The season of peace on earth, and goodwill to men is upon us. As soon as Halloween was over the push was on to get us to buy gifts and prepare for the holiday. There will be wrapping, and parties, and special meals, and gifts. These will consume most of our attention over the next few weeks. With all the focus on these things, the real meaning of the holiday can become clouded and confused.
Let’s face it, as society has drifted from organized religion, there has been less focus on what is really a ‘holy day’. Our first pastorate was in New York City. We decided to create a silhouette of Mary and Joseph looking over Jesus in the manger on one of our bulletin boards. We topped it off with a bright golden star shedding its beams over the manger. We were surprised when our 20’s something secretary came in and saw it, and asked us what it was! She had never been exposed to what many realize as a common depiction of the birth of Jesus. She knew about Santa, and holiday parties, and gifts, but she didn’t know the real reason for the season – Jesus.
It’s almost impossible to avoid the commercialization of the holiday. But we shouldn’t let it cause confusion about what Christmas is really all about. It’s about God’s entry into humanity. John writes this in his good news account. “The Word (Jesus) became human and lived among us. We saw his glory. It was the glory that the Father shares with his only Son, a glory full of kindness and truth.” (John 1:14 God’s Word Translation). Some of the elements of Christmas can serve as a reminder of the real meaning of Christmas.
When you are wrapping you can focus on this part of the Christmas narrative:
“While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her child. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger because there wasn’t any room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)
The King James Version of this indicates that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. This humble square of cloth is to remind the world of the humble origins of the birth of the Savior. His parents had little money, were in a foreign environment, separated from family and friends, yet they brought forth the Savior of the world. Jesus, God wrapped in human flesh came from the splendor of heaven and was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. While we use wrapping to hide a gift prior to being opened, God uses Jesus birth as an opportunity to unwrap our salvation and reveal himself to the world. God’s first revelation of his birth was to shepherds, common ordinary working people and the wrapping was a sign that they had found the messiah.
8 Shepherds were in the fields near Bethlehem. They were taking turns watching their flock during the night. 9 An angel from the Lord suddenly appeared to them. The glory of the Lord filled the area with light, and they were terrified. 10 The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you, a message that will fill everyone with joy. 11 Today your Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in David’s city. 12 This is how you will recognize him: You will find an infant wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” ( Luke 2:8-12)
When you are sharing gifts focus on the visit of the Wise Men. This part of the Christmas story comes from Matthew 2:1-2 and 9-11
“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea when Herod was king. After Jesus’ birth wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the one who was born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star rising and have come to worship him.”
“ After they had heard the king, they started out. The star they had seen rising led them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 They were overwhelmed with joy to see the star. 11 When they entered the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary. So they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
The first gift of Christmas was Jesus. God in his infinite wisdom and timing sent Jesus to deal with sin that separated man from God. Wise men from the East scoured the sky for signs of change. They not only saw the star, but followed it to welcome the new king and present gifts. The three gifts had a spiritual meaning: gold was a symbol of kingship on earth. The words from Handel’s Messiah stress Jesus Kingship. “And He shall reign forever and ever, King of kings! and Lord of lords! Hallelujah!
The gift of frankincense ( incense) was used in worship and drew attention to the presence of deity. John spoke about Jesus deity when he referred to him as the Word. “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was already with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2)
The final gift of myrrh (an embalming oil) points to Jesus death. Having lived a perfect life, He was able to die as a substitute for our sin and wrongdoing. Written for the early Roman believers the writer emphasis is that “Christ died for us while we were still sinners. This demonstrates God’s love for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Confused about Christmas? No need to be when you focus on what’s it’s really all about.