God forbid that we ever get used to Christmas.
We love the magic of Christmastime – a time for children’s eyes to gleam with wonder. A season for lights and trees and gifts and inspiring music. We decorate manger scenes and remember the amazing gift that God gave the world on Christmas.
In this busy season, it's good to stop for a minute and take in what actually occurred on that cold night in the first century.
We know from secular historians at that time that Jesus was a real man who preached in Judea and was crucified by Pilot – that’s real history. We also know secular historians reported that his followers claimed Jesus arose from the dead and that thousands of those followers were willing to literally die rather than deny the resurrection. That’s undeniable history.
Jesus’ three-year ministry and miracles were awe-inspiring. His death and resurrection were world-changing. But none of that could have happened without the thirty years of silent living that Jesus did before that ministry began. Those thirty years began with the most remarkable miracle recorded in the Bible.
When it comes to the Christmas story, we often think of a manger and shepherds and ‘three’ wise men. We think of a ‘Silent Night’ in an obscure place… an event that was unnoticed by the world.
Yet, even from a historical perspective, it was far from unnoticed.
The shepherds who saw a sky filled with angels were so moved that they “made known” the news – they told everyone. “And all that heard it wondered at the things which were spoken by the shepherds.” Luke 2:18
Simeon, who had waited his whole life for “the consolation of Israel” took Jesus in his arms and prophesied: “my eyes have seen thy salvation, which you prepared before the face of all peoples; A light for revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of thy people Israel.” Luke 2:30-32
Anna the prophetess, knew it was a big deal. She had waited in the temple for 84 years, worshipping with fasting and supplications night and day. When she saw Jesus she “spoke of him to all them that were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
An unusual star appeared, prompting Maggi from the east to make an arduous, dangerous, and probably enormously expensive journey to Palestine. We’re not told how many Maggi came, only that they bore gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. There could have been three or three hundred of them. They were an imposing enough group of foreigners to gain an immediate audience with King Herod.
Herod took their message seriously enough to slaughter “all the male children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under.”
These events were extraordinary in their own right, but even they paled in comparison with the truth of what actually occurred.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14
This statement is even more profound in the original Greek. “The Word” is the Greek, Logos. “The doctrine, intent, utterance, and work of God – God’s most intimate essence – God Himself,” became a human man.
What’s more, the Christmas story reveals the reason why He came.
“You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger.” This news, given to the shepherds by the angel, carried a meaning that the shepherds immediately understood. The shepherds had been instructed by the temple priests that only the firstborn lambs were to be wrapped in swaddling cloths and sheltered protectively in a manger – those were the ‘perfect’ lambs… the lambs that were set aside for sacrifice on the holiest of days.
John the Baptist would introduce Jesus to the world thirty years later with the declaration: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
This lamb also had a name that Isaiah said was given to him by God:
Immanuel – God with us.
That’s a really big deal!
(1) Image is from "Christmas with the Chosen" /Alvaro Aguayo