God sent an angel to prepare the parents of John, who would be the prophesied messenger to come before Jesus. God told Joseph to take Mary as his wife because her baby was from the Holy Spirit and he would be the Savior. Then God arranged for Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem. It was there, in the city of David, that Jesus was born.
This devotional series from Answers Bible Curriculum is a great classroom activity. If you are not in a class, find a few friends or family members to read through the lessons and play the Bible standoff game with you.
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.” Luke 2:10–11
Christmas is a holiday that requires some preparation. We usually prepare our homes by cleaning and decorating them, putting up lights, and setting up a Christmas tree. We prepare special baked goodies and treats. And the big one is preparing gifts to give to friends and family!
Handmade gifts can take more time to prepare than buying something online or at the store. People often like to receive something handmade, though, because it shows you cared enough to spend a little more time.
Most of the time and effort made at Christmas is because of love! Your parents spend time and money to make Christmas special because they love you.
The same is true about God, our heavenly Father. He loved us so much he sent Jesus to earth to die for our sins. And sending his special gift that first Christmas took some preparation, too. But did you know that God started preparing thousands of years before Jesus came?
We talked about some of this in the first lesson. We learned that God first promised to send a Savior way back in Genesis just after Adam and Eve sinned. That was about 4,000 years before Jesus came. Through the years, God promised Abraham and David that the Savior would be born from their descendants, and he told many prophets different things to write about the coming Savior so people would have hope as they waited for him.
Then there came a time when there was no word from God for 400 years. The Israelites were waiting for their Savior and King. They hoped he would lead and fight for them to defeat the Romans, who were ruling over them.
Finally, the time came for Jesus to be born as the Savior. Gabriel delivered the message to Mary that she would have a baby by the power of the Holy Spirit. This would be a miracle birth because Mary was a virgin. She understood that her coming baby would be the Son of God just as the prophet Isaiah wrote. Her son would be called Immanuel, which means “God with us.”
Let’s look at some other ways God prepared for the first Christmas. He prepared the parents of a messenger, the parents of Jesus, and even the place of Jesus’ birth. Let’s learn about the messenger first.
Back in the Old Testament, God told the prophet Malachi that he would send a messenger before the Savior. It was a custom of kings back in those times to have a messenger go before them and prepare the way for their visit. This messenger’s purpose would be to tell the people about the coming Savior and prepare the way for him.
This messenger would be a prophet like the Old Testament prophet Elijah. He would boldly preach God’s message of repentance, telling people that God wanted them to turn away from sin and believe in his Son, Jesus, for salvation.
Let’s skip ahead about 400 years after Malachi prophesied about this messenger. Turn to the Gospel of Luke chapter 1. Here Luke introduces an elderly couple from the priestly line of Aaron. Their names were Zechariah and Elizabeth, and they didn’t have any children. Elizabeth was a relative of Mary, Jesus’ mother.
During his time of service as a priest, Zechariah was chosen to enter the temple and burn sweet-smelling incense to the Lord. Read Luke 1:11–17.
An angel appeared to Zechariah. We learn later in this chapter that the angel’s name was Gabriel. He’s the same angel who appeared to Mary.
Remember that Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and didn’t have any children. But they had been praying for a child, and God heard their prayer! They would have a son who would be named John, and he would be filled with the Holy Spirit.
This is just what Malachi wrote about 400 years earlier! God was telling Zechariah, through the angel Gabriel, that his son would be the promised messenger, the prophet who would prepare the way for the Savior.
This was great news! Except . . . Zechariah didn’t exactly believe the angel. He knew that normally, people who were his and Elizabeth’s age couldn’t have children. “How shall I know this?” he asked.
Everything happened just as the angel said! Zechariah and Elizabeth had a baby boy. All their friends and relatives gathered around. They asked, “What will you name him?”
“How about Zechariah after his father,” someone suggested.
But everyone was surprised when Zechariah wrote the words, “His name is John.” Immediately, Zechariah was no longer mute. He could speak again, and he praised God! All the people who heard about these strange events surrounding John’s birth wondered what kind of person he would grow up to be.
God prepared John’s parents by telling them who their son would be and what he would do. John was chosen to be the messenger, later known as John the Baptist, a prophet who would prepare the way for Jesus, the Savior.
So, the parents of the messenger were prepared, and the angel Gabriel also spoke to Mary and prepared her for the birth of Jesus. But there was one more person that needed to be told what was happening.
Joseph found out that Mary was expecting a baby before they were married. This was terrible news to Joseph because he thought she was unfaithful to him with another man.
According to Jewish law, Joseph could have gotten Mary in big trouble, but he loved her very much and didn’t want to hurt her. However, he didn’t want to marry her anymore, so he was thinking about divorcing her quietly.
God sent an angel to speak to Joseph in a dream. What did the angel say about Mary’s baby? He said her baby was from the Holy Spirit. Joseph was probably relieved to learn that Mary’s baby was from the Holy Spirit. But it would also be a great responsibility to be the earthly father of the Son of God! Joseph was obedient. When he woke from his dream, he did what God told him and took Mary to be his wife.
God used an angel to prepare the parents of John and Jesus for the birth of their special sons. Elizabeth and Mary were relatives, and they were both expecting their babies at the same time.
The town where Mary and Joseph lived was called Nazareth, a town in Galilee. But God had told the prophet Micah where the Savior, Jesus, would be born. And guess what—it wasn’t in Nazareth.
Read Micah 5:2, a verse that talks about the Savior who was to come. Jesus would be born in Bethlehem.
In Jesus’ day, the land of Israel was called Palestine. On the map below, can you see how far it is between Nazareth in Galilee and Bethlehem in Judea? They are a long distance apart, about 70 miles! The journey would have taken about four or five long days of walking. We know that Mary was expecting a baby. Walking 70 miles wouldn’t be easy for her. So what do you think would make Mary and Joseph travel all the way to Bethlehem? God had a plan for that, too. Let’s find out what it was.
Read Luke 2:1–7. Caesar was the leader of the Roman Empire, which ruled most of the known world at the time of Jesus’ birth. The Israelites had been conquered by the Romans so they had to obey Roman laws.
Caesar Augustus decided that every man in his kingdom had to return to the town where his family ancestors came from to be registered. The registration was used for taxing people.
Joseph had to go all the way to Bethlehem because that was where his ancestor David was from. Isn’t this interesting? Hundreds of years before this happened, God told the prophet Micah where Jesus would be born. We can see God’s sovereignty in how he controlled events so that Joseph and Mary would travel to Bethlehem at just the right time for Jesus to be born while they were there.
Because Jesus was placed in a manger, many people think that he was born in a stable or a barn. Plus, it says that there was no room for them in the inn. However, the word “inn” in our Bible actually means a guest room in a house.
In those days, homes often had an upstairs guest room and a raised area in the lower level where the family lived and ate their meals. The lowest level of the home was where animals were brought in at night. That was why there was a manger in the house to feed the animals.
Joseph likely had relatives in Bethlehem who invited him and Mary to stay at their home. The guest room was full, so Mary and Joseph stayed in the lower level family area. Since a manger was nearby, Mary used it as a baby’s bed.
You might think God should have prepared a beautiful palace for his Son to be born in. This was just a humble home. But God wanted both poor and rich people to be able to come see Jesus. In the next lesson, we’ll see who came to visit the newborn Savior!
We see an important quality, or attribute, of God in this lesson. It is called sovereignty, which means that God is in complete control of everything. God gave prophecies about the Savior which men wrote down. Then hundreds of years later, these prophecies came true just like God said they would!
Some people try to say that the prophecies in the Old Testament don’t matter, but they do! They show us how God is in complete control of human history. He is faithful to keep his promises. He sent Jesus to be our Savior.
As you prepare for Christmas, what are some ways you can keep in mind the fact that we celebrate because God is in control of everything, including sending his Son to save us from our sins?
In all our excitement and preparation of Christmas, let’s remember how God prepared for Jesus’ birth. Let’s share the reason God sent his Son with others who may not know.
For a fun review of this lesson, play The Preparation of Christmas—Bible Standoff Review Game.