Summary: Christmas without Christ is a contradiction in terms but the antidote is to hear the Word of the Angel and the Worship of the Heavenly Choir, to follow the Witness of the hepherds and ponder the Wonder of Mary.
Many of us have had more Christmases than we care to remember! We half dread it’s coming because of the superficial spirit brought on by the build up of publicity to enter into the spirit of the festive season. The business world, it has to be said, with an eye on the cash till, seizes upon the idea of goodwill and generosity to encourage us to give presents and to celebrate with rich living. I came across an amusing quote: "There are three stages in a person’s life. First, he believes in Santa Claus. Second, he doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Third, he is Santa Claus."
In a business magazine I read, there was an article about a company, imaginary I hope, that was planning its Christmas sales campaign. The board of directors was puzzled how they could beat their competitors, then suddenly the chairman had an idea. "We’ll have a crib," he said, getting very excited. "We’ll have the most expensive manger in the world. We’re about to put Christmas back into Christmas!" From then on there was no stopping them. They decided on a slogan lifted from the New Testament, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
The chairman told his sales staff, "We’ll have to emphasise the variety of gifts available. See to it that the Oriental Kings are handing a proper assortment of presents to the Holy Infant." And he went through a great catalogue of the goods they sold. The sales staff arranged their goods in a great pyramid, topped with a stable with the animals, and Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus giving their blessing to all the merchandise. When the chairman saw it he was delighted as he thought of all the money they would make. And then he began to scowl. He called to his manager, "What’s that thing on top?" "It’s the manger, sir." "We don’t sell mangers, do we?" "Well, throw it out!" he shouted. Only a parable, but all too close to the truth of what passes for Christmas.
Celebrate Christmas by all means, says the world, but don’t bother too much whether Christ figures very much in it. It doesn’t say so in so many words, but that’s what happens in practice. Christmas with the most important element missing - Christ himself! I once helped myself to what looked like a really desirable mince pie. It looked very appetising but when I bit into it, it was practically empty! It was a pie without the mince! That’s Christmas without Christ! If we’re to celebrate Christmas we must set-aside for a moment the traditions and rituals that for so many hide its true significance. We must return to first principles - to the Christmas story itself. It’s here that we’ll discover the real meaning of Christmas. Luke tells us of the:
WORD OF THE ANGEL
God’s moment had arrived. The sure word of prophecy unfolded over the centuries by the Hebrew prophets had to be fulfilled - and it was. The angel announced to the terrified shepherds, "Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (2:11). He was born in Bethlehem because he was of David’s royal line. And yet in David’s city, the heir of the House of David found no room, even in the inn. So the baby was born in a place where cattle were kept. The angel gave the shepherds a clue as to the type of building to look for. He said the Christ-child would be found in a manger - a humble feeding trough pressed into service as our Lord’s cradle.
How wonderful that our Saviour should begin his earthly life in this way. The birth of a baby in a stable was unusual, but no doubt it had happened before and will happen again among the extremely poor and underprivileged. There are millions even today who are living in refugee camps and in shantytowns surrounding the world’s big cities. The wonder in the situation arises when we consider who the baby was. This was the Lord of Glory. This wasn’t the beginning of his life. He had lived from all eternity in heaven. His hands made the universe. All glory was his by virtue of who he was as the Second Person of the Trinity.
We must remember this if we want to understand how great was his condescension. Centuries ago King Henry VIII on occasions would leave his royal court and disguise himself as a lowly peasant and go about his people to find out for himself the real state of England. Yet in doing so he never for a moment ceased to be the all-powerful king whose word was law. So it was with Christ. Although temporarily reduced to poverty he was still a king.