Shortly we will celebrate once again the coming of the eternal God into the world of time and men. But as I pause to consider this incomprehensible occurrence – for really that is what is – I am forced to ask how many of us even begin to understand what occurred on what we call “the first Christmas”. For sure, much of our world, blinded by the god of consumerism, does not begin or even try to grasp its significance – and even as Christians we so often reduce it to a sentimentalism and what we call “warm Christmassy feelings”. I suspect the truth is that these things do not even begin to help us understand the coming of the Christ at Christmas.
Interestingly, the clearest prophecy of the coming of Jesus was revealed at a time of despair and darkness for the Jewish nation. The same, I suspect, is so often true at a more personal level – even in our own experience. It is when we are at the end of our rope as it were – when the present seems dark – and the future even darker that we hear words that seem, perhaps, even to mock us –
“Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever.”
Then, a few verses later, we have the announcement –
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness a light will shine. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end.”
So the Christmas message is, first of all, to a people who are living in darkness, in despair, with no hope, desperate, unloved, unknown, despised, rejected, lost!
Now we could spend a long time looking at the various names given here to the Child of Bethlehem, for they all deserve a deeper examination – but I want simply to consider a couple of quick things that strike me as I reread this oft repeated story.
And the first thing is this – to whom he came –
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.”
He is born to you – He is born to me! He is not simply a baby born in to the world – he is born to us! I don’t want us to pass the significance of that! He is your Son! What was the title Jesus took for himself – The Son of man –
“For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”
Matthew 18:11 “
The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.”
He is our Son – he has entered our world – he is born to us! I’m sure there is a world of exploration in this truth alone!
The second thing I see is the very strange fact of those to whom God chose to reveal his coming, in the person of Jesus.
Yes – on the night, he was announced to the despised shepherd who were Jewish – but I am more interested in how God – bypassing his own people – firstly revealed his Son, the coming King, to outsiders – rank outsiders.
The men popularly known as the “three kings” were in fact Medes by birth and citizenship – not Jews. Furthermore they were, it is believed, Priest/Kings of the Medo-Persian Empire. Their religion was a mix, in their culture, of wisdom, science, astronomy and astrology. Such people were, to the Jews, and would be today to evangelicals – Pagans. They lived way outside our bubble – and would certainly not be welcome as members of the nativity play in your local evangelical church! And they were certainly not the kind of people you would have expected the God of Israel to reveal his best kept secrets to!
God, it appears, operates way outside the box we like to keep him in! And it is Pagan King/Priests, “New Agers” we might call them today, that come to Jesus and offer him their worship and adoration!
We might have thought OK well this is exceptional – a one off revelation – but then we discover a few days later that God is still speaking to these men – this time not through the stars – but in dreams!
“When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.”
Oh how I like to think I am part of the in-group – that I have God all tied down in my religious box – and he will only operate within the constraints of my religious tradition!
Christmas is not just for Christians! It’s for pagans – new agers – astrologers – for all of mankind in its mix and mess!
And correctly did these Priest/Kings of the East ask the question –
“Where is the new-born king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
And they were as good as their word!
“They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”
The facts, as they are recorded here, reveal that not only did these men come to bring gifts to a child they recognised was destined to be a king, amazing though that was – but they also “worshiped him”. Much more is going on here than a quick reading of the text would suggest! But it brings us to the heart of the Christmas message! God is still looking for those, from whatever background – from whatever religion – from whatever messed-up life they may think they have – to bow the knee before the Child of Bethlehem and proclaim him Lord and King!