A. ADVERTISING CHRISTMAS
1. Modern Christmas
Whenever there is a special event, these days, we seem to get plenty of warning. Whether it’s Mothers’ Day, an annual festival, or even a new TV programme, it seems that for at least two months before hand we’re told of the coming event. So much so, that some of us can’t wait for the event to be over, in order for the advertising to stop.
When it comes to an event like Christmas, however, it’s not just two months’ notice that we get, but several months. Tinsel and presents appear in the shops, well before it seems decent to even think about it. And the advertising begins . . . indeed, it seems to start earlier every year.
And whilst we can mumble and complain at the early warning, and at the eagerness of stores to sell their wares, perhaps we need to put the warning—the advance notice that Christmas is coming—into perspective. Because the advertising for the first Christmas didn’t just begin a matter of months before the event, it occurred centuries before. For there were prophets seven hundred to seven hundred and fifty years before Jesus was born, telling the people to expect the Messiah.
2. The First Christmas
Indeed, Isaiah’s message was: “A child has been born to us—a son has been given to us . . . he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). And Micah warned: “As for you, Bethlehem… from you will come… one who will be ruler” (Micah 5:2).
Six hundred years before the birth, Jeremiah got into the act too. “In those days, at that time, I will cause a righteous branch to sprout… This is the name by which it will be called, ‘The Lord is our Righteousness’” (Jeremiah 33:15-16). And four hundred years before his birth, Malachi put his two bobs worth in as well: “Look, I am sending my messenger . . . The Lord . . . will come suddenly to his Temple” (Malachi 3:1).
Furthermore, a little over nine months before the birth of Jesus, the archangel Gabriel visited Mary and said to her: “You will conceive a child in your womb. You will bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great. He will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31-32). And during the pregnancy, an angel visited Joseph too. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife . . . She will give birth to a son, and you will call his name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21-21).
As a consequence, even if they started advertising in January, it would be nothing like the notice that God gave his people for the first Christmas.
B. CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS
1. Modern Christmas
However, once the waiting and preparation time is over. For us, it is on to celebrating the festival. And these days the giving and receiving of presents, feasting, drinking, partying, celebrating, and singing carols, are just some of the things we do to celebrate Christmas.
Of course, not everything goes right all the time. And sometimes we might find we have forgotten to do something, and we find we’re not as prepared as we thought. But generally Christmas these days is a time of celebration, a time of having a good time.
2. The First Christmas
And that’s the way that it should be too. After all, think how the first Christmas was celebrated.
Because even though not everything went well on the first Christmas, there would have been joy at the birth of the baby. Furthermore, when the angels told the shepherds, tending their sheep in a nearby field, that the Messiah had been born, they hurried off, excitedly to see the baby Jesus (Luke 2:16). And after they had seen him, they returned to their fields glorifying and praising God (Luke 2:20). At the same time, some angels and a whole host of heavenly beings appeared praising God (Luke 2:13). And the effect that all this had on Mary, was that she treasured up everything that happened (Luke 2:19).
And it didn’t just stop there. Because forty days later, when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple for the very first time, there was a man called Simeon who, when he saw the family and recognised who Jesus was, praised God. “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all the peoples” (Luke 2:30-31). And there was a prophetess, named Anna, who also “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
So just as we have something in common with the first Christmas, regarding sufficient notice to celebrate the festival, so too do we have something in common regarding the celebration of the festival as well. But then, that’s only too right. Christmas should be about celebrating the birth of Jesus. And it should be about us being thankful too.
C. PACKING UP CHRISTMAS
1. Modern Christmas
Unfortunately, when Christmas is over for another year, and it’s time to pack Christmas away, isn’t it true that for many people things tend to go a little flat? The excitement’s gone, and we’ve eaten, drunken, and given just that little bit too much.
When it all stops—and for many there’s only the bill left to pay—it’s only natural that we may feel a little let down. But, yet in sense, with such a build up to a major festival, that is only to be expected.
2. The First Christmas
And, unfortunately, with the first Christmas, the same thing happened too. The shepherds . . . well they came and they went and, sadly, there’s no record of them after the event—they were simply never heard of again.
And yes, the wise men, did arrive sometime in the next two years. And they did rejoice when they saw the infant Jesus. But the whole situation was turned sour with Herod’s arrival on the scene, wanting to eliminate a baby, who he felt was a threat to his throne.
And so, sadly, after Jesus birth, things went flat too. The gloss was taken off such a wonderful event, just like it can be for us when our celebration of Christmas is over.
Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus went scuttling off to Egypt, to hide until Herod had died and it was safe to go home. And we pack up the decorations, finish the leftovers, and say goodbye to family and friends.
In regard to modern Christmases, therefore, there is a lot in common with the very first Christmas. The advertising, the celebration itself, and feeling flat after the event are the same things that occur today that occurred at the first Christmas.
But you know, in a very real way, it shouldn’t be like that at all. It shouldn’t be like that now and it shouldn’t have been like it then.
Because the point of Jesus’s birth wasn’t something that was supposed to be a five-minute wonder. Something to get excited about and then, five minutes later when the initial impact was over, something to be packed away and forgotten. The point of Jesus’s birth was that it was something to get excited about and something to stay excited about too.
Jesus was God’s answer to a particularly difficult problem. God wanted his people to be good enough to live with him in eternity. Because he found, and still finds, not one person worthy of making the grade. No matter what have done or do we will never be good enough to meet God’s standards based on our own merit.
That’s why Jesus was sent: to be born, to live a perfect life, and to suffer the punishment that we deserve for their sins. And that’s not just true of the people two thousand years ago, it’s true for us today as well.
The point of Jesus’ birth, then, is that everyone who trusts God—and puts their faith in a little child who grew up and died on our behalf—can be treated as though they had never made one mistake. They can be treated as though they have lived perfect lives. And on that basis, they can then receive God’s gift of eternal life.
Our role regarding Christmas, then, is to break the typical Christmas cycle.
Yes, the advertising that we see and hear, months in advance, may be a good thing, because it is reminder that the celebration is coming and that we need to prepare for it. And, yes, joining in the celebrations may be good as well, as we need to celebrate the birth of Jesus and involve ourselves in a period of excitement and celebration. However, once Christmas is over, what we shouldn’t be doing is packing it up and putting it away.
Yes, it’s OK to put away the trimmings. But what we should then be doing is to continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus, day after day after day. Because if Jesus was born for you and me so that we can have eternal life, then surely that is the good news that should stay with us well after the trees and tinsel are all packed away.
There are several parallels between the way we celebrate Christmas today and the way it was originally celebrated.
The people were given plenty of warning and we are too. The first Christmas was a time of great celebration, of which it is now as well. And after Christmas there is a tendency for everything to seem a little bit flat. And it is the third aspect that we need to change.
Because the point about Christmas is that it is not something that we should pack away at all. Because if Jesus was God’s solution to our salvation—and the only way that anyone can attain eternal life—then if we have accepted that, that is something that we should get excited about day after day after day.
And that is a particular challenge that faces us every year, as we put away the tree and the tinsel, we finish up all the leftovers, and we say goodbye to our family and friends.
Posted: 11th July 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis