As I recently studied one of the biblical accounts of the Scriptures regarding the birth of Christ, I sought to capture the spirit of that first Christmas. By that I mean I tried to grasp the vibes in the air that must have existed during that fateful day. How did it feel being a Jew living in Bethlehem at that time?
Modern society has produced its own version of Christmas. Itís composed of Christmas carols filling the air, decorations at home and at businesses, family members and lovers crossing land and seas to be together, and shopping, shopping, shopping.
Personally, I like all of the above traditions. To some extent I take part in them all during the Christmas holidays. But as the people of God we must remember that we are in this world but not of it. Our concept of Christmas, then, must be shaped by the Scriptures and not by this world.
Before the birth of Christ the world of the Jews was gloomy. As far as we can tell from the Scriptures there had been no word from God to His people for several hundred years prior to Christ. This duration is arrived at by estimating the time of the writing of the book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. This silence might not seem relevant to those of us living today, but think about this. Throughout the Old Testament, God spoke to the patriarchs and the prophets. The Old Testament records many of those conversations. It is clear from the Scriptures that the Jews were Godís chosen people, that He had a special relationship with them, and that He had special plans for them.
Then all of a sudden, not one more word from God. During this time of silence, the Jews continued coming together on each Sabbath Day to worship. They read the Scriptures which contained the covenant between God and themselves. After the Lord had not spoken to His people in nearly 400 years, they must have lost hope in the many promises found in the Scriptures. The Jews must have felt some sense of abandonment by their God.
As if that were not enough, the Jews were under foreign rule before and after Christ was born. This happened in the first century B.C., when Julius Caesar became the Roman leader. This must have been humiliating. Imagine how we would feel today if we were placed under foreign rule.
Augustus Caesar succeeded Julius and became the first emperor. It was this Augustus who issued the decree ďthat all the world should be taxedĒ while Mary was pregnant with baby Jesus (Luke 2:1). Accordingly, Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem to register in their hometown.
While they were there, during what seemed to be no more than a civil event, an awesome miracle from heaven occurred. One that would resurrect the Jews faith in the Messianic promises of the Old Testament. A miracle that would lift their vision far beyond Roman rule. God sent angels from heaven to appear before shepherds who were keeping their flock to announce that ďunto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the LordĒ (Luke 2:11)!
After the visitation from the angels, the shepherds ran to find the baby Jesus (v.16). During that time there was an old man by the name of Simeon. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lordís Christ (v. 26). After seeing baby Jesus in the temple, Simeon was satisfied and requested to God to let him die in peace (v. 29).
How can we today feel the miracle that people such as the shepherds and old man Simeon felt over 2000 years ago? In our minds, we must go back there. We canít feel this miracle standing in contemporary shoes. But the better we can grasp the darkness of the times during which Christ was born, and then see the breadth of the light of the redemption ushered in by His birth, the more we will feel the miracle of that first Christmas.
Remember that Mary gave birth to Jesus while she was in Bethlehem as a result of Augustusí decree. This was a hectic time. People from all over the Roman Empire were trying to reach their hometowns to be taxed. Amid all that busyness, in a manger within a stable, Mary and Joseph and the shepherds were celebrating the birth of the Savior!
Thatís exactly what Christians need to learn to do today. Yes, we must learn how to celebrate Jesus in the midst of a world caught up in the busyness of its affairs. The world will always be crazy with its busyness during Yuletide. But we the people of God need to downplay this error and emphasize the true meaning of Christmas. Yes, I know that what I am advocating is pretty radical, given where we are in time.
Many Christians have already been sucked in by the spirit of this world, as it relates to Christmas. Here are some signs: They buy things they canít afford, leaving off bills and spending money that is the Lordís. (If itís Christís birthday, why is He not the one getting the gifts?) They have no joy in the difference the Christ of Christmas has made in their life. They stay in bed late on Christmas day when their church is open for service, and they donít mention Christ in their home before they shower each other with gifts.
We need to do what Paul the apostle was inspired to instruct the church at Rome to do: ďBe not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mindĒ (Romans 12:2). I am not advocating that we not buy gifts or come together as family and do the other positive things we do to celebrate Christmas. Those activities are always in order, but I am saying that Christ should be our main focus. No more should we get in debt to shop when we know we canít afford it. No more giving gifts just to receive. We should talk about Christ in our family gatherings. Our Christmas cards should be Christ-centered.
Since the church I attend does not have worship service on Christmas dayóunless it falls on Sunday--one thing we do in my home is before any gifts are opened, we have a spiritual gathering, about 45 minutes, where we sing Christ-centered Christmas songs, I share from the Word of God the Christmas story, and we worship Christ. Our youths really need this exposure, lest they only get the message of this world about the meaning of Christmas. We should not take a day off from sharing Christ on Christmas; this is the day we should be even more passionate about Him. The very occasion of the holiday gives us an excellent platform.
To me, John 3:16 really captures the spirit of Christmas. In a nutshell it says Jesus came to save a lost humanity. The Jews who lived during Christís birth knew from the Old Testament Scriptures that this Savior was to come. Thatís why there was such excitement when the angel announced that Christ had been born.
During His public ministry He sought to seek and save the lost. Now that He has returned to His Father, we are His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). We must carry on His work on earth. Our main purpose is that of reconciling men and women to God.
So many people are lost today. You donít have to look far to see that this is true. Look around in your workplace. Look among your family members. Look in your neighborhood. But, praise God, the Savior has come to save the lost! Thatís what the first Christmas was all about. We must capture that spirit. So as you read the biblical accounts of Christís birth, hear sermons of the same, or meditate on the accounts during this Yuletide, may you be fueled by a passion to proclaim Christ as the Savior to this lost and dying world.