The Gospel of John poetically declares, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
"The Word" refers to the Son, who since eternity past has lived in heaven. The Word for a brief 33 years also "tabernacled" among us.
John explains, "The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."
During the Christmas season, Christians around the world read the Gospel narrative recounting how Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem where Christ, the Messiah, was born in a humble stable some 2,000 years ago.
Christians accept, by faith, the truths recorded in the birth account. Jeremy Howard, editor of Bibles and reference books for the B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources and Ph.D. graduate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, points to many reasons Christians can be sure the Christmas story is true.
CHRIST & THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Old Testament contains verses that point directly to Christ's virgin birth, Howard noted.
The strongest evidence comes from Isaiah 7-9: The Immanuel prophecy begins in Isaiah 7:14 when the Lord speaks to Ahaz through Isaiah and says, "Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign; The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel."
Micah 5:2 also points to Christ's birth, Howard continued. The verse reads, "Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me. His origin is from antiquity, from eternity."
"God is speaking about His future plans to bring peace and righteous rule to His people," Howard said. "This is how He's going to do it: A ruler is going to come from Bethlehem. What is peculiar about this verse is that it says, 'His origin is from antiquity, from eternity.' Clearly, this birth is pointing beyond the natural. It extends to the supernatural. The evidence shows that the Messiah will be more than a mere man."
Christ's birth was not just a random event, Howard said; in fact, first-century Jews were looking for Messiah, literally "the anointed one."
"We see evidences of the expectation of Christ in several extra-biblical resources," Howard said. The first evidence is the Dead Sea Scrolls, documents that originated about 100 B.C. "Throughout the Dead Sea Scrolls, you see references to the coming Messiah," Howard said.
The second set of evidence, Howard said, comes from the writings of Josephus and Philo, first-century scholars who discuss the expectation of Messiah.
Finally, the rabbinic literature from the second century A.D. onward reveals that Jews were waiting for Messiah.
"The first-century Jews mostly seem to be awaiting a political figure," Howard said. "The 400 years before Christ's birth, Israel was a subjected nation, so Jews were looking for a political kingdom."
By and large, Jesus did not fulfill the expectations of the Jewish people, Howard said. "Mostly, they had the wrong expectations," he said. "We see that even the disciples did not have a clear perception of Jesus. They struggled when Jesus accepted the faith of Gentiles and associated with sinners. These were expectations that confused the disciples and onlookers."
CHRIST & THE NEW TESTAMENT
The early date of the Gospels and the eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus are both key to validating the birth narrative, Howard said.
"We know that the Book of Mark was written 20 years after the ascension of Christ, and Luke might have followed about 10 years later," Howard said. "So 30 years from the time Christ was crucified, resurrected and ascended to heaven we have at least two of the Gospels written and starting to circulate. That puts the disciples at about 60 years of age, assuming they were contemporary with Jesus."
Living and intact memory, Howard explained, confirms the validity of the birth account.
"Intact memory means that from the time Jesus ascended into heaven, guys such as Matthew, Mark, Luke and Peter devoted themselves to spreading the message of Christ," Howard said. "They did not have the opportunity to forget what happened. They told the stories day in and day out."
Living memory refers to the eyewitnesses of the events of Christ.
"If the Gospel writers tried to fabricate the stories of Christ, there would have been many eyewitnesses who would have called them into account," Howard said. "The fact that the Gospels were penned and helped spread Christianity so quickly is proof that the writers were telling the truth."
CHRIST & THE 21ST CENTURY
Faith is substantial and sustainable, Howard said, concerning the reliability of the birth narrative.
"I've spent many years studying Scripture and asking the hard questions of the faith," he said. "What I've discovered, time after time and case after case, is that there is no criticism, no fact or reality that calls into question what we believe. We stand firmly on the Word of God. It has survived many criticisms for many centuries and in this day and age, I think more than ever before, we are equipped with solid answers for the challenging questions that come against us."