When we think of Christmas, certain thoughts and images instantly come to mind. Familiar sights, sounds, flavors, colors, and words each resonate with impressions of the season. This collection of Christmas words contains terms specifically associated with the Christian faith.
Incidentally, the word Christmas is derived from the Old English expression Cristes Maesse, meaning “Christ’s mass” or “Mass of Christ.”
The distinctly Christmas word Advent comes from the Latin adventus, which means “arrival” or “coming,” particularly of something having great importance. Advent denotes the season of preparation before Christmas, and for many Christian denominations it marks the beginning of the church year. During Advent, Christians make themselves spiritually ready for the coming or birth of Jesus Christ.
Angels played a major role in the Christmas story. First, the angel Gabriel appeared to the newly engaged Mary to announce that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Next, just after her husband-to-be, Joseph, was stunned with the news of Mary’s pregnancy, an angel appeared to him in a dream, explaining that the child in Mary’s womb was conceived by the Spirit of God, that his name would be Jesus and that he was the Messiah. And, of course, a great host of angelic beings appeared to shepherds near Bethlehem to announce that the Savior had been born.
The prophet Micah foretold that Messiah, Jesus Christ, would be born in the humble town of Bethlehem. And just as he prophesied, it came to pass. Joseph, being from the family line of King David, was required to return to his hometown of Bethlehem to register for a census decreed by Caesar Augustus. While in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus.
One census in the Bible held an important role in our Savior’s birth. Yet, there are several other censuses recorded in Scripture. The book of Numbers, for example, acquired its name from the two military censuses taken of the people of Israel. Learn the biblical meaning of census and discover where each numbering took place.
The word Immanuel, first mentioned by the prophet Isaiah, means “God is with us.” Isaiah predicted that a savior would be born of a virgin and would live with his people. More than 700 years later, Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled that prophecy when he was born in a stable in Bethlehem.
Epiphany, also called “Three Kings Day” and “Twelfth Day,” is commemorated on January 6. The word epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation” and is commonly linked in Western Christianity with the visit of the wise men (Magi) to the Christ child. This holiday falls on the twelfth day after Christmas, and for some denominations signals the conclusion of the twelve days of the Christmas season.
Frankincense is the gum or resin of the Boswellia tree, used for making perfume and incense. The English word frankincense comes from a French expression meaning “free incense” or “free burning.” But when the wise men brought frankincense to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, it was certainly not free. Rather, this gift was a very costly and precious substance, and it held special significance. Frankincense predicted the unique role the ascended Jesus would play in heaven, on behalf of humanity.
The Christmas angel, Gabriel, was chosen by God to announce the birth of the long-anticipated Messiah, Jesus Christ. First, he visited Zechariah, the Father of John the Baptist, to let him know that his wife Elizabeth would miraculously give birth to a son. They were to name the baby John, and he would lead the way to the Messiah. Later, Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary.
Hallelujah is an exclamation of praise and worship transliterated from two Hebrew words meaning “Praise ye the Lord.” Although the expression has become quite popular today, it was used rather sparingly in the Bible. Nowadays, hallelujah is recognized as a Christmas word thanks to German composer George Frideric Handel(1685-1759). His timeless “Hallelujah Chorus” from the masterpiece oratorio has become one of the best-known and widely loved Christmas presentations of all time.
Our Christmas word list would not be complete without the inclusion of Jesus Christ–the precise reason for the Christmas season. The name Jesus is derived from the Hebrew-Aramaic word Yeshua, meaning “Yahweh [the Lord] is salvation.” The name Christ is actually a title for Jesus. It comes from the Greek word Christos, meaning “the Anointed One,” or “Messiah” in Hebrew.
Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was a major player in the Christmas story. The Bible says Joseph was a righteous man, and certainly, his actions surrounding the birth of Jesus revealed a great deal about his strength of character and integrity. Could this be why God honored Joseph, choosing him to be Messiah’s earthly father?
The Three Kings, or Magi, followed a mysterious star to find the young Messiah, Jesus Christ. God warned them in a dream that the child might be murdered, and told them how to protect him. Beyond this, very few details are given about these men in the Bible. Most of our ideas about them actually come from tradition or speculation. Scripture does not reveal how many wise men there were, but it is generally assumed three, since they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was only a young girl, probably just 12 or 13, when the angel Gabriel came to her. She had recently become engaged to a carpenter named Joseph. Mary was an ordinary Jewish girl looking forward to marriage when suddenly her life changed forever. A willing servant, Mary trusted God and obeyed his call–perhaps the most important calling ever given to a human being.
Myrrh was an expensive spice used in ancient times for making perfume, incense, medicine, and for anointing the dead. It appears three times in the life of Jesus Christ. At his birth, it was one of the costly gifts presented to Jesus by the wise men. Learn a few facts about myrrh, a mysterious spice from the Bible.
The word Nativity comes from the Latin term nativus, which means “born.” It refers to the birth of a person and also the facts of their birth, such as the time, place, and situation. The Bible mentions the nativity of several prominent characters, but today the term is used primarily in connection with the birth of Jesus Christ. At Christmas time “nativity sets” are commonly used to depict the manger scene where Jesus was born.
A mysterious star played an unusual role in the Christmas story. The Gospel of Matthew tells how wise men from the East traveled thousands of miles doggedly following a star to the place of Jesus’ birth. When they found the child with his mother, they bowed and worshiped the newborn Messiah, presenting him with gifts. To this day, a 14-pointed silver Star of Bethlehem in the Church of the Nativity marks the spot where Jesus was born.
By Mary Fairchild