In the news these days, all we seem to hear is the coming of the latest threat to Christmas. Omicron is the latest Grinch that stole Christmas. Many families are unable to gather together this year and others are experiencing the first Christmas without a loved one. You may be one of them, feeling a sense of loss or wistfulness about how Christmas ought to be.
A Google news search of the word ‘Christmas’ reveals global doom instead of joy and jubilation: “CHRISTMAS UNDER THREAT FROM COVID!”. “COVID CRISIS–ARE CHRISTMAS TRAVEL PLANS UNDER THREAT?” “CHRISTMAS TREES UNDER THREAT FROM SUPPLY CHAIN ISSUES.” “CHRISTMAS PARTIES UNDER THREAT—CANCELLATIONS AS NEW STRAIN EMERGES!” ‘ELDERLY MOST AT RISK.” “SOUTH AFRICA IN FOR A BLEAK CHRISTMAS”. The media seem to enjoy stoking the fires of fear, panic and gloom in the general population!
But as I was reading through the nativity stories in Luke and Matthew, thinking about the genuine disappointments surrounding Christmas this year, it struck me how the true impact of Christ’s birth transcends the events of human history and our personal stories, no matter how miserable or chaotic these might be. Christmas is robust, durable and resilient, as the story it represents is safely embedded in the hearts of those who worship Christ as Saviour and Lord. Christ is the Lord of Christmas, not Covid!
Perhaps it’s because Christmas has been hijacked for so many years, that it’s easy to overlook the true identity of the baby in the manger. Christmas is not defined by a single day, nor is it centered around celebrations, a tree or a fat jolly man in red clothes. It is centered around Christ the Saviour, who came to give us the wonderful gift of forgiveness of sins.
Christ is the gift of Christmas, and without Him, we are left with just wrapping paper and ribbons. If Christ is not at the centre of our heart and our delight at Christmas, then fear, disappointment and emptiness are inevitable. Without the King, Christmas is fragile and meaningless. Let’s look carefully at the baby in the manger and ask ourselves who He was and what Christmas truly represents.
Joy to the world, peace on earth.
The greatest gift of Christmas is Christ’s offer to reconcile sinners to our Creator and to reconcile us to each other in love.
And so, a believer’s joy at Christmas time is not dependent on world peace; happy family gatherings; glittering trees and holidays; good health, gifts and a table heaving with gran’s roast ham, turkey and crispy potatoes! I’m not saying these things aren’t utterly wonderful, but Jesus Himself is the wonderful gift of Christmas. He is the joy of man’s desiring. He is joy to the world. In the words of the angel, Christ’s birth is “good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10).
“Peace on earth” reminds me of the Christmas truce of 1914, when World War 1 soldiers on opposite sides emerged from the trenches to sing Christmas carols and exchange gestures of goodwill. German Lieutenant, Kurt Zehmisch, recalled:
“How marvelously wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English officers felt the same way about it. Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.”
Perhaps these soldiers, surrounded by the horrors of war, instinctively longed for the baby wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger, the only innocent Saviour who can guide our feet into the path of peace and provide peace on earth (Luke 2:14). Those desolate men longed for true, lasting peace that only the Prince of Peace can bring.
Zechariah’s prophetic song gives us insight into the Prince of Peace and what He will do for His people:
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 2:68-79)
Although there is plenty of turmoil in our world right now, we can be absolutely sure that Christ’s reign will bring ultimate peace on earth, as God himself has promised it:
“Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
And so, if Christ the King has come to earth, Christmas cannot be cancelled or threatened by anything in this world, because no one and nothing can contest His rule. Joy and peace are ours in Christ, regardless of our circumstances. He is our Prince of peace.
Christmas is the time we remember how Christ, driven by love, came into our sinful, chaotic world in real time and history. We remember that He will come again. And in the meantime, we hold out his light to those living in darkness, passing on his message of peace and goodwill to the world.
Worship the King.
Christmas also leads us to worship and adore the King, just like the eclectic group of people that God chose to greet His baby Son:
Some Magi from the East, who were trained to identify kings and stars, came to worship baby Jesus in the stable. When they saw the child with his mother Mary, “they bowed down and worshipped him”, offering him their treasures and gifts of gold, incense and myrrh (Matt 2:11). They refused to comply with king Herod’s order, recognizing the greater authority of the divine King in the stable.
Some dirty shepherds in rural fields came to check out the stable for themselves to see if what the angel had said was true (Luke 2:8-21). When they had verified the facts, they returned to their sheep, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20). They took time to find out the truth about Jesus and then worshipped Him as King.
Likewise, a devout old priest called Simeon who had been waiting expectantly for the Messiah– “the consolation of Israel,” took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying,
“For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel…
To Mary, he said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your soul also” (Luke 2:29-32).
Simeon recognized Jesus as the long awaited Messiah-King promised in the Old Testament. He said that Jesus would be a light to the entire world and would have a paradoxical effect on Israel. With Jesus, there would be no neutral ground. People would either joyfully embrace him as King or totally reject him.
Nothing has changed today. We either worship Jesus as Lord of all, or not at all. There is no middle ground. Christmas is about recognizing our great sin and need of atonement that only Christ can give. It is apt to bow to Him in repentance and faith, offering Him our lives of joyful obedience in 2022.
Unless we worship Christ as King, Christmas is meaningless.
Welcoming the Saviour of the world.
The nativity story reminds us that the King of the universe was first greeted by the lowly and the ordinary.
A devout teenage girl and a carpenter welcomed Christ into the world in a stable in Bethlehem. It was all they had to offer him. Joseph and Mary completely surrendered their lives to the angel’s extraordinary message, even though they knew they would face the mockery and shame of raising a ‘bastard’ child.
Mary recognized that the son she would bear was no ordinary boy, but the Son of the Most High God. She heard Simeon’s warning that her soul would be pierced (Luke 2:35). Although Mary understood the cost, she responded with joy to her commission. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).
Listen to Mary’s song of willing surrender, telling us something of the extraordinary baby in the manger and what he would accomplish:
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
We sing sentimentally of the night when Jesus was born to this teenage girl, but do we appreciate how hard it must have been for Mary and Joseph to welcome the Saviour of the world into their lives?
“Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, and all is bright
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace..”
It wasn’t all about peace and calm, that’s for sure.
Looking beyond the baby in the manger.
For many of us, the trimmings of Christmas have been stripped away this year. But Christmas is not under threat and it will always be a blessed time if we pay careful attention to the baby in the manger and remember who He really is:
The child who was born in Bethlehem is God with us, ‘Immanuel’, even if you are cut off from your loved ones on Christmas day.
He is the ‘Prince of Peace’, even if there is conflict and chaos around you.
The baby in the manger is the ‘Wonderful Counsellor’, even if it feels like there is no one to help and counsel you. Unlike the leaders of the world, this King needs no one to instruct Him (Isa 40:12-15). He is ‘Mighty God’ and ‘Everlasting Father’, the unrivalled King who has no peers. He is the God who measures the waters in the hollow of his hand, who regards the nations like a drop in a bucket.
Christmas is the perfect time to worship and welcome the true King and Saviour of the world. It is the perfect time to remember a tiny human baby who lived a perfect life, died for us, ascended into heaven and will come back to earth as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Jesus Christ didn’t issue a decree from on high or appear remotely on a computer screen. He came in person. Born to a teenage virgin in Bethlehem. During the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. This baby Jesus completely sliced history into two parts—B.C (Before Christ) and A.D (Anno Domini, Latin for ‘the year of the Lord’).
It is not the coming of Omicron we should be concerned about. It is the coming of Christ the King that should occupy our thoughts day and night, all year round.
Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, let’s sing together and worship Christ the King for who He really is:
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth, and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful, all ye nations, rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With th’ angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem
Har, the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King
Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of peace
Hail! the Son of Righteousness
Light and life to all he brings
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King