Luke 2:8–14 (CSB)
“In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.” Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors!”
It’s funny how your thinking changes on almost everything as you grow older. We celebrated Christmas much like everybody else when I was younger, a secular holiday when you got a lot of presents, ate a lot of food, spent time with family, and tried to be extra nice to everyone. While we recognized Christmas was supposed to represent the day of the birth of Christ it was never really celebrated as such at our house. In fact, it was kind of discouraged as sort of a denominational holiday, and therefore we didn’t practice it. Now, it’s how I prefer to celebrate the holiday.
I still don’t think of December 25th as the actual date of Christ’s birth. There are some good arguments against it. And much of the myth and legend surrounding the Christmas story (do we REALLY know the name of the wise men, and are we sure there were only three?), in my mind at least, tends to trivialize the most important event in human history. We focus on the baby, the manger, and all the details of the story as told by Matthew and Luke, but by doing so we risk missing the most important part.
I was lying in bed one night not long ago, during one of my typical “wide awake at 3am” sessions. I remembered a book I’d read a while before. It was the story of how a river god created a woman from the elements in order to restore part of the world which had been corrupted by an evil being. In the course of preparing her to carry out her task, the god inadvertently introduced human emotions into her being. She travels with a group, including the assassin who will eventually kill her. She falls in love with one of the others, but understands that her reason for existence is to die in order to restore the land, and she carries out her mission. On one level, the story is heartbreaking; on another frustrating and unfulfilling. But in a way it is a reflection of the gospel story in a secular setting.
As I was remembering this story, the wonder and miracle of the Christmas story hit me. God, who created all that is, and knew beforehand what would happen to His creation, already had a plan to redeem that creation and break the power of Satan and sin even before He said, “let there be light”. It was a plan so audacious that neither Hell or earth would ever see it coming. We should have seen it coming; God had his prophets announce it for hundreds of years before the actual event. The fact is, there were those who were looking for the coming of the Messiah – in the wrong places. If he was to be a king, conventional thought said he would be born in a palace. After all, he was to be of the line of David, Israel’s greatest king.
But God rarely works in ways we expect. He chose to inject Himself into human history in the form of His son. Even more incredibly, he chose to be born as a baby to a woman who was not yet married, the fiancé of a poor carpenter. He had to learn what it is to be human, because he was. He had to teach us what it meant to be made in the image of God, because that’s what we are. It wasn’t enough to teach us; he came to show us. And like the character in the aforementioned story, He also understood why he was here. Jesus was born to die on the Cross, because He was the only one who could be the perfect sacrifice to finally break the power that sin held over the whole creation. There was, and is, no other way.
So I’ve chosen to celebrate Christmas by remembering what it represents, God born into the world as a baby. I love the carols that speak of that blessed event. And anything which focuses our minds and hearts on God and what He has done for us is certainly a good thing. So while we enjoy the presents, the food, and our families, I hope we will take time to meditate on the message of Christmas and the hope it brings to all of us.