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The Reality of Christmas

What is the reality of Christmas?

We probably feel like we know the Christmas
story word for word. After all, this story is
the centre of our Christmas celebrations
and festivity. Yet, have we lost some of the awe and
humbling wonder that the birth of Christ demands of
us? Has this story become so familiar that it is reduced
to being mundane and ordinary? The birth of Christ
was never meant to make things feel festive once a
year; the reality of this event should shock us and
leave us praising God in reverent fear.

As Christians, it can he easy to consider the Christmas
story as simply an evangelistic opportunity; yet there is
a depth to this story that can still powerfully challenge
us within the church as well. Let’s look at some of the
details of the Christmas story to be reminded again of
the reality, love and hope revealed by the birth of Christ.

The ugly truth

In many parts of the world Christmas is presented
as a time of fun, family and food. There's shopping
to do, decorations to put up and presents to wrap.
But the tinsel doesn't really cover up what our world
is actually like. Wars are being fought; people are
seeking refuge in foreign countries; poverty increases.
And even within the ‘Christmas environment’ many of
us will be sufferinging with pain, grief, illness, rejection
and loneliness.

Christmas, we know it today, can’t cover the ugly
truth of our broken world. It is full of sin and suffering
now; and it was full of these things when Jesus was
born.The traditiional nativity scene often forgets the
selfishness, horror and violence that surrounded the
birth and early years of Jesus life.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in
the days of Herod the 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.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and
all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all
the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he
inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is
written by the prophet: ’But you, Bethlehem, in the land
of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My
people Israel.’ ” -—Matthew 2v6 (emphasis added)

  Herod, the governing king in Jerusalem, is often
remembered in our nativities as the ‘evil ruler’
determined not to lose his throne to the supposed
“King of the Jews”. However, we rarely consider the
reaction of the Jews in Jerusalem who were just as
“troubled” as Herod.
   When Herod sought advice on this new—born
King, the religious leaders in Jerusalem were able
to quote the Old Testament prophecies about
the coming Christ. They know the promises, but
we are not told that they rejoiced when they
heard news of His birth. It is probably quite safe
to assume that they, along with “all Jerusalem”,
were disturbed! In the same  way there was “no room for .
{Mary and Joseph] in the inn” (Luke 2:7), there was no room
for the coming Christ in His world. Even His own people,
equipped with Scripture, did not want Him (John 1:11).
  Later, when Herod realised that the wise men were not
going to help him find this new born King, he took drastic
measures to destroy any threat to his rule:  

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by
the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent
forth and put to death all the male children who
were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two
years old and under, according to the time which he
had determined from the wise men. Matthew 2:16.

   Unsurprisingly, even though we include the wise
men in our nativities, this massacre is hardly ever
mentioned. It is a horrific crime and not something we
want to dwell on. Yet it did happen, and it is included in
the Bible for us to reflect on, rather than forget about.
While we will not have done anything as atrocious as
Herod, his single-minded determination to hold on to
his power and status is something that can resonate
with all of us. Surely this is a picture of what our lives
looked like before we gave them to Christ: we wanted
to be in full control; our way was most important, even
if it hurt others; we didn’t want God. to be king; we did
anything to quiet Him or remove Him from the picture.

   In the real Christmas story, the ugiy truth of sin is
clearly revealed, along with its devastating effects. Yet
the Creator did not come in anger or judgement, but
in a tiny, helpless baby. God’s intention towards our
rebellious world couldn’t have been made any clearer.
He had not come to destroy; He came as a gift of hope
and love to a world that didn’t know Him and wasn’t
looking for Him.

The saving love of God

   Although we might think of Christmas as a
 time of ‘escapism’, the intention of the biblical
 narrative couldn’t be any more different.  Jesus‘
birth was not one of fantasy/—He wasn’t born in a rich
palace with midwives on hand to support Mary. If He
had, what would it have said about God’s gift? That it’s
only for the rich and powerful? Or only for those who
are worthy in some way? The actual events and details
carry a very different message.

   A birth for everyone: Jesus’ birth plunges us into
the real world. Imagine the anxiety of Mary and Joseph
as they tried to find somewhere to deliver the baby;
or the unclear future that lay before them as they fled
to Egypt to escape Herod (Matt. 2:14). Jesus was born in
the stark reality of poverty, uncertainty and weakness.
As we are told by the apostle Paul: Christ “made
Himself of no reputation . , . coming in the likeness
of men” (Phil. 2:7 emphasis added). He wasn’t born in “the
likeness of rich, powerful, self-sufficient people”; by
His own choice, Jesus was born amongst livestock in
thc humblest of circumstances, and then placed in a
feedling trough. We are told in the book of Hebrews that
Jesus can fully “sympathise with our weakness” and he
was “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin”
(4v15). It wasn’t just that Jesus looked like us; He became
like us, suffering through hardships and trials, even
from the day of His birth. He truly became one of us.
Jesus really is for everyone. He was born in a stable
(or cave of some sort) crowded with animals. It wasn’t a
high—profile, ‘private property’ kind of place; there was
no lock on the door to keep the world out. In fact the
first visitors to see the baby in the manger were people
of relative unimportance: shepherds (Luke 2v15-16). They
didn’t stumble onto the scene, but were invited by "an
angel of the Lord” (\/.9), Jesus came that all would he able
to find Him and know Him personally.
   A rescue for everyone: Jesus was given two
powerful names at His birth:

  "You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His
people from their sins.” —Matthew 1:21 (emphasis added)

  "The virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and
they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated,
”God with us.” Matthew 1:23 [emphasis added)

   The promise of these names should leave us in
absolute awe. Jesus was born into a world not ready
for Him or looking for Him, yet He came to "save His
people” and be “God with us”. These are the names
God instructed to be given to His Son. Their message
doesn’t rely on our circumstances or how well we
are doing; it’s His mission to save us and make us
His again. Jesus’ names show His rescue can be for
everyone because it depends only on Him.
   A sacrifice for everyone: Jesus was called another
name at the beginning of His public ministiy; one
which adds some crucial explanation to the Christmas
story “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of
the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus wasn’t just born amongst
livestock, He was born as “The Lamb”.
   Lambs were very significant in Israel’s worship
towards God. God’s law required lambs to be sacrificed
as sin offerings (Lev.4v32), guilt offerings (14:12) and
other forms of offering. Yet the most important lamb-
sacrifice happened during the Exodus, when God freed
the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt (Ex. 12). Every
Israelite family was told to slaughter a lamb and put its
blood on their doorposts. When God then visited Egypt
in judgement that night, whenever He saw the blood
on the doorposts, He passed over that house. He only
brought death to the firstborn in the Egyptian houses,
where this payment of blood had not been provided.
   Jesus, "The Lamb of God”, is the fulfilment that the
Exdus “Passover Lamb”, and all the other sacrificial
lambs, pointed to. He wasn’t just born to teach and
lend us. He was born to die. In a similar way to the
Passover lambs (who died in place of the Israelite
born born), Jesus paid for “the sin of the world” for us by
dying in our place. He brought an end to the need for
sacrifices, taking away “the sin of the world” for good.
   Jesus didn’t die for innocent people, who were just
in the wrong place at the wrong time. And Jesus didn’t
die for His friends. Jesus died for His enemies: messed
up, broken people who have no relationship with God
and no way of making things right on their own. Now
anyone who puts their faith in Christ can enjoy a life
and eternity of “God with us”.

The hope of His return
   The Lamb was sacrificed when He was brutally
executed on the cross. His mission complete,
“He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His
head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). The mission,
predicted in the manner of His birth, was complete.
We are told: “after He had offered one sacrifice for
sins forever, [He] sat down at the right hand of God”
(Heb. 10:12). The way to God was made open for us and
the rescue was cornplete—Jesus “sat down”.
Of course, this is not the end of the story. Jesus’ first
arrival on earth also gives us a glimpse of His promised
return. God came to live among us, and now we wait for
the day when we will live with Him forever. As surely as God
kept His promise to enter our world and free us from sin, He
will keep His promise to return on that final day.

We need to learn the lessons
of Christmas and apply them to Jesus’ return. When
Jesus was born, few looked for Him, few expected Him
and many were troubled by Him. Which category do
we fit in as we wait for Him now? Are we like Herod,
who didn't want his world to be disrupted? Are we like
the religious leaders who ‘knew’ about the promised
Christ but didn't want Him to come? Or are we like
the often forgotten Simeon (Luke 2:28-32 and Anna
Vs36-38) who had been waiting eagerly for Jesus and
rejoiced when they saw Him?

   The day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the
night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then
sudden destruction comes upon them . . . But you,
brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day
should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of
light and sons of the day. We are not of the night
nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as
others do, but let us watch and be sober.
I Thessalonians 5:2—6 (emphasis added)

   We are told that Christ’s return will mean
"destruction” for many; this should spur us on to
share the good news of Jesus with those we know.
For those of us who already trust Him, it means a
fulfilment of “God with us”. We will finally be with
Christ in His home, safe and secure with Him. As
the  promised Christ should have been central to
the Israelites hope, so too should His promised
return be what we are watching for and expecting.
Christmass is a powerful reminder that the end of the
story is yet to come!

Responding to Christmas

As well-known as the Christmas story is,
 crucial details and implications can quickly
 be forgotten. Most notably is the fact that
God had a choice. He chose to become a weak human
child. He chose to come to earth and be our sacrificial
Lamb. We can decorate this story with tinsel, stars and
presents, but that should never mask the purpose of
Christ’s entrance to our world: to suffer and die for us‘
   There is nothing wrong with joining in with the
fun and festivities of the Christmas season, of course,
but how might we also respond to the reflections in
this word
   Honouring Jesus as our King and sacrifice:
Jesus, “being in the form of God, did not consider it
robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of
no reputation. . . He humbled Himself and became
obedient to the point of death, even the death of
the cross” (Phil. 2v6-8). The mind-blowing truth of
Christmas is that our Creator God, who holds the
world in His mighty hands, became our sacrifice for
sin. Although we too frequently consider this to be
‘normal’, it should shock us every time we think of it!
   A powerful example of the kind of reaction Jesus’
sacrifice should stir in us can be seen at the last
supper before His crucifixion. Jesus wrapped a towel
round His waist and knelt down to wash his disciple's
feet (John 13v2-17). Peter was shocked at seeing his God
kneeling before him, lower than the lowest servant, to
clean him. "You shall never wash my feet! he exclaimed
(v 5) How could his Lord think of lowering Himself and
doing a servant's job?
   Yet Jesus reply: Ïf I do not wash you have no place
part with Me"(v8) Jesus "humbled Himself" on the
cross and became nothing to save us. The shock Peter
felt during the last supper is the shock of Christmas!
How could the King of the universe become such a
nothing for us? How could He have come to die for us?
   If we are to submit to Jesus and honour Him, we
must not just honour Him as King, but also as our
personal sacrifice for sin. As shocking as it is, we
cannot ignore this essential part orf His work in saving
us. It is very humbling to realise Christmas-and
Easter- fulfil the image of God kneeling before us,
wearing nothing but a towel, in order to wash us and
make us clean so we can enter His home.We can only
come to Him in awe with humble thanks and prasie,
relying on Him to do the work of savation for us.
   Sharing the message for everyone, with
everyony: Jeus came to pay for "the sin of theworld"
(John1 v29). His rescue is for everyone - this includes the
people we look at and say "They will never believe” or
"I can't ever see them singing praises in church.”
   The real Christmas story gives us a horrible glimpse
of how devastating and useless it is to fight against
God. We need to take this image of sin seriously.
Those who continue as God’s enemies are headed for
destruction. And so we need to take the wonderful
rescue seriously too. The people around us don't
desperately need to hear just that Iesus came to earth
as a Baby - they need to hear why. He came to rescue
them personally and to sacrifice Himself in their place.
   As great as it is to invite friends and family to our
Christmas church services and events, those things
can’t take the place of praying for the unbelievers we
know and seeking opportunities to share our faith and
hope with them. If we are deepiy impacted by the reality
of the Christmas story, we will be much more ready to
share why Christmas is so important to us personally.
   The Christmas story is not just a tradition or
outreach opportunity, it is God Himself leaving His
throne in heaven to save us. It shows us just who our
God is and what Christ was willing to do out of His
love for us. Reflecting on this story will help us stay
“rooted and grounded” in His love, so that we “may
be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the
width and length and depth and height—to know the
love of Christ which passes knowledge; that [we] may
be filled with ali the fullness of God” (Eph. 3;17~19).


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