Because I grew up in an observant Jewish home, Christmas was not part of our family celebration. Although I enjoyed the lights, the music, the TV specials, old Christmas movies, and all the general good cheer, I was clear—Chanukah was my celebration; Christmas was for the Gentiles. Although, looking back, I realize there were many aspects of the Christmas celebration that I didn’t understand, nevertheless, there is one part of it that especially confused me. It was in a song that I kept hearing as Christmas carols were played. Over and over, I heard, “Born is the King of Israel.”
I kept asking myself, what in the world does the birth of Jesus have to do with the birth of a Jewish king? And if the Gentiles thought that Jesus was that Jewish king, why did they dislike Jewish people so much? To me, this was the great Christmas mystery.
Years past and I became a follower of Yeshua (Jesus), the Jewish Messiah. Then, I went to Bible college and seminary, and learned church history and the great creeds of the Church. One of the essential truths discussed in the Church councils and Creeds was the incarnation of the Son of God. Of course, that was the purpose of Christmas—to celebrate that God became a man.
But reading the New Covenant scriptures is what ultimately helped me to understand “The First Noel,” with its enigmatic declaration of the birth of Israel’s king. When the New Testament opens, it announces “the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1). Jesus, being the descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is Jewish and being the descendant of David, He is the King of Israel.
When His virgin mother Miriam (her real name) was told that she would bear a son, she was also told, “He will be called great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:32-33). This also indicates that Jesus was born, not just as a human, but as a Jewish human who would be Israel’s greatest King.
And it’s not just in the gospels—it’s also in Romans 9:4-5, where Paul was correcting those who thought the church had replaced Israel and taken over the promises God made to the Jewish people. There he noted that along with all the promises that remained part of God’s gifts to Israel, the ultimate gift was that “from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all.” Christmas celebrates not just that God became a man, but that God became a Jewish man.
Paul thought this truth was so significant that he associated it with the gospel itself. In 2 Timothy 2:8, He reminds us to “keep your attention on Jesus the Messiah as risen from the dead and descended from David. This is according to my gospel.” Paul’s preaching of the gospel included that the risen Messiah remained the King of Israel.
I’m not surprised that the Church’s creeds, while affirming that Jesus was the God-Man neglected to remember that He was really the God-Jewish Man. The Church Fathers’ view that the church had taken over Israel’s promises made the Jewish identity of Jesus difficult for them to grasp. But for those of us who understand the message of the Bible, this is the answer to one of my childhood mysteries. Christmas should be the greatest Jewish celebration possible because we are commemorating the birth of Israel’s promised King. Although I don’t know on what day Jesus was born, December 25 is as good as any to remember that “born is the king of Israel.”
As to my second question, why Gentiles would dislike Jewish people if they’re celebrating the birth of the Jewish king, that remains an enigma. It reminds me of the little poem:
How odd of God
to choose the Jews.
But not so odd
as those who choose
a Jewish God
yet spurn the Jews.
This Christmas, let’s remember that we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus, the King of Israel. Not only do we love Him and joyfully remember His birth, but we ought to love His people as well and stand with them. Our King doesn’t want it any other way.