I am one of those people who rolls his eyes when he hears Jingle Bells in August. I choose the "skip when shuffling" check box on my iTunes for my large collection of Christmas music on my iPods. And lights and decorations don't go up until, well, usually a week before Christmas.
Am I Ebeneezer Scrooge? Not in the least. I LOVE Christmas. It is most certainly my favorite time of year. I just prefer to keep it in that time of the year, just so that all the splendor and joy of the season stays special and unique, something to look forward to.
Maybe the trees and wrapping paper can stay in the season, but unfortunately, usually so does the message.
Every year, around Thanksgiving, radio stations start changing over to Christmas music (because really no one has come up with any good Thanksgiving music), and the malls and stores start heralding in the now quite politically-correct Navidad. And suddenly, the story of Jesus' birth comes back to our memories. Thoughts of Mary and Joseph riding on a camel in the heavy December snow and the joyous, worshipful celebration of the shepherds and the three wise men over the newborn baby bring pleasing thoughts to our mind.
In reality, the true story of Mary and Joseph arriving to a place that had a manger sometime in late-September gets forgotten the rest of the year. People don't understand the significance of the shepherds who came to see the newborn Christ and the two to twenty Magi who showed up as much as two years later. Growing up in the church and around all things Christmas, it became quite the ritual to celebrate the holiday. I mean, Jesus was born! But obviously, Jesus birth did not save me of my sins. His death and resurrection did, which is why we really should place more emphasis on Easter than Christmas. So why is Christ's birth such a big deal that the Roman Catholic Church turned the observance of the event into the most multi-culturally significant celebration in human history?
Three reasons. Three really important reasons.
- Coming of Messiah — Jesus was born as a Jew in the Jewish culture. He was born into a people group who had previously been chosen by God as a special people with whom He could abide. Unfortunately, as the books of the Judges, Kings, and Chronicles clearly demonstrate, the nation as a whole turned away from God. His patience was finally worn out after several hundred years, and they were thrown into exile into foreign lands. After God allowed for the people to return to their promised Israel, the people of Israel began to become prominent in that area again, though always under rule of somebody else. Jesus came at a time when there was relative peace in the area, but it was a peace that was forced by Roman control. God had promised through Moses and the prophets that the Coming One, the Messiah, would come and bring freedom to His people. Jesus' coming was that promise fulfilled to the Jews, but since they were so short-sighted, they couldn't see beyond their desire for political freedom to see the true spiritual freedom that Jesus sought to bring. And ironically, it was partially their disappointment in Jesus not overthrowing Roman rule that led to the Crucifixion that brought salvation to the whole world.
- Other Flocks — There is a special significance in the shepherds and the Magi. Shepherds weren't the most well-to-do folks in the Jewish world, but they were actually quite well-respected due to the fact that the sheep they were raising were used for the sacrifices required by the Mosaic Law. But they were still ordinary, random Jewish people. Meanwhile, the Magi weren't kings but were a form of wise men from some foreign land. They came to see a king, but they also seemed to personally know that they were seeing someone more significant to the world than anything they could imagine. But do you see an interesting correlation here? Messiah, the Hebrew word for Christ, was a very Jewish concept. And for most of history, the Law had only been given for the Jews to try to be right with God. But although Jesus came first to the Jews, His ultimate goal was to bring all nations into his fold. The shepherds represented the Jews, while the wise men represented the Gentiles, which basically means every one of us who are not Jews. Both groups were given the sign, and both came to worship before their King. And because of the love and sacrifice of that King, we all have access to God and eternal salvation.
- With God — Although God had revealed Himself in a way to the Jews before Christ came, it wasn't a complete revelation. God gave the Law to Israel to show them and the world a way of living that, if absolutely kept without fail, could provide a way of salvation. Many ancient people had faith, but there proved to be absolutely no way anyone could possibly keep that standard. And God knew this full well, which is why the Law was given. Different than what people may have told you, it is impossible for anyone to ever humanly attain perfection. Because of our inherent sin, there was no way God could actually allow us in His holy presence because, put quite simply, we would die. So the Tabernacle/Temple was given by God so that He could be with His people, but they couldn't be in His very presence. Jesus came so that we as humans could actually be in His presence, but to an even deeper extent than what it would have been like if the people had been allowed in that Most Holy Place in the Temple where God had previously been.
Imagine two friends, a boy and a girl. There's nothing romantic going on between them. They are just friends. And because they are friends, really good friends, there is a strong connection between them. They know each other well, and people are very aware of the fact that they are really good friends. When people think of one of them, they often think of the one being with the other one because of the bond of friendship between them. But because they are friends, there is only so far that this bond can go. And while people think of one as being with the other, they also know that there aren't always going to stay there.
But if, say, they got married, things would be quite different. That wall that separates their hearts and minds would be broken down. They would be able to experience an intimacy that only exists in a marriage, something that makes any physical relationship even seem to take second place. There is a connection that is stronger than anything on earth. People see them and they don't think of "John" and "Jane" but instead "John and Jane" as though that is one name. He is with her, and it is a different type of "with" than they ever had before.
Marriage was created by God for multiple reasons, but the main one was to demonstrate the relationship God desires with His people. We Christians are called His children, but we are also called His bride. Jesus came to this world so that God wasn't just known as being "with" His people in that He lived in a room in a Temple. God is now "with" us because of the work of Jesus and the power of His Holy Spirit in us. God actually lives in us now, and when people think of us, it should be the same "God and us" that is considered one word. This is why one of Jesus' other names, Emmanuel, means "God With Us."
And this is the most important thing about why Jesus came. Christ coming to this earth signaled the end of the friend-zone between us and God and the beginning of the absolute marriage bliss that will be our eternity.
So, Christians, rejoice! Because Your God lives in you. There is no separation anymore between us and the Living God. What an amazing and glorious thing we have. Let it cause us the utmost joy as we remember that the most powerful and glorious being that ever was is truly with us. And we will be with Him forever.
"Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angels' voices! Oh night divine when Christ was born."