December 14

The Deep History of Christmas

God sent the angel Gabriel . . . to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. Luke 1:26-27

Early in his reign, King David decided to build a temple in Jerusalem. It would be God’s beautiful, symbolic home among his people. But the Lord declined the offer. He had in mind to build David a house. God promised David a house not of wood and stone, but of flesh and blood, descendants to sit on his throne forever.

But “forever” seemed to last only a few centuries, as David’s line steadily declined in piety, prestige, and power. A handful of good kings bucked the trend, but never with lasting effect. David’s Israel soon split in half. Thereafter his sons ruled the southern stub, Judah. Finally Babylon wrecked Judah and took captive Judah’s last king with all his subjects who mattered. So collapsed the house of David. Though a remnant of the people did return, Judah was never—except briefly—again a sovereign country.

And never again did a son of David sit on an earthly throne. So much for forever. A mere thousand years after God’s promise, the legal heir to David’s throne lived in Nazareth, 90 miles from Jerusalem and centuries removed from regal splendor. This son of kings was a carpenter named Joseph.

Joseph was engaged to Mary, a virgin also descended from David, though through a largely different branch of David’s family. The angel Gabriel told Mary that she would, by the Holy Spirit’s miracle, give birth to a son, God’s Son too. Jesus would reign forever on David’s throne over Israel, a kingdom—as Jesus would say just before his death—not of this world, but rather a spiritual kingdom of all who believe in him as Savior.

God’s Son came to the womb of Mary, a virgin descended from sinners—some notorious (think of Lot, Judah, Ahab, Manasseh, and, yes, David)—to take on our flesh and blood. Through Mary, Jesus became our sinless brother to live and die and save. Through Joseph, his legal earthly father, came title to David’s throne. Through the virgin and the carpenter, God fulfilled his promise to David of a throne lasting forever, a promise he made and kept not just for David, but also for you.

Gracious God, thank you for making me a citizen of Jesus’ eternal kingdom. Keep me loyal to my King. In his name. Amen.

Rev. Daniel Balge serves Martin Luther College as a professor of Greek and German.