What is the Christmas story?
As a child growing up I remember very distinctly my dad requiring us to remove the baby Jesus from the manger of our nativity scene. Yep, we took Jesus out of the nativity scene. (I must note that we did keep him wrapped up in his bubble cushioning and his porcelain body was not damaged in any way!!)His reasoning, which seems a lot sounder to me now, was that Jesus did not come to be worshipped in a manger. He wanted to be correct in his portrayal of the meaning of Jesus’ birth. In fact there were a few years when we had to place the wise men on a separate shelf or across the room so that we weren’t confused as to whether they were actually present at the birth of Christ or not. When I went back for a visit this past weekend I noticed that the baby Jesus was still not in the manger but if memory serves me correctly it looked like the wise men were really close to the manger. I’m not advocating against common manger scenes or attempting to appear holier than thou but I really do want to ensure that I focus on the meaning of Jesus birth.
Around this time of year you hear people talking of reading the Christmas story to their children. Normally they are speaking of the passage of Luke 2 or they may be speaking of a children’s book which has taken some liberties and attempted to retell the happenings that are recorded in Luke. But how do we tell this story in such a way that we realize and those whom we are telling realize that this was not an isolated incident which we remember in December? As I thought of how I would share the “Christmas story” with the youth this year I wanted them to focus on the overall meaning and reality behind the birth of Christ.
As an avid Facebook user I see so many post; “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” and, “Keep Christ in CHRISTmas.” Go for it folks, but I always want to ask them to explain what they mean. Some would strongly remind me that I should be celebrating Jesus’ birthday. Others would simply stammer that people are trying to steal our Christmas and they are going to ensure that they don’t. Some would certainly know what they mean and others would possibly even point out some areas that I should recognize at Christmas myself. With this in mind I wanted to point out a few things that I love about the Christmas story and why they mean so much to me.
Is the Christmas story just about shepherds and angels? Is it about a full inn and a stable? Or is it about the (three) wisemen and a star? Are we wrong to focus on these things? I think all of these things are part of the Christmas story but it is my prayer that I will remember to focus on a few other things which were just as much a part of Jesus’ birth but seem to be a little overlooked when we reach this time of year. As a side note I must tell you that I love Christmastime. I love giving gifts – and receiving gifts. I love all that surrounds Christmas and while I personally realize that Christmas is somewhat of a formulated holiday I do use this opportunity to remember the wonderful event of Jesus’ birth.
The Christmas story is about a Promise. It is about a Promise which goes all the way back to the first man and woman as they faced their own sinfulness in the Garden of Eden. For in chapter 3 of Genesis God promises to bruise the head of the Serpent who beguiled Eve and this was accomplished by none other than Jesus. This promise is woven all thru Scripture; in fact, Abraham’s offspring is called the seed of Promise. This promise was fulfilled when Mary is told to call her expectant son, Jesus; “for His kingdom shall be without end.” Joseph is also told that the name of the Child would be Jesus; “for He shall save His people from their sins.” This is the promise which Christmas foretells. The Promise was fulfilled, as the Apostle John tells us; “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
I like also to consider those who were present following Jesus’ birth and those who saw Him shortly thereafter. If you have met Jesus how were you impacted? Was your heart filled with great joy such as the shepherds? These same shepherds who trembled in the field when visited by a great choir of angels; “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” These same shepherds then told everyone they saw what they had heard concerning the child, Jesus. Jesus’ birth immediately brought joy to those who knew what was happening.
Not only were the shepherds impacted but there are two others who were present at the Temple when Mary and Joseph went to present a sacrifice for the firstborn child. Simeon, a devout man who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah, needed no introduction to Who Jesus was when He was brought into the Temple. With vision beyond his physical eyes Simeon made this proclamation concerning who Jesus was: Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. Jesus’ birth brought fulfillment to Simeon. A devout man declared himself ready for death now that he had seen the Messiah, the one who would save the Jews not from the Romans but rather from their own sins.
Anna, hearing the proclamation of Simeon, recognized that this was the Messiah and gave thanks to God. Not only did she give thanks to God but she then told those who came to pray for redemption of this child. She too recognized that this child was the fulfillment of the promises which had been made throughout Scripture. Jesus’ birth gave her a continued mission as she told others of the Messiah who had been born.
I love the shepherds. I love the angels singing. I even love the story of the (3) wisemen, but we must remember that the story doesn’t start or end there. This is a greater story. This is a story of man’s sinfulness, and the awesome justice of God which separated man from God forever. This is a story of a merciful God, and the life of His Son which was offered as the only payment for the sins of man. This is the story of eternity and the reality that this world is not all that there is to life, there is something greater yet to come – Eternity with God.