A SIMPLE SORT OF SCRIPTURAL CHRISTMAS
Luke Chapter Two
"Family and friends from afar gathered at the nobleman’s home for the Christening and the traditional party. After much joy and gladness and a number of drinks and toasts, the time came for the Christening. But no one could locate the baby, the reason for the celebration. The parents and others searched high and low until one guest recalled seeing the infant sleeping upon the bed where arriving guests had deposited their wraps. Rushing frantically to the room, the mother discovered the lifeless form of the child smothered underneath a large pile or heavy coats. How ironic and tragic that the guest of honour should have been so forgotten, neglected and destroyed."
Is this old story true? Perhaps. But in any case the application of the moral to our increasingly secular celebration of Christmas is all too clear. The One who should be the guest of honour at every celebration purporting to commemorate His birthday is more often than not forgotten, neglected, and ignored. His testimony of love, light and righteousness is all too often denied and destroyed by those who gather to purportedly celebrate His birthday. Is it any wonder that the little girl who misunderstood the Lord’s Prayer was heard to pray, "Forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us...." Or that another child who also misunderstood spoke of, "The only forgotten son.."
Much of our modern celebration revolves around traditions and innovations that have very little if anything to do with the reason for the season. It is sad that for too many, children in particular, a Johnny-come-lately Santa Claus has seeming supplanted our Saviour in familiarity and popularity. This seasonal charlatan is a modern version of a Roman Catholic archbishop of the city of Myra. He later became the so-called patron saint of Russia. A myth developed around his supposed generosity in giving three bags of gold to three maidens without dowries (The question comes to mind, "Just what was a lowly servant of God doing with three bags of gold anyway.) The international symbol of pawnbrokers and moneylenders, three olden bells, is based upon this fanciful myth.
The Christmas tree is also a relatively recent invention. Originating in Germany, it is said that Martin Luther decorated the first one. The English Christmas Pie is also of fairly recent vintage. The early ones would not even be recognized as pies today. A London nobleman ordered one in 1770 with the following ingredients: Two bushels of flour, twenty pounds of butter, forty fowls of all kinds, two beef tongues and two rabbits. It is nine feet across when baked. The first Christmas card of record was mailed in England in 1846.
I addressed this sad situation of symbolism over substance in a short article published in the Gold Coast Bulletin entitled, "The Meaning Of Christmas,"
"What is Christmas? Is it an endless shopping list, a depleted bank account or an overflowing credit card? Is it fir trees, candy canes, holly wreaths, bells tinsel or toys? Is it the piped music played in bustling shopping centres to se the mood for a certain seasonal commercial success? Is it Santa photos, office parties or holiday breaks? Is Christmas a family gathering around a Christmas feast? Is it a Christmas concert, carol sing or a traditional Christmas movie?
A Biblical and Christ-centred Christmas is about perishing men needing to be rescued and lost men needing to be saved. Christmas is God giving His Son to the world and His Son giving Himself for our sins, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Christmas is Christ the Son of God becoming the Son of Man that sons of men might become sons of God. Christmas is much more than tinsel, ribbons, presents, parties or the giving and getting of temporal gifts that will have no value in eternity. It is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ Who came to give us the greatest of all gifts, eternal life and a home in heaven with Him.
For those seeking to know the true meaning of Christmas, the Christ of Christmas stands ready to share the true meaning of His birth, life, death and resurrection. Have you really considered the reason for the season? Is there room in your Christmas for the real Gift of Christmas? Why not open your heart to Him in real faith and He will come into your heart and life? Then you can truly say with Paul and those of us who have received Him, ’Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.’"
I prefer a simple sort of scriptural Christmas. One that focuses upon the simple scriptural record of the birth of Christ and exalts Him and Him alone. To celebrate such a Christmas, we need to discover and focus upon the elements and activities that marked that first Christmas Day some two thousand years ago in that little town of Bethlehem of Judea.
A SIMPLE SORT OF SCRIPTURAL CHRISTMAS HAD SHEPHERDS. "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." (Luke 2:8) In the true story of Christmas we see shepherds doing what shepherds do best; diligently caring for their sheep. It is significant that the God of this universe selected these simple shepherd folk to hear the greatest birth announcement of all time. Some might feel He should have sent His heavenly emissaries to the halls of kings or the palaces of potentates. Others might feel that the reigning rulers of this sinful earth should have been the first to know of the impending momentous event of the Savior’s birth. But God choose the humble shepherds of the field instead. Just common folk.
A simple sort of scriptural Christmas is for the common folk. Abraham Lincoln once said, "The Lord must have loved common people since He made so many of them." We read of those who have so much money they do not know what to do with it at Christmas time. They go to places like Harrods in London, Macys in New York or Nieman-Marcus in Dallas and pay millions for a gift that will be a luxurious and opulent expression of their vulgar extravagance. Just today my wife and I were discussing the thrill of receiving the one simple and inexpensive gift that usually marked the Christmases of our childhood. What a thrill it was just to receive this one simple gift given from a heart of love by our dear parents, who were just common folks.
These simple shepherd folk were not only ordinary people, but were obviously busy people as well; clearly dedicated to the task of caring for their sheep. They were on the job twenty-four seven. They literally lived on the job. A job that was characterized by the need to be caring and compassionate. They were holy men of true Biblical faith. How do we know? This is a safe conclusion, if we consider that of all the hundreds of shepherds in the land, these alone were chosen. God’s pattern of choice is clear. He chose holy angels to announce the impending birth of His Son to Mary; because she was a pure and holy virgin. He chose Joseph because he was a fair and just man. A man of faith who, after the angel’s communication, accepted the unusual and unprecedented situation without doubt or hesitancy. Surely these common shepherds were men of faith looking for the coming Messiah.
A simple sort of scriptural Christmas can be best celebrated and appreciated by similar simple spiritual folk today. Those who are dedicated to the task of compassionate caring for the world around them. Those who are busy about the Master’s business the whole year through. Those who really see the Christ of Christmas and are caused by the sight to truly glorify and praise God.
A SIMPLE SORT OF SCRIPTURAL CHRISTMAS HAS SHINING. " 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." (Luke 2:9) It seems that as the lowly shepherds relaxed around their campfire, the dark Judean night was suddenly flooded with an other worldly marvelous and glorious light. The astonishment and fear of these simple sheep herders is beyond the understanding of those of us who have not literally witnessed the shining forth of the glory of God on earth. Such a glorious shining was not only logical, but inevitable at the time of our Savior’s birth. Its shining surely signalled the long awaited arrival of God upon earth to tabernacle with man.
After all, the prophet of old had clearly spoken of the coming of this great Light. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. . . . For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of [his] government and peace [there shall be] no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice." (Isa. 9:2, 6-7)
Even though He came to His own and His own received Him not, the whole world was unknowingly waiting with bated breath for the shining of the Light that fateful night. Later, Paul speaks of the timing of the coming of this glorious shining in this way, "But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." (Gal. 4:4-5)
Just how bright was the shining of the glory of God that night? Perhaps Mathew gives us some insight when he describes the shining that occurred when the Light of the world was transfigured before the inner circle of disciples, Peter, James and John. "And (Jesus) was
transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light." (Matt. 17:2) Perhaps Paul again gives us a clue when he speaks of the shining glory of God that was manifest upon the occasion of the giving of the law. " . . . so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance . ." (II Cor. 3:7)
A simple sort of scriptural Christmas should have such shining. The dark and sinful world in which we live stands in dire need of the Light of the world. If there is ever a time when the light of His glorious gospel should shine throughout the world, it is during this season when the hearts and minds of men are turned toward the good news of His birth. The whole world lies in spiritual darkness and sin. Satan seems to successfully see to the continuing blinding of the hearts and minds of men to the truth of the glorious gospel. " In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." (II Cor. 4:4)
Years ago mules were the common beast of burden used in underground mines. Once taken below, many would remain there the rest of their natural lives. It seems that over the months and years perpetual darkness caused these mules to gradually lose their sight until they became completely blind.
As the years roll by and the whole world lies in spiritual darkness, spiritual blindness increases, and man becomes completely blind to the gospel. We who celebrate a simple sort of scriptural Christmas should focus upon shining the light of the glorious gospel into the darkest recesses of the world around us. We need to first light the corner where we are with our own effective Godly testimony and gospel witness. Then we should join our lights together in prayerfully supporting missions around the world. This is one reason our offering on Christmas Day will all go to missions. After all our Savior said to us, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 5:14-16)
A SIMPLE SORT OF SCRIPTURAL CHRISTMAS HAS SINGING. "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. And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:10-14)
Just how many angels were involved in singing praise to God on this glorious night? No man knows the number indicated by the term, "a multitude of the heavenly host." But we can be sure they were innumerable by man’s feeble and finite standards of measurement. Just who were those comprising this heavenly chorus? They were those who had served the eternal Christ for the ages and eons of His pre-existent glory. Surely they were those who had done battle with
Lucifer when he and some his rebellious angels were cast down upon the earth. " And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." (Luke 10:18) What a great and glorious moment this must have been for this heavenly host. For ages they had waited in the wings of the stage of eternity; long anticipating this wonderful moment that marked the beginning of the culmination of the Father’s plan of man’s redemption.
But some critic might say, "But the scripture does not literally say, singing." But how could an angel announce such good news and shout praise unto God, without making it melodious? I’m sure our carols of Christmas are based upon this basic premise. The joy and praise we sing today is an echo of the singing of the angels on this first Christmas night.
Just what did these sons of the morning stars sing together? These who had known the incarnate God-man from before the foundations of this universe? Surely they sang songs of His nativity. His incarnation. I am sure they sang of His redemptive love and role as well. The Revelation tells us again and again that this has been, is, and forever will be the theme of their eternal songs of praise. What a great blessing to know that we will one day join our voices with theirs to sing eternal glory of the Lamb!
A SIMPLE SORT OF SCRIPTURAL CHRISTMAS BRINGS THE GOOD NEWS OF SALVATION. "And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." (Luke 2:10) Just what is this good news of great joy that would came down that night? Just what joy did David cry out for God to restore to him after his great sin? Just what is the joy unspeakable and full of glory that Peter would later speak about?
To a weary world staggering under an overwhelming load of sin and shame, this could only be the joy of eternal salvation that would be offered to all mankind. The angel made this amply clear when he announced His coming birth to Joseph. "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21) Our Savior left no doubt about the matter and His mission when He said, "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10) The writer of the Hebrew letter indicates that the joy of purchasing our eternal salvation on the cross was the motive force that moved our lovely Savior from the very beginning. "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb. 12:2)
In the fifteenth Chapter of the Book of Luke, Jesus tells three successive stories of, "lost things." A lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost prodigal son. The stories all end in joyful and triumphant salvation. . Jesus obviously tells these three stories to illustrate the lostness of sinful man and the joy of just one soul being eternally saved. In describing this joy in each of these stories He said, He said, "I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance." (Luke 15:7) " Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." (Luke 15:10) "For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry." (Luke 15:24)
The scriptures consistently speak of the joy the good news of salvation can bring. When Phillip took the gospel into the city of Samaria and many were saved there was, "great joy in the city." When the Eunuch had been led to the Lord and baptized by Phillip in the desert of Gaza, "he went on his way rejoicing."
Anyone who has had the personal privilege of leading souls to salvation in Christ, can testify of how often the heart of the new born babe in Christ overflows with the joy unspeakable when the full awareness of the burden of sin being lifted dawns upon them. What joy fills their soul when they fully realize the presence of Christ in their heart and are assured they possess the gift of eternal salvation in Him.
Would it not be great if our simple sort of scriptural Christmas celebration would bring some soul to Christ? Would not the gift of salvation in Christ and the joy it brings be the greatest gift we could give to some lost soul this Christmas? Then would we not know ane experience again the real meaning of Paul’s cry of joy, praise and thankgiving when he said, "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift!"