, were proudly displayed on a shelf in my bedroom. This was the first nativity in what would become an extensive collection.
The characters vary in the nativities I’ve acquired over the years. Of course, Mary, Joseph, and the baby are represented, and I have a few small nativities that stop there. My largest nativity, in size and number of characters, is from Mexico (also a gift from my parents).
The ‘empty nest’ years have left me less than enthusiastic about unpacking, arranging, dusting, and putting the nativities away after Christmas. I have passed down nativity sets from the collection to my daughter. I will have our daughter-in-law come and take her pick, as well.
At our house, we wait until after Thanksgiving Day to decorate for Christmas. Does your tree come down on December 26th? We let it linger past New Year’s Day but by mid-January, I’m ready to return to normal. The holiday décor is put away. I like a good cleaning all around and getting things back in order.
As this year has wound down, I’ve moved through the gospels in my Bible reading plan. While reading about Christ’s birth in Matthew and Luke, I started thinking about what happened after that first Christmas, though it wasn’t called Christmas back then. The consensus is the word ‘Christmas’ originates from the phrase ‘Cristes Maesse’ first recorded in 1038, which means the Mass of Christ or Christ’s Mass.1
Whether you were raised in the church, came to Christ later in life, or are not yet a believer, you are probably familiar with what we refer to as the real meaning of Christmas. In other words, all the decorations and gift-giving are enjoyable and festive, but this season is truly about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which translated means, God with us. Matthew 1.23
The account of Jesus’ birth is what you’ll find in most December posts like this one. Today, I’m talking about the ‘After Christmas’ story. As you read the gospel account of Christmas and what followed, you may sense there are missing parts to the story. I say this because certain events mentioned in Luke are not recorded in Matthew, and vice versa. To make this more cohesive, here is what the Scriptures tell us.
Shepherds and Angels
In the gospel of Luke, we read on the night Jesus was born, shepherds were tending their sheep nearby. An angel of the Lord showed up and told them of the baby’s birth. What followed was a growing multitude of angels raising their voices in praise to God. (Luke 2.8-14)
Quickly, the shepherds went to Bethlehem, where they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger (Luke 2.15-16). As a result of this life-changing experience, the shepherds became witnesses to an event that would change the world. ‘After Christmas,’ they began to tell what they had seen, giving glory and praise to God.
In the Temple
According to the law of Moses, eight days later, the baby was circumcised and named Jesus. His parents then went to Jerusalem to present [Jesus] to the Lord. (Luke 2.21-22) Today, you might view this presentation as similar to infant baptism or baby dedication, depending on the church culture you most relate to.
During this ‘After Christmas’ event, two significant things transpired in the Temple.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout […] And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Luke 2.25-26
As was his custom, Simeon came to the temple the day Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to be presented. Simeon took the child in his arms saying, “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation…He is a light to reveal God to the nations…” (Luke 2.28-32)
Simeon had waited a lifetime to see the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy that spoke of salvation, revelation, and future glory. The Spirit of God in Simeon revealed that Salvation had come!
Also at the temple was the prophetess Anna, who was widowed at a young age. Now eighty-four years old, she had spent her life in the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. Anna, arriving at the time of Jesus’ presentation, began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2.37-38).
This ‘After Christmas’ encounter brought Simeon and Anna’s waiting to an end. As they testified to the arrival of the Messiah, it began to be established in hearts and minds that this was no ordinary child.
A Star and Wise Men
The next ‘After Christmas’ event recorded in the gospels is the star guiding the wise men to the Christ-child.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi [wise men] from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Matthew 2.1-2
There has long been speculation about when this occurred, how many wise men there were, and where they came from. First, they came from the East, having seen His star. The East would have been in the general direction of Babylon (ancient Persia). Because of the Exile to Babylon, people in the East would have been familiar with the Jewish prophecy of a coming Messiah.2 Still, the location they originated from is not absolute.
Second, though the traditional telling of the Christmas story mentions three wise men, the Bible is not specific. The words “we, them, and they” indicate there were at least two and could mean there were more than three.
Another detail long debated by historians and theologians is the question of when. Matthew 2 confirms the wise men arrived after Jesus was born. If it is uncertain where they originated from, we cannot know how long it took them to get there.
Scripture does confirm they arrived in Jerusalem and were brought before King Herod. Then, he sent them to Bethlehem to find the child and told them to let him know what they learned. (Matt. 2.7-8) Remember, these were ‘wise’ men who knew better than to return, knowing Herod was intent on killing the child they said was born king of the Jews. They probably feared for their own lives, as well.
According to God’s Word, this event did take place, and the star continued to guide the wise men to Jesus. They saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell to the ground and worshiped him, presenting their treasured gifts. (Matt. 2.9-11) ‘After Christmas,’ the wise men traveled back home, taking with them the wonder of the Christ-child born to save the world.
A lot can happen ‘After Christmas,’ friend.
There is so much more to the story. The Scriptures about Jesus’ birth and what happened immediately following share only a portion of His time and work on earth.
It’s a story that includes pages written in red, with the blood of Jesus being poured out to purchase our salvation. It’s a story still being written in our hearts—and one available to all who call Him Lord. And it’s a story meant to be shared, so let’s share it at every opportunity.
Stillman Translations. https://www.stillmantranslations.com/christmas-words/ Link effective 12/11/2023.