As the Christmas season dawns, it brings with it many traditions and celebrations. We adorn our trees and houses with twinkling lights and hang stockings and ornaments in pride of place. In the midst of all of our festivities, we are also invited to reflect and remember what precisely we are celebrating.
For many church traditions, the period of time leading up to Christmas is known as Advent. It is a time to pause—to refamiliarize ourselves with the scriptures and Bible verses recounting the story of Jesus’ birth. We center ourselves upon Jesus Christ, our ultimate hope, and allow the wonder and joy of the Christmas story to comfort and encourage us. Let us turn our attention to some of the most well-known Bibles verses related to the Christmas story, exploring how each account of the birth of Jesus illuminates the significance of the holiday.
The Christmas Story Foretold
As we anticipate Christ’s birth during the Advent season, we are reminded of all those who awaited the coming Messiah before us. Indeed, as we read our Bibles before we ever get to the Gospel writers and their Nativity accounts, we find allusions to Jesus’ birth in the words of the Old Testament prophets. Not only to these prophets foretell what was to come, but they offered an incredible promise for who Christ Jesus would be ("And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."). Through the prophetic words of Isaiah, Zechariah, and others, we feel the excitement born of awaiting the Lord Jesus and we are invited to witness the powerful and restorative work that God has intended for Creation since the very beginning.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.”
“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.”
The Christmas Story in the Gospels
Of course, if we are to look in-depth at the story of Christmas in the Bible, the majority of our attention will rightly be given to the Gospels. The four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—all tell the story of Jesus Christ and his life and ministry.
While all of the Gospels tell the same overarching story, they each approach their account slightly differently, emphasizing and highlighting different elements about who Jesus is and what he came to accomplish. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they provide a synopsis or narrative account of Jesus’ life and ministry. The Gospel of John is set apart with its broader theological focus and is less concerned with providing a straightforward narrative of events. Of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke both recount the story of the birth of Jesus. Mark, the shortest of the Gospels and fast-paced, bypasses recounting the Nativity and dives straight into Jesus’ ministry as an adult.
We’ll consider the key features and details of each version of the Christmas story, pondering how each account helps to enrich our understanding of this season.
Bible Verses From Matthew’s Nativity Account
Matthew begins his Nativity account and indeed his Gospel with a close examination of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Beginning with Abraham, Matthew outlines Jesus’ entire lineage, at last concluding with verse 1:16, “and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.” Through this family tree, Matthew establishes Jesus as the long-awaited Savior. From God’s covenant with Abraham to the restoration worked through Boaz and Ruth to the preservation and elevation of King David, we see the fingerprints of the good and beautiful plan that God enacts for the world. And we come to understand that all of it has been leading here, to Jesus’ birth.
In addition to providing us with Jesus’ genealogy, Matthew also dedicates a significant portion of his account to Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father and husband to be of his mother, Mary. Where in Luke’s Nativity account Joseph takes much more of a background role, here we are given insight into how Joseph processed and understood the events of Jesus’ birth.
Here too, Matthew takes to opportunity to once again point back to what has come before, the words of the prophets, emphasizing Jesus’ role as the fulfillment of what was foretold. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means “God with us)” (Matthew 1:22-23).
It is also in the Gospel of Matthew that we learn of the Magi traveling to meet and worship the baby Jesus. Referred to colloquially as the Wise Men or the Three Kings, the Magi were learned men who correctly interpreted the signs and journeyed laboriously to glorify the Christ child. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him’” (Matthew 2:1-2).
Their inclusion by Matthew demonstrates the scope of Jesus’s mission and ministry of salvation, expanding beyond national borders or ethnic identity. The hope of Christmas is for all people. And as we see from the response of King Herod, it is a much-needed hope. Upon hearing the news that the Christ child had been born, Matthew tells us that Herod flew into a jealous rage and plotted to have the child (and any other in his way) killed. The terror and tragedy of Herod’s actions reinforce how desperately humanity needs the peace and restoration of Christ Jesus.
Bible Verses From Luke’s Nativity Account
If Matthew’s Gospel highlighted Joseph and his experiences throughout the Nativity story, Luke emphasizes Mary. Recounting the Annunciation—when the angel Gabriel told Mary she would be the mother of Jesus—in Luke 1:26-38, Luke’s account invites us into Mary’s thoughts and processing of this life-altering event. Mary's declaration, "I am the Lord's servant," in the face of the angel's shocking news illustrates a resolute faithfulness and a willingness to put her trust fully in God.
We are given even more insight from the Magnificat or the song Mary sings while pregnant with Jesus. With the knowledge that she will give birth to a son who is to be the Savior of all people, Mary rejoices that God has included her in the redemptive plan.
“And Mary said:
‘My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.’” (Luke 1: 46-49)
Luke’s account also provides us with more context for the birth of Jesus itself. Indeed, many of the key details we associate with the Christmas story come out of Luke’s Gospel. It is here that we find the journey to Bethlehem, the inn without vacancy, and the manger turned cradle.
Additionally, Luke chapter 2 begins with this context: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register” (Luke 2:1-3). Once again, we are reminded of the need for a Savior. Where Matthew highlights the terrors of violence and abuse, Luke places his account within the framework of economic hardship and imperial oversight. The promise that Jesus will bring the earth peace is Good News indeed.
Here in Luke 2, we see perhaps the most well-known of the Christmas Bible passages. Immortalized in countless carols and recited in classic Christmas specials, Luke 2:8-20 tells the story of the angels declaring the Good News of Christmas to a group of Shepherds. “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’”
As we read of the shepherds’ shock and awe and the angels praising God, the majesty of Christmas comes into full view. There is so much to celebrate. Jesus is our good and perfect gift and his love is for us all—from shepherds to kings.
As we celebrate the Christmas season there is so much to learn and reflect upon the Bible verses declaring Jesus’ birth. The coming of Christ—God taking on humanity to live among us—is an incredible and miraculous gift. As we read these passages from Scripture we come to understand the magnitude of what God has done and continues to do for all of creation. Drawing closer to these verses reinvigorates our keeping of this holiday season; we experience the hope and great joy of the Nativity from a whole new perspective.