Summary: The celebration of the birth of Jesus by Christians.


I. Introduction

*Click to baby George photo

A. The Birth of a King (Prince George)

It seemed the whole world was waiting breathlessly for the birth of this baby.

This baby is Prince George, firstborn son of Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.

It is impossible to exaggerate the attention this birth received--before, during, and after.

It was a feeding frenzy for the news media.

The number of reporters competing for every imaginable scrap of news about it must have been like the plague of the locusts with reporters desperately scraping London for a news story.

It was an obsession.

For this was the birth of a king.

With things taking their natural course, this baby will one day be the King of England.

It is rather a hollow position, holding primarily ceremonial and diplomatic duties, with the governing functions being the purview of Parliament and a Prime Minister.

The family exists as royalty primarily to be celebrated and to put on the spectacular pageantry people so fervently desire to see.

But the British monarchy has captured the fascination of the world.

Every aspect of Prince George’s birth was extremely formal--programmed and formatted by the traditions of royalty to the nth degree.

B. The Birth of the King of Kings

Compare this recent birth of a king to the birth of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

*Advance to Luke 2:4-7

Both births were anticipated and celebrated, but in very different ways.

Jesus was born to a betrothed peasant couple far away from home in Bethlehem where they had come to be counted in the census and pay their taxes.

Jesus was born in a place for animals—without ceremony or formality or instantaneous worldwide news.

With a few exceptions we will mention, Jesus’ birth went largely unnoticed throughout Israel and the Roman Empire.

C. Compare the way the births were announced

*Advance to tripod

-Rather than calling on the phone, the formal announcement followed royal tradition and was sent to Queen Elizabeth by a designated vehicle as she waited at Buckingham Palace. The Queen read it and passed the news to a footman, authorizing him to formally announce the birth to the world by placing this announcement on an easel in front of the palace.

*Advance to shepherds

-Rather than following a stiff tradition, angels appeared to shepherds near Bethlehem, announcing Jesus’ birth.

*Advance to black slide

II. Christians have a sort of schizophrenia about Christmas

-We rightly say that it’s not a holy day, or religious holiday, but still grieve that its commercialization robs it of its true meaning.

-Some say it has pagan roots and that even its Christian roots are from flawed sources, yet still observe Christmas.

-Some say we ought to celebrate Christ’s birth every day (since we don’t know the actual date of his birth), but it would be hard to find someone who celebrates his birth daily.

If we closely examine how Christmas is celebrated, we would find little focus on the incarnation of Jesus.

-Some worry whether Christians should even take any specific notice of the day to note Christ’s birth, yet object to the trend toward converting popular parlance from “Christmas” to “Holiday,” insisting that Jesus is the reason for the season.

-We deeply resent intrusion by any level of governments into the celebration, considering it abridgement of our religious freedom.

-It’s not my purpose today to address the questions about Christmas from a governmental or legalistic view (a legalistic approach generally conceals rather than illuminates the truth), but to:

1) help us clarify our viewpoints of the day, and decisions we make about it, and

2) get rid of any twinges of guilt we may have about our own practices in this festive season.

III. The Bible gives us Joseph’s and Mary’s fantastic story

…and shows us people celebrating his birth.

It is truly a lovely story

-Joseph and Mary were visited by an angel (Luke tells us it was Gabriel who spoke to Mary), saying that Mary had found favor with God, and that – although a virgin – she would bear a son conceived by the Holy Spirit, and he would save his people from their sins.

-Luke records Gabriel’s visit to Mary and his words to her:

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." (Luke 1:32-33)

-Mary was told that her aging relative Elizabeth was now in her 6th month of pregnancy.

-Mary went to see Elizabeth, and indeed it was true.

-Mary’s exultation at being honored to bear the Messiah in her body is preserved by Luke:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46-49) Magnificat continues through v55.

-Mary knew she was to give birth to the Messiah, and realized what that meant.

-A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the world was to be taxed, requiring a census.

-Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem since they were of the family of David (Bethlehem had been prophesied, though Joseph and Mary were Galileans)

-There was no room at the inn (Springfield experience here?)

-Jesus was born in a place for sheltering animals

-The announcement of Christ’s birth was made by angels to shepherds.

-The Bethlehem shepherds understood the concept of sacrifice, for their living depended on it.

People generally did not bring their sacrifices on the long journey to Jerusalem, but purchased them there, often from the Bethlehem shepherds.

-A star appeared in the east. Its presence and meaning were observed by magi, the wise men (possibly descended from those wise men over whom Daniel was made the prefect after interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream). They knew that a king of the Jews was to be born, and associated it with the star.

-The magi from the east journeyed far to see the newborn king, bringing gifts.

Why Eastern wise men would travel a great distance to worship a Jewish king-to-be is not explained. Maybe their ancestors learned the prophecies from Daniel and still held him and his prophecies in reverence.

-Jesus was presented in the temple, seen by Simeon and Anna, prophets advanced in years

-Mary learned that something would hurt her deeply – Later, in the temple, Simeon prophesied to her:

“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." Luk 2:34-35

On the day Jesus died, Simeon’s prophecy came true.

The story is something to marvel about.

There is no other story that can so warm our hearts.

No preacher, no matter how gifted, can make the story greater by telling it artfully.

It is richer, deeper, and fuller on its own power than any greatness we can bestow through our own emphasis or thrilling telling of it.

Any efforts to hype it up would detract.

Yet familiarity with the story can breed casual disinterest in its deeper meanings.

Amid the fun and the stress, the familiarity through repetitive reading and singing about it, and even with the focus on the beauty of the story of Joseph and Mary and their baby boy, it is easy to overlook the magnitude of what happened.

The Bible acquaints us with the event’s colossal significance in God’s eternal design.

It is no less than the incarnation of God.

IV. Herod

As lovely as the story of Jesus’ birth is, it is not complete without the ugly part.

Someone feared the baby.

Herod (called “the Great”) was an Edomite, a descendent of Esau.

Herod encouraged the circulation of a legend of his family’s descent from a Babylonian Jew (Ant., XIV, i, 3), but it had no historic basis.

In B.C. 40 Herod was appointed tetrarch of Judea by Mark Antony, and was later appointed king of Judea by the Roman senate.

Herod is best described as a cruel man.

Jesus was born in Judea in the days of this king (Matt 2:1).

Herod pretended to want to worship the new king, but his true purpose was to destroy him.

He summoned the magi and requested that they find the child and report his whereabouts to him.

Warned in a dream, they returned to their country without complying.

Alarmed by the tidings of one “born King of the Jews,” and thwarted in his purpose of locating Jesus, he sent forth and “slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under” (Matt 2:16).

The scene of the soldiers carrying out this assignment is too horrible to contemplate.

The heartbreak of those mothers is matched only by Pharoah’s decree at the time of Moses’ birth that all male babies were to be thrown into the Nile River.

Herod’s atrocity is part of the Christmas story, but upon these horrors we cannot linger for long.

Warned by an angel, Joseph and Mary escaped with Jesus to Egypt.

V. Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

(Either as commemorating Jesus’ birth, or by partaking of the traditional offshoots of the season)

The Bible does not speak to the subject of Christians commemorating Christ’s birth, but it shows the shepherds and the magi marking the occasion by celebrating and worshiping him.

The absence of specific guidance neither condemns nor condones the practice, provided we do not run foul of other guidance.

Then how are we to know what seems right to us without specific guidance?

This is a classic application of the principle taught in Romans 14:1-6, 16-19.

Eating of meat sacrificed to idols was abhorrent to some people for they feared that by doing so, they were participating in idol-worship, or might at the very least be a bad influence on others who might think they were condoning idol-worship.

But the meat was not ruined by having been wrongly used by some.

To one, the meat sacrificed to idols made the one eating it a participant in idol-worship.

To the other the meat was simply food, with no significance fastened to its earlier use.

Like those eating the meat, or abstaining from it, we are left to do as seems right us, and allow others that same privilege.

Our recognition of the birth of Jesus doesn’t hinge on getting the date right.

If Dec 25 is a convenient time, we may celebrate it then as others do, not being intimidated that “the world” also does, though perhaps erroneously.

We can thrill our souls with the story of Jesus at any time, including the month of December, the 25th day.

The fact that others may misuse and abuse the day doesn’t place it off-limits for our appropriate commemoration of the Savior’s birth.

In the New Testament, when people rejoiced, it was because they had reason to rejoice, not because they were commanded to rejoice.

In John 10, we see Jesus participating in what is now called Hanukah, an uncommanded commemoration of a happy event--the feast commemorating the dedication of the temple after it had been cleansed from being profaned by Antiochus Epiphanes. The annual feast was appointed by Judas Maccabaeus and his brethren in 164 BC. It commemorated an event that occurred after all the scriptures of Jesus' day had been written and compiled.

VI. What About the Other Parts of Christmas?

The Christmas tree, decorations, rich food, exchange of gifts in pretty wrapping, the pretense about Santa Claus? Should we worry that the good-will and conviviality of those images may have historic roots that are unhealthy for the Christian, and abstain from these aspects altogether?

No. But we should respect the right of others to formulate their own thoughts and follow their own conscience in the matter – regardless of which side of the question their answer falls.

Take for example, the Christmas tree.

Should we avoid having one if it meant something different to other people of another time?

Let’s look at its origin.

The modern Christmas tree originated in western Germany as the main prop of a popular medieval play about Adam and Eve. It was a “paradise tree,” a fir tree hung with apples representing the Garden of Eden. The Germans set up a paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it (symbolizing the Christian sign of redemption). In a later tradition the wafers were replaced by cookies of various shapes. Candles, symbolic of Christ, were often added. By the 16th century the the paradise tree had become the Christmas tree.

The question is, what do these things—the tree, decorations, gifts, wrapping paper, etc., mean to us?

Are we participating in pagan worship or some improper form of Christian worship if we do the things that have become tradition associated with the season?

No. For these physical exhibitions of celebration do not have a pagan meaning to us.

VII. So?

Most people present here today celebrate Christmas as an acceptable date to represent the day of Jesus’ birth, fully realizing that the actual date is unknown.

Let’s settle our minds, and not have any confusion about the season.

Though Christmas is not mentioned as a Christian celebration the Bible gives us the answer.

Participation in the celebration is a choice, not obedience to a command to do so – or the avoidance of it as necessary compliance with the absence of such a command.

I close with this truth: God is the greatest giver.

We give gifts to one another because he showed us that the source of giving was love.

“For God so loved the world that he gave…”

That is a reason to celebrate, and December is a good time to honor him for his greatest gift.

Enjoy the season, remembering Jesus, the incarnate deity.