Ever since I was a little kid, my parent's ceramic nativity set (above) has fascinated me! There are shepherds, wise men, sheep, donkeys, camels, an angel, and of course Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. I was fortunate enough to inherit this set from my parents a few years ago. Now I set it up each year and my sons and I can admire it and remember the true meaning of Christmas.
What makes this set so special is that it was lovingly crafted by my grandmother, Mrs. Dot Coon in 1973. Turn each piece over and you will find her name and the year she worked on the piece. Grandma Coon put a lot of love, preparation and time into each piece.
If you know anything about ceramics, you know you must first take a raw piece of material and clean and prepare it for painting. All the seams and rough places have to be removed. You have to apply a base coat. You then layer on the colors, and if you are good like my grandmother was, you also apply shading and highlights for extra depth and life. Then you must finish the piece by sealing it so your painting will last for years to come.
Just as hours of thought, preparation and hard work went into my grandmother's work, even much greater was the thought, preparation and time put into the birth of the Saviour. Revelation 13:8 points out that Jesus is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." God had a plan, and that plan has always been, from before the beginning of time, the death and resurrection of His Son as payment for our sins. Also see I Peter 1:17-21.
There are many prophecies in the Bible that point toward the Messiah. They say when He will be born, where He will be born and how He will be born just to name a few. These prophecies begin in the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 3:15 right after the first sins had been committed by Adam and Eve. God gave the promise of a Redeemer, and in God's words to Satan for his part in the sin, He said "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Genesis 12:3 says that the Messiah would be of the seed of Abraham. Later, it was prophesied that the throne of David would be established forever. II Chronicles 21:7 "Howbeit the Lord would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant he had made with David, and as he promised to give a light to him and to his sons forever."
Not only does the Bible say that the Messiah would come out of the nation of Israel, it also states that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Isaiah 7:14 says "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (meaning God with us!!)." Genesis 3:15 also hints at the same.
Lastly, the Bible says where the Messiah would be born. In Micah 5:1-5 the prophets say that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Jeremiah 31:15 says there would be great weeping at the death of the children. And Hoseah 11:1 says that he would be called out of Egypt.
So how do we know that Jesus is the Messiah? Each of the above prophecies was fulfilled through the birth of Jesus. In Luke 1:31 the angel told Mary that she would conceive and bring forth a son, and when Mary asked how that could happen since she had never known a man (was a virgin), the angel further explained in verse 35 "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." Matthew 1:18-25 tells that Mary was found to be with child BEFORE she and Joseph came together. Joseph considered divorcing her quietly, but the angel of the Lord appeared to him in verse 20 and said "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." Verse 23 of the same chapter is a direct quote of Isaiah 7:14 "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel." Joseph "did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: and knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and called his name Jesus" (verses 24 and 25).
Remember that the prophecies told that Jesus would be born of the line of David? Matthew 1:1-17 gives this genealogy. Matt 1:1 "the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." Note that verse 17 says "and Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ." Joseph's right as Jesus' father was as of an adoptive father, not a physical father. But Jesus was Joseph's son by law. Also, this verse specifically points out that Jesus was of Mary.
God moves in His own way. He works things out to His own will. Joseph and Mary did not live in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth. They lived in Nazareth. But because Joseph's family was of Bethlehem they were required to travel there to be taxed, and while there God brought about the birth of Jesus. Matthew 2:1 states that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This is a fulfillment of Micah 5:2. Matthew 13-18 describes the visit of the angel to Joseph in a dream, warning him to take his family and flee to Egypt to flee death by Herod. Verse 15 points out that they were in Egypt until the death of Herod "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of by the Lord by the prophet, saying, 'out of Egypt have I called my Son.'" This was a fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:15. Verse 15 tells how Herod ordered the death of all the male children ages two and under that were in Bethlehem and all the districts, based on the time he had heard of from the wise men (Jesus' birth). Verses 17 and 18 say this was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah saying, "in Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not." Jeremiah 31:15 fulfilled.
All of the prophecies concerning the Messiah's birth and early childhood were filled in the birth of Jesus. If that wasn't enough, God gives further evidence of this with the appearance of the angels to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-20, proclaiming that something very extraordinary had occurred. "Fear not: for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." Upon the presentation of Jesus at the temple (Luke 2:25-39) when He was eight days old, Simeon and Anna had the privilege of meeting Him and giving praise to God. Simeon had been told by the Holy Ghost "that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ." The Spirit lead him to the temple on the day of Jesus' visit, and Simeon blessed God, saying "Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel" (verses 29-32). Anna the prophetess was at the temple and "served God with fastings night and day," and when she saw Jesus, she "in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem " (verse 38).
There was a loving plan for salvation, the birth of the Messiah, Jesus. And just like my grandmother marked her work, God's mark is all over His perfect plan! He wanted to make sure we would recognize Jesus! Do you recognize Him?