December 21

The Geography of Christmas

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. Luke 2:4

I like maps. Maps don’t scold me when I make a wrong turn like my GPS does. Maps just quietly show me the right way.

I also like a good set of Bible maps in each Sunday school room. In Sunday school teachers’ meetings, I always pointed out the geographical location of cities, countries, rivers, lakes, oceans, mountains, and so on, for each of the Bible stories for the coming weeks of Sunday school.


Maps show geographical details. Geographical details help establish the historical reality of all the stories of the Bible.

Why does Luke mention the geographical details of the birth of Jesus?

Nazareth, Galilee, Judea, Bethlehem, and Judah are not make-believe cities and countries from a make-believe story. Luke mentions these places so that we remember that the story of Jesus’ birth is a real story with real people going to real places. The Christmas story is a real story of how God took away the punishment of hell through the birth of Jesus.

Nazareth, Galilee, Judea, and Bethlehem are real places that can still be located on a map.

The geographical details of the Christmas story are real. So, the details of Jesus’ story are real. So, the truths of the Christmas story are real. Mary was a virgin. Jesus was the Son of the Most High God who became man through the miracle of the virgin birth. Jesus was a man so he could suffer and die for your many sins. Jesus was God so his suffering death could atone for all your sins and for the sins of the world.

The Word became flesh: the historical reality of Christmas.

God the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to include the geographical details of Jesus’ birth to help us remember this is a real story about real places with real people. The geographical details help us to rejoice that the forgiveness of our sin is also real, and our future home in heaven is a real place.

Dear Jesus, though the world sees Christmas as a quaint story, help me to remember that it is a real story with real people and real places so that I rejoice that my forgiveness is real and my home in heaven is also a real place. Amen.

Rev. Joel Thomford serves Martin Luther College as an admissions counselor.