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As people celebrate Christmas year to year, it is easy to assume that the Christmas celebration is simply a long held and greatly loved tradition - and it is. But behind all the tradition - behind the lights and the feasts and the gifts given and received, stands a sequence of historical events that led up to the birth of a very special child- the child known as Jesus, who is called Christ. Our hope, in a small way, is to tell, through lights and figures, this historic story of the birth of this child, so that as you travel from station to station, the story of Jesus’s coming might come alive in a wonderful way. We hope you enjoy your journey as you are reminded of another journey that happened long ago, and which ended with the birth of who many now know as Jesus, the Prince of Peace. 

Station 1: “The Wise Men”

Coming from the East, following the star...

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Mathew 2:1-12
As you entered the drive way off of DeWitt Avenue and began your journey through the lights, you noticed some figures riding camels at the foot of the hill. Those figures represent a group of wise men, known as Magi, who traveled from the east to bring gifts to the Christ child Jesus. As tradition has it, there were only three of them, and the Christmas hymn “We Three Kings’ is based on that tradition. In actual fact, however, there were more than three Magi and they likely came from a region known as Parthia. Having discerned, from ancient sacred writings - perhaps of the Jewish prophets - and from signs in the heavens about the monumental birth of a new king, they had traveled to Judea to inquire of him who had been born King of the Jews.

Theirs was more than a casual visit however. Known as ‘kingmakers’ tin the ancient near east, they intended to affirm this new kings birth. Thus, they brought gifts to give him which were suitable for royalty: gold (a universal symbol of wealth and royalty), frankincense (a beautiful smelling ointment used in royal processions), and myrrh (used both as an anesthetic and for preparing bodies for burial), to give in honor of this new born king. After finding the baby Jesus with his mother, Mary, and father, Joseph, they gave their gifts to his parents and fell down and worshipped the child. They then departed to their own country, satisfied that they had seen what the sacred writings and the star had signified - he who had been born, King of the Jews.

Station 2: “The News” 

Mary speaking with an angel...

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

Luke 1:26-35
Many centuries before the time of Jesus’s birth, the Hebrew prophets had given many promises about his coming. One of those promises, found in the Old Testament book of 2 Samuel, was a promise to Israels king, David, that God would some day raise up a king to sit on his throne and that this king would rule over the people of Israel forever. When the proper time for the fulfillment of these ancient promises arrived, God began to work to bring these events to pass. He therefore sent one of His messengers, an angel named Gabriel, to announce to a virgin named Mary that the time had arrived for this promised king to be born. 

When Angel Gabriel brought this announcement to Mary, he made several statements to her that told her that the fulfillment of certain of God’s promises was at hand. The angel’s statement that God would give her child the throne of his father David told her that her child would be the long expected king who had been promised to her fore-father, King David. His statement that she would conceive in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit told her that her child would be of divine as well as human origins. And his statement that her child would rule over the house of Jacob - also one of her ancient ancestors and one of Israel’s founding fathers - forever, told her that her child would be the long expected Messiah. 

The news that she would conceive in  her womb also posed a problem for her. She was betrothed to be married to her fiancé Joseph, and was a virgin. What would happen to her if this promise from the Angel came to pass and she, a young Jewish maiden from a small Jewish town, became pregnant while not yet married? Moses’ Law allowed for the public shaming of such women. How could she face the potential shame? 

We do not know what thoughts went through Mary’s mind as she faced the negative prospects her conception of this promised child might bring. What we do know is this: After hearing the Angels announcement and after asking a clarifying question, she said to the angel, “Be it done to me according to your word”. Station number two pictures this historic event.

Station 3: “The Dream” 

An angel standing next to Joseph who is asleep in bed...

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:18-21
In our time, women and men become engaged at some point before being married in either a civil or religious marriage ceremony. In the first century though, the practice among the Jewish people was different. A prospective bride would first be betrothed to her future husband through a ceremony which was similar to our wedding ceremony. The betrothal united the bride and her fiancé in marriage. This was followed by a waiting period of from three months to one year while the groom prepared a place for his bride, usually in his father’s house. During this time of waiting the bride and groom did not consummate their marriage. Nevertheless, a betrothal was legally binding and could only be ended by the death of one of the parties, or by divorce. It was during this waiting period, between Mary’s betrothal to Joseph and their time of consummation, that she was found pregnant. 

In Joseph’s mind, Mary, his betrothed, had surely been unfaithful to him; and it is quite possible that he thought that her explanation - that her child was of the Holy Spirit - was her attempt to deflect attention off of her unfaithfulness to him. But what should he do? He could publicly shame her, which would lead to severe punishment, or he could choose not to put her to open shame and simply divorce her quietly. It was as he was contemplating these things that he had a dream. In his dream an angel of the Lord spoke to him and assured him that his betrothed, Mary, had not been unfaithful to him. Rather, the child she carried was indeed of the Holy Spirit. Her child would be male - a son - and the angel even told him what to name her child - Jesus, for he would ‘save his people from their sins’. Joseph awoke, and took Mary as his wife, as the angel had said to him. This third station depicts the angel speaking to Joseph as he was sleeping, about these things.

Stations 4 + 5: “The Journey”

Mary on a donkey with Joseph leading them towards the town of Bethlehem...

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.

Luke 2:1-5
In the eighth century B.C. a Hebrew prophet named Micah brought a message from God to Judah. In his message he prophesied where the birth place of the Christ would be when he proclaimed. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming and going forth is from of old, even from everlasting.”  Around seven hundred years later this ancient prophecy was fulfilled as God worked providentially through the most powerful ruler in the then known world. The fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy came about like this:

Caesar Augustus, who reigned over the Roman Empire from 30 B.C. to 19 August A.D. 14, made a decree around A. D. 6, that the whole empire be registered and taxed. For this to take place every head of household had to return to the city of their birth in order to have their name, occupation, property and kindred recorded. The information recorded in the registries would then enable the ruling authorities to levy taxes across the whole of the Roman Empire. Because Joseph had been born in Bethlehem, he traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, taking the pregnant Mary with him. They made this journey of approximately 70 miles overland and on foot. There was no rapid transit - no planes, trains, autos or airplanes in those days. Needless to say, after many long hours over the course of a few days, Joseph, with his tired and very pregnant wife Mary, finally arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral home. Station 4 depicts the journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Station 5 is symbolic of the little village of Bethlehem, where Jesus would be born. 

Station 6: “No Room” 

The only keeper turning Joseph away in front of an Inn...

...there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:7b
Bethlehem, which is located south of Jerusalem, is a city of approximately 30,000 people today. In Joseph and Mary’s day it was smaller. An estimate of the city’s normal population at that time is from 300 to 1,000 people. The population had increased considerably however, as a result of the many pilgrims who had returned there because of the census. By the time Mary and Joseph arrived it was difficult for them to find lodging and the time for Mary to give birth was at hand. 

Tradition teaches that as a result, Joseph found lodging in an animal stable, where Mary gave birth, using a manger - also known as a feed trough for livestock - as a cradle. Another possibility, given the hospitality practices of the day, the likelihood that Joseph had relatives in his ancestral town of Bethlehem, and the way homes were configured in those days suggests a different scenario. Village homes in Palestine at the time of Jesus’s birth were made up of a large family room, guests rooms at one end of the house or on the roof, and another room at the opposite end of the house where animals were kept. This area for animals could be labeled an attached stable. It is possible that, instead of finding no room “in the Inn”, there was no guest room available in one of the homes of one of Joseph’s family members. If this was indeed the case, Mary would have given birth in the large family room of a relatives home, eating her newborn baby in a manger. Whichever the case, she wrapped her baby, Jesus, in swaddling cloths, as she laid him down after he was born. Station 6 depicts the traditional understanding of Jesus’s birth.

Station 7 “The shepherds”

An angel appearing to shepherds...

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:8-12
The birth of Jesus did not take place with pomp and circumstance. Jesus was born in obscurity in the little village of Bethlehem. His birth was announced however. It was first announced to the most unlikely of people - a group of shepherds who were out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks.  

The significance of the angelic announcement of Jesus’s birth to a group of shepherds is captured by one scholar of ancient Middle Eastern society. Kenneth Bailey observes, “The first people to hear the message of the birth of Jesus were a group of shepherds who were at the bottom of the social scale. The shepherds heard and were afraid. Initially, they were probably frightened by the angel, but later they were asked to visit the child. From their point of view, if the child was truly the Messiah the parents would reject them if they tried to visit them. They might be told “Unclean shepherds, be gone!” The angel therefore gave them a sign to reassure them. They were told they would find a baby wrapper in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. That was how peasant families wrapped their babies when they were born; and the fact that the child was to be in a manger communicated to them that the parents were in a peasant home, just like theirs. These statements on the part of the announcing angel gave good news to these shepherds. It also proclaims good news to all who, like the shepherds, are also considered to be own the fringes of polite society. The good news of Jesus was and is for all people, in the same way it was good news to those shepherds long ago. Station 7 depicts the angelic announcement to the shepherds. 

Station 8: “Heavenly Host” 

A group of angels singing...

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.

Luke 2:13-16
When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, they were told of good news of great joy which would be for all people. The angel continued by saying that there had been born to them - the shepherds - that very day in the city of David a Savior, who was Christ, the Lord. After completing this announcement, the angel who had made it was suddenly joined by a whole multitude of angels who were praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest. and on earth peace, good will toward men”. The announcing angel along with the angelic multitude disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. After they went away into heaven, the shepherds went to Bethlehem to see the child that the angel had told them about. Station 8 represents this event in the Christmas story.

Station 9: “The cross”

Two shepherd boys bowing at the cross...

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5
The next station in our Christmas journey is a large cross with two shepherd boys kneeling beside it. The cross was not a part of the events surrounding the birth of the child Jesus to Mary and Joseph so long ago. The cross is significant, nonetheless, and appears here as the ninth station, included because Jesus, after reaching adulthood, would fulfill a part of His mission by dying on a cross. 

You may recall that when an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph to instruct him to take Mary as his wife though she was already pregnant, that same angel had told Joseph to name the child Jesus. The name Jesus, or Yeshua, the short form of the name Yehoshua, means “God saves”. Jesus was born in order to save HIs people from their sins. He eventually accomplished this by dying as an atoning sacrifice. His death took place on an infamous Roman cross. It took place as it did because God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but so that the world might be saved through Him. It was these glad tidings which is the good news for all people. Our hope is for all people to trust Jesus and realize the good news that came into the world through Him.

Station 10: “The Manger”

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 laid him in a manger...

Luke 2:6-7a
Our final station depicts Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in the manger. This now famous scene was the beginning of Jesus’s story. If you would like to learn more about Jesus and what took place after he was born, we hope you will take the time to read about Him in the Bible. His story is told in four historic books known as gospels; titled Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Thank you for visiting and for traveling through this journey of lights. May God bless you and your this Christmas!!
Source Materials

The source for the historic and cultural information found in this booklet are from the following works:

Bailey, Kenneth, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, 2008

Edwards, James R., The Gospel according to Luke, 2015

Geldenhuys, Norval, The Gospel of Luke, 1983

MacArthur, John, Matthew 1-7, 1985

Holy Bible, English Standard Version