The story of Christmas and our Christmas hymns and carols tell us about the people who were there? Want to know them better? Keep reading.
Gabriel is one of God’s special angels who identified himself as one “who stands in the presence of God” and as one of God’s angelic messengers. Gabriel appears three times in the Bible by name as he brought messages to the Old Testament prophet Daniel (Daniel 8:16), to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer (Luke 1:19), and to Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26). We may assume Gabriel was the angel who appeared to Joseph in Matthew 1:20 and to the shepherds in Luke 2:9.
The Bible identifies Mary as a young woman who lived in the town of Nazareth near the Sea of Galilee. She was a descendant of King David and believed in God’s Old Testament promises. The angel Gabriel informed Mary that she was to be the mother of Jesus. Baffled by this since she was still a virgin, Mary accepted Gabriel’s explanation that her child was to be the Son of God (Like 2:26). Mary and other women often followed Jesus during his ministry. She was present at his crucifixion and also saw him alive after his resurrection. Mary considered Jesus to be her Savior (Luke 1:47), and there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that she is to be honored in any other way than as the faithful mother of our Lord.
Like Mary, Joseph was a citizen of Nazareth. Also like Mary, he was descended from King David and was a faithful believer. He was a carpenter by trade. Joseph was perplexed when he learned about Mary’s pregnancy but married her as God’s angel instructed him to do. He carefully protected his adopted Son during his youth. It is probable that Joseph and Mary had younger children after Jesus was born, but many assume that Joseph died at some time before Jesus began his ministry at age 30.
Caring for sheep was a common occupation in Bible times and shepherds often stayed outside with their sheep during the grazing season. There is nothing in the Bible about their poverty; they may have been fairly prosperous. There is evidence that sheep destined for sacrifice in the temple received special care, and it is interesting that shepherds tending sacrificial sheep may have been the first to hear of the birth of the Lamb of God.
The famous Christmas carol asks, “Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?” Christian music and art often add animals to the story of Jesus’ birth, but the Bible never mentions animals. Nor does the Bible say that it was winter when Jesus born or that it was cold or that it snowed! We can thank our northern European ancestors for these ideas.
An angel appeared to the shepherds with the news that a Savior had been born. Was that angel the angel Gabriel? The Bible doesn’t say. The Bible does say that a “great company of the heavenly host appeared” to ascribe glory to God and peace to people. How many were there? The Bible speaks of “myriads of angels” and also “myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands.” Could 100,000,000 angels have joined in this choir?
The biblical term for these visitors is Magi, and that word usually describes magicians connected to the pagan gods of Persia (present-day Iran). Whatever their background and training may have been, the Magi observed a new star and followed its lead to what they supposed was a new king in Israel. Despite the carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” there is no evidence they were royalty or even that there were three of them; we only know they brought three gifts. They certainly were not present at Jesus’ birth since they worshiped him in a house, not a stable (Matthew 2:11).