WHERE IS CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS?
by Berit Kjos
"I bring you good tidings of great joy.... For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.... You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12
The angels' joyful announcement was worthy of our Heavenly King. Yet, except for a few lowly shepherds, the people of Bethlehem failed to welcome Him. Had they forgotten the long-awaited Messiah prophesied by Isaiah long ago:
"For Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. " Isaiah 9:6-7
Today's world is just as oblivious. It shuts Him out. Just look around. Shoppers crowd the stores, but few see signs of Jesus. The old, familiar manger scenes have been stripped from public places. His name and message have been banned from holiday celebrations at schools and colleges across America. And when the planned "Sustainable Communities" mandated by international law and by President Clinton's Executive Order are put in place, our "divisive" expressions of faith will be outlawed.
Yet, in the dim light of human nature, it makes sense. Our sovereign King doesn’t fit man's vision of interfaith unity. His Way is too narrow, and His Word is far too offensive! In fact, He warned us about spiritual war and persecution more than two millennia ago, and it still fits our times:
"...you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake." Matthew 24:9
Never mind that He created the universe and has each future day written in His Book. Or that He alone can fulfill our longing for genuine peace and lasting joy. His guidelines still enrage the world -- including many who call themselves Christians. His call for holiness disturbs their comfort zone.
Watching our complacency, our Lord may be sad, but He is never surprised. (John 2:24) Long ago, He stood in Jerusalem watching a world too blinded by sin and Satan -- and too distracted by their wants and ambitions -- to see the Savior in their midst. So, with unspeakable sorrow, He said,
"If you had known the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." Luke 19:42
THE COMPROMISING CHURCH
Today, almost 2000 years later, the world's religious leaders still lead the anti-Jesus crusade. Many have accepted the UN consensus on spirituality: all religions are equally good -- except Biblical Christianity. The planned "Culture of Peace" can't accommodate God's "divisive" Biblical values. Since His Word can't be conformed to the world's amoral standards for human life and mental health, it threatens their dream of global solidarity.
Near the forefront of this cultural transformation stand countless compromising churches and pastors that teach a cross-less distortion of Christianity. They exemplify the religious climate on that glorious night when our King came to earth and angelic jubilation pierced the stillness. But few could hear the message.
For Jesus was born into a culture ruled by the same spiritual tyrant that prods the masses today. The apostle John said it well: "The whole world lies under the sway of the evil one." 1 John 5:19
During our Lord's short time on earth, the religious leaders despised His offer of grace and His call to faith. "Come unto Me…" meant leaving the acceptable ways of the world -- a dangerous notion to any success-driven establishment. Unless the long-awaited Messiah would conform to contemporary teachings, He was not welcome in their midst. John summarized the tragedy as well as the triumph:
"...he world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God..." John 1:10-12
Human nature doesnt change with time, nor does the spiritual war that still rages against Jesus Christ, His Word, and His followers.
For the most part, the world will tolerate sparkling stars, sweet angels, Christmas trees... even a peaceful little baby sleeping in a manger. But there’s still "no room at the inn" for a King who invites us to walk with Him on His lowly path. And if we choose to let Him "be born in us" we must also share His suffering and bear with Him "the offense of the cross" – the world’s hostility toward the separated and crucified life Christ grants to those who love Him.
THE COUNTERFEIT CHRISTMAS
Keep in mind, the main problem is not the way we trivialize shepherds and reinvent angels. Nor is it the season of the year. I doubt that Jesus cares whether we celebrate His birth in December or closer to the unknown date.
Nor is it the world's religious alternatives to Christianity. While Kwanza, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice may have replaced Christmas programs in public schools and homes, they alone wouldnt weaken the true Church. Even socialism and Communism can't quench faith. Their darkness only makes the light shine brighter and His promises more precious.
Just look at China and North Korea. Where true believers face the deadly threats to their lives and churches, they demonstrate a growth in faith and perseverance (as well as in numbers) that puts American churches to shame. (See Persecution)
Nor is it the pagan roots of most popular Christmas customs. Few are even aware of the pagan history behind Christmas trees, mistletoes or the ancient midwinter celebration of a mother-goddess with the midwinter baby. While these unholy roots may contribute to spiritual confusion, the real crisis is more personal.
Our main problem has to do with our view of God and our relationship to Jesus. Many have been taught to think of the King of the universe more like a super-Santa than a sovereign God who holds us accountable to His Word. We forget that that life's trials as well as His gracious gifts are designed to conform us to His image, not meet all our wants.
He grieves when we pretend to please Him while we serve ourselves. His "birthday" has become a celebration of human gratification, not true joy and Spirit-led worship.
May His lowly birth and humbling circumstances be a constant reminder to give Him our lives and fix our hope on eternity. So,
"let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross..." Hebrews 12:1-2
HONORING THE KING
Jesus said to Peter, “...you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23) Might that message be for us as well? If so, how can we set our minds on "the things of God" -- not just during this season but every day?
Two millennia ago, God touched the hearts of three wise men who would have treasured the truths we have available today. With joy, they received the little information He gave, then set out on a long, risky pilgrimage to worship the newborn King:
"…behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him." Matthew 2:1-2
These pilgrims were willing to risk their own lives to make the long, dangerous journey. The gifts they brought were chosen with care (and probably with His loving guidance, though they didn't know Him yet.) They gave Him their very best – offerings worthy of a mighty King.
Other gifts have pleased Him less. When Ananias and Sapphira pretended to give their all but secretly withheld some of their wealth, they were struck dead -- a frightening consequence of half-hearted devotion. That taught us something about our God. He longs for wholehearted love and loyalty, not a pretentious show of piety.
Back in Old Testament days, Gods chosen nation professed to follow His guidelines. They offered the prescribed sacrifices out of cultural obedience. They had to! People were watching each other. But they cheated their all-knowing God by giving as little as possible blemished gifts, worth little to man and less than nothing to God. The best they kept for themselves. So God warned them:
"Cursed be the deceiver who... sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished.
For I am a great King, " says the LORD of hosts,
And My name is to be feared among the nations." Malachi 1:14
Then as now, a lukewarm show of obedience to Biblical guidelines is hypocrisy a pretense of loyalty to the Christ whose name we bear. But the opposite, the genuine devotion God seeks from His followers, was demonstrated by Mary. Listen to her response to the angels awesome message one that called her to endure the shame of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy in a culture where sexual promiscuity called for death:
"...the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS .'
"Then Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I do not know a man?'
And the angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God . For with God nothing will be impossible.'
"Then Mary said, 'Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.'" Luke 1:30-38
God chose Mary, for He knew her heart. He saw that she would do whatever He asked. Her gift to Him was her faith, love, life and obedience. Understanding that the Old Testament "bondservant" means willing surrender of everything out of love for her Master, she offered herself as a "a living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1) willing to accept the suffering implied in His assignment.
God’s earthly path for His own beloved Son would begin in a lowly stable -- and end on a cruel cross. His only worshippers on that first joyful night were his parents and the poor shepherds who heard the angels sing.
On our pilgrimage along God's narrow way, how can we best worship Jesus today?
Please show us and enable us, precious Shepherd and King.