A Christmas Tragedy Of Biblical Proportions


I attended multiple Christmas services this year — as worshiper rather than worship leader. The sermons presented were solid declarations of the great good news of our Savior’s birth — His advent into our world as the incarnate Word the Father.

I was glad the preachers did not compromise the authentic message just because there might be people in the congregation somehow unready for truth. But the messengers missed the opportunity to tell their audience why they ought to first believe, then rejoice, and finally commit to the reality of Christmas, whether Christians or no.

Let’s face it: Many Christians do not really believe the Gospel. The good news is simplicity itself. God the Son claims the last word in the conversation. That word is He loves us no matter where we have been or how long we have been away. His only question to each of us is whether we are ready to be homeward bound with Him as of now. Whether we scorn accountability or have entered the banquet hall refusing to be seated with the other sinners, reality is most of us are pre-believers to one extent or another.

For a preacher on Christmas to miss the opportunity to share not just what is proclaimed but why it should be received is a tragedy — of biblical proportions.

Luke’s Gospel tells of the couple returning to the father’s hometown — as Middle Eastern laws then and now require — to register for tax and census purposes. The mother was close to delivery of the child in her womb but they had to accept lodging in a place where animals also stayed; the baby was delivered in a feeding trough and then all Heaven broke loose.

Shepherds were tending their flocks some distance from Bethlehem, the city of Messianic ancestor King David. The name means literally House of Bread, but the city was renowned as the national center for breeding and supplying sacrificial lambs for use in the Jerusalem Temple. The shepherds reported hearing angels singing of the birth; they left their flocks — an unheard of act of irresponsibility or faith in God, reader’s choice — and rushed to find and worship the God Child. Scripture is unclear as to whether shepherds and magi — Wise Men — arrived together, but three pagan astrologers from Arabia also came to worship the Child. These followers of an ungodly pseudo-science had seen signs in the skies leading them on a two-year (estimated) quest; their inclusion in the story is meant to present the Incarnation as so overwhelming a Presence it is not necessary to be steeped in Jewish scripture to recognize and respond to the Glory. Only a repentant heart is essential.

It is more than fitting for the Son of God calling Himself the bread of life to be born in the House of Bread and the center for sacrifice of the nation. The story fits together seamlessly, but how can we know if the fit is fruit of ultimate reality or merely skillful craftsmanship? Why should the story be believed?

For one thing, this birth was predicted some seven centuries back. Isaiah wrote the Holy One will come as a child in the usual way (Isaiah 9:6-7) and He will be known as the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God — that’s right, God Incarnate –Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. He will bring an era of freedom and peace without precedent. These statements are fully consistent with the whole prophetic tradition; Micah, for example, foretells the birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2-5) and even foreshadows miracles like feeding the 5,000 and later 4,000 by miraculous creation.

But why should the prophecy be remembered 700 years, let alone believed?

The best reason around is that this God for Whom Isaiah and the rest of the prophets speak has been delivering on His promises from their beginning. He said He would free the Hebrews from the Egyptian Empire, establish them in their own land after driving a number of strong armies from their path, and throw off domination by much more powerful conquering nations time and again. The results are documented in biblical and extra-biblical sources.

So why did these Jews not flock to the Child and accept Him as their Redeemer? Why did not the Pharisees — the Jews most steeped in their own traditions — accept Him?

The Christ was not accepted then and now because He was not what we wanted.

Jews — and the Christians who came after — were excited about restoring biblical Israel; we salivated at the prospect of judging the ignorant remainder of the world. Of course Isaiah and the prophets do talk about all that, but mostly they announce a King who heals, serves and demonstrates humility before God and sacrifice-of-self for one another. They were crystal clear that He would give up His life and we were to emulate Him. That means we do not judge with entitlement but with tears — if at all. It means we recognize repentance as a lifestyle to be modeled rather than dictated. It means the baby in the manger becomes the man on the cross and we are called and privileged to live likewise. This Messiah is not what we want, but we can choose Him just the same if we will.

The concept gains credibility in the same way after as it does before Christmas. This same God-of-the-prophets makes even more grandiose promises to us than He did to the Old Testament Jews. He says we will do even greater things than He — in John 14:12-14, for example — and these too have been fulfilled in plain sight.

Jesus fed the 5,000 and the 4,000; Christians acting in His Name have fed hundreds of millions through miraculous provision and the more mundane application of God-ignited generosity coupled with God-inspired agriculture.

The Christmas Child grew into adulthood healing thousands through touch and word; His maturing servants have healed hundreds of millions through applying His touch and heeding His word in the development of modern medicine.

The Son could count around 120 faithful followers when He rose from death; more than 2 billion followers now crowd the upper room because earlier followers shared the message along with demonstrations of its power.

It is wonderful to share the message of new and abundant life — in this world and the next — and it requires more courage to do so than at any time since the first century. There is no better time for this sharing than Christmas. But it is so much better still if we share the reasons to believe alongside what we believe.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.

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