How Did They Pray at the First Christmas?

7 ways to emulate the angels, magi, shepherds and others who prayed at the manger in Bethlehem

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First Christmas

There is so much to do as Christmas approaches: shopping, cooking, wrapping, traveling. It can be hard to fit prayer into such a busy schedule. But it was probably no different on the first Christmas. Yet with all that was going on in that story, prayer was a central part of it. So, however busy your next few days may be, you can still approach the manger on your knees by imitating one or more of the prayer secrets of those first participants:

1)  Listen
Joseph is mentioned in the Gospel accounts of the nativity, but nowhere is he quoted. The story of the angel appearing to Joseph in Matthew 1:18-25 records the angel’s words to Joseph in a dream. But there is no record of a response. From all indications, Joseph’s prayer was a listening prayer. Yours can be too. Try it. Carve out a few moments to be still and listen. 

2)  Surrender
Luke’s Gospel says that the angel Gabriel told Mary that she had been chosen to give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. Her response: “I am the Lord’s servant…. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38, NIV). As shocking and demanding as the news was, she replied with a prayer of submission and surrender. What a beautiful Christmas prayer! So, what prayer of surrender can you offer this Christmas? 

3)  Praise
The angels who appeared in the sky over Bethlehem present a fine example for our prayers during this season. After an angel announced the Messiah’s birth nearby, the Bible says, “A great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:13-14, NIV). How can you pray like an angel this Christmas? By praising and giving glory to God. 

4)  Share
The shepherds who learned of Jesus’ birth from angels searched and found the baby lying in a manger. Then, the Gospel of Luke says, “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17, NIV). Similarly, your Christmas prayer can be a note, a call or a visit to someone, sharing the good news of Jesus and his love for them.

5)  Give
Matthew’s Gospel records the star-guided journey of the magi to the manger: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11, NIV). You can pray like the magi by giving—maybe by praying as you wrap each present, or by praying as you present your gifts to their recipients, or by offering a gift of some kind to Jesus.

6)  Bless
Simeon is one of the lesser known participants in the story of the first Christmas. Eight days after Jesus was born, His parents took Him to the Temple, as the Law of Moses required. Simeon was there, and he prayed:

“‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
    a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.’

          “The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them” (Luke 2:29-33, NIV).

So, why not pray like Simeon this Christmas and bless those around you with a prayer—perhaps for healing, hope or some other form of blessing.

7)  Thank
The prophetess Anna was also in the Temple when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus. Luke relates, “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38, NIV). So, you can pray like Anna by giving thanks to God—for His Son, your life, your family and more.  

These are not the only ways to approach the manger on your knees, but they provide a vivid and helpful pattern. Try them. You may wish to focus on one each day for the coming week. Or use them as a prayer pattern with family as you gather for your Christmas feast. Whatever you do, make prayer a central part of your celebration, as it was on that first Christmas.

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