Where is Christ in Christmas?

Tuesday, August 19, 2003 | Tag Cloud

Where is Christ in Christmas?

by Berit Kjos

In the little village of Bethlehem,
There lay a Child one day;
And the sky was bright with a holy light
O'er the place where Jesus lay.

Alleluia! O how the angels sang.
Alleluia! How it rang!
And the sky was bright with a holy light
'Twas the birthday of a King.

The angels' joyful announcement was worthy of a Heavenly King. But how do we celebrate His majesty?

The world’s preparation for Christmas usually shuts Him out. Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, simply doesn’t fit today's politically correct views. Nor is He compatible with holiday marketing schemes. Do you wonder what happened to holiday wrapping paper with Biblical themes?

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. The world doesn’t welcome Him – He doesn't fit. Its people reject Him -- unless they can re-imagine Him in a form more like themselves. His holiness violates their comfort zone. So they hide from Him (like Adam and Eve), deny His existence, or fill their days with distractions and alternatives. For example:

* Schools are trading Christmas programs for solstice celebrations.
* Children are singing "Here comes Santa Claus" instead of "Away in a manger."
* Last year, the popular "Pokemon Christmas" video was quickly sold out at Walmart.
* As in Old Testament days, people who reject the only true source of peace, still proclaim "Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace."1
Meanwhile, many of us are too busy planning His party to grieve His absence.

The King whose birth we celebrate may be sad, but He’s never surprised. Long ago, He stood in Jerusalem watching a world too blinded by human wants and ambitions to see the Savior in their midst. "If you had known," He said with unspeakable sorrow, "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, religious leaders still lead the anti-Christ crusade. Many have accepted the new global consensus on religion: all religions are equally good, but Biblical Christianity is too narrow to be tolerated in this new millennium. The envisioned "Culture of Peace" won’t permit divisive Biblical values. Faith in His unchanging truths is viewed as "mental dysfunction." And at the forefront of this cultural transformation stand countless churches that teach a compromised, cross-less and Christ-less Christianity.

No wonder embarrassed theologians joined the public outcry last year when several presidential candidates dared to name Jesus during the recent Iowa debate.2 In the eyes of offended "Christian" leaders, evasion and lies would be more tolerable than the truth and light. But then, such was the religious climate that glorious night when our King came to earth and angelic jubilation pierced the stillness of the skies.

In other words, Jesus was born into a culture ruled by the same spiritual mastermind 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)

That’s why the religious leaders during His time on earth had little tolerance for His call to purity and separation. "Come unto Me…" meant leaving the acceptable ways of the world, a dangerous notion that threatened the 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 was in the world, and the 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 …." (John 1:10-12)

Human nature doesn’t change with time, nor does the spiritual battle raging against the Christ, His Word, and His followers. The church still wants to blend with the world, and statistics indicate it does so quite consistently.

The world doesn’t mind stars, angels, Christmas trees, or a sweet little baby sleeping in a manger. But there’s still "no room at the inn" for a King who invites us to walk 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. (Galatians 5:11)

THE COUNTERFEIT CHRISTMAS

But the main problem with Christmas is not the way we trivialize angels and shepherds. 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 religious competitors to Christmas. While Kwanza, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice may have replaced Christmas programs in public schools, they alone wouldn’t weaken the Church. Just look at China. Where genuine believers face the greatest challenges to their faith and families, they demonstrate a spiritual and numerical growth that puts the American church to shame.

Nor is it the pagan roots of most popular Christmas customs. Few are even aware of the history behind Christmas trees, mistletoes or the ancient midwinter celebration of a mother-goddess with the midwinter babe. While these roots may contribute to the problem, today's Christmas would hardly be more Biblical if set in the summer.

No, the root problem has to do with our view of God and our relationship to Jesus. We have been taught to think of the King of the universe more like a super-Santa than a jealous God who holds us accountable to His Word. We forget that His favors are designed to conform us to His image, not meet all our wants.

He grieves when His people turn worship into self-indulgence, pretending to please Him when, while serving ourselves. His lowly birth in Bethlehem points to the hardships our Savior was willing to bear for our sake. Without diminishing His glorious stature as eternal King, it prompts us to walk with Him in the same love and humility with our hearts set on eternity.

Peter didn’t understand. So when Jesus described His coming death, Peter reassured Him, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!" He meant well, but he was wrong. Jesus had to correct him – for our sake as much as for Peter. Turning to His friend and follower, he said something that would hardly fit today’s politically correct consensus process:

"Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men. . . .If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." (Matthew 16:22-24)

CELEBRATING THE KING

Peter had set His mind on "the things of men." How can we set our minds on "the things of God" this Christmas?

Two millennia ago, God touched the hearts of three 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)

The gifts they brought were chosen with love. These pilgrims were willing to risk their own lives to make the long, dangerous journey. And they gave Him their very best – offerings worthy of the King of heaven and earth. God must have been pleased. He didn’t need their gifts but He saw their loving hearts.

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 for what today seemed to be good intentions. But God chose to show us something about Himself. He longs for whole-hearted devotion, not a pretentious show of piety.

Back in Old Testament days, God’s chosen nation pretended 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 – keeping the best for themselves. So God warned them:

"Cursed be the deceiver
Who has in his flock a male …
But 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 angel’s awesome message – one that called her to endure out-of-wedlock pregnancy in a culture where sexual promiscuity called for death:

"The angel said to her, 'Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!'
"But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then 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 1:28-38)

Mary was willing to obey – to do what God asked. Her gift to Him was her faith, love, life and future. Understanding that the Old Testament "bondservant" meant willing surrender of everything to His service, she offered herself as a "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God…." (Romans 12:1) The next verse describes our part in God’s lifelong process conforming us to the life of Jesus – making us a living testimony of His goodness to the world:

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."

In other words, the gift God desires from us is our own lives fully dedicated to Him. Only then can He fully use us to fulfill His purpose here on earth. This means a deep lifelong commitment to feed on His Word, follow His way, and demonstrate His life. It’s an old command, taught through Moses, and emphasized by Jesus:

"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit… walk… lie down, and… rise up." (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)

That means all we think, feed our minds, share in our families, and show the world will be to and from our King. His life is our message – and our lives are His message. It’s a big calling, but when we consecrate ourselves to Him and rest in His arms, He will accomplish it. That’s His promise to all who give their lives to Him.

"My King and my God….
Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage." (Psalm 84:3, 5)

God’s path for His own beloved Son led through a lowly stable. His only worshippers were the poor shepherds who, in the secluded stillness of the night, could hear the angels sing. On our pilgrimage, how can we best worship Jesus this day? Please show and enable us, precious Shepherd and King.

'Twas a humble birthplace, but O how much
God gave to us that day,
From the manger bed what a path has led,
What a perfect, holy way.

Refrain
Alleluia! O how the angels sang.
Alleluia! How it rang!
And the sky was bright with a holy light
'Twas the birthday of a King.

Endnotes:

1. Jeremiah 6:14-15

2. These candidates – George Bush, Gary Bauer, and Orrin Hatch – had been asked to name their favorite philosopher-thinkers. Reported by Richard L. Berke, "Religion Center Stage in Presidential Race," The New York Times, 15 December 1999.

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