People love the decorations and lights of Christmas – especially in cities like New York. They might even enjoy Handel’s Messiah or a Service of Lessons and Carols. But how often do we hear: ‘We know it isn’t true.’ Why then, if it is not true, do we continue to give gifts at Christmas? Is it because it is still the cultural thing to do? And, certainly the economy benefits.
Historicity. Is it all a myth that an angel announced the birth of God’s Messiah, our Savior, to shepherds? In Luke 2:10-12 we read, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you; you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger”.
GK Chesterton once remarked, ‘Truth must necessarily be stranger than fiction; for fiction is the creation of the human mind and therefore congenial to it’.
And Dr. Edwin Judge, Emeritus Professor of Ancient History, Macquarie University, NSW, says: ‘An ancient historian has no problem seeing the phenomenon of Jesus as a historical one. His many surprising aspects only help anchor him in history. Myth or legend would have created a more predictable figure. The writings that sprang up about Jesus also reveal to us a movement of thought and an experience of life so unusual that something much more substantial than the imagination is needed to explain it’ (quoted in Paul Barnett, The Truth about Jesus, Aquila: 1994).
Eyewitnesses. We weren’t there that night, but we have the record of the shepherds – who, in response to the supernatural visitation, said: “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger… (Luke 2:15b-16).
Research. Like them we need to find out for ourselves whether this baby is as special as those eyewitnesses declared. It means carrying out our own investigation. It’s also worth encouraging family and friends to do the same. You might consider giving them a gift of Luke’s Gospel to read. Or, if that is too upfront, there’s Paul Barnett’s recent book, A Short Book About Jesus: The Man from Heaven, Aquila: 2015 (Available in e-book at: https://cepstore.co/products/a-short-book-about-jesus-ebook)
As a side-note, the Anglican Connection website has Three Modules entitled, ‘God’s Passion & the Unfinished Task’. They are drawn from seminars I have been giving in cities this year. Here is the link: https://anglicanconnection.com/outreach-christmas-beyond/
Application. To return to my earlier question about why we give gifts at Christmas, Paul the Apostle uses God’s generous gift of His Son to encourage our own generosity towards others. In 2 Corinthians 8:9 we read: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Paul speaks of the pre-existence of Christ – he was rich. Throughout eternity he enjoyed the majestic glory of heaven. Paul then speaks of the birth of Christ – he became poor. He took to himself something that he had never known: poverty. Third, Paul explains the mystery of Christ’s extraordinary act of grace: ‘that through his poverty we all might become rich’.
The elegant simplicity of Paul’s sentence is profound. It was for our sake that Christ was willing to accept this humiliation. Through his lowly birth in Bethlehem, he came to enrich us forever.
Paul’s one verse lifts our eyes to the sheer generosity of Christ. When we begin to understand that this is what Christmas is about, we cannot help but be generous ourselves. Christmas is a time for giving. For it is a season in the year when together we can emulate, no matter how feebly, the unspeakable generosity of God’s gift.
It is helpful to remind ourselves of the story the 4th-century bishop, Nicholas of Myra, Turkey. One Christmas he looked for a practical way to express his gratitude to God for the gift of Jesus. He went to an impoverished area of the city, carrying a sack on his back. When he knocked on the doors of houses he was often greeted by poorly clad children. Opening his pack he gave them warm clothing before disappearing to his own home. The bishop was Nicholas of Myra.
While the story of Nicholas is thoroughly commercialized today, we can still learn from it. For when we feel in our own hearts the depth of God’s love for us in Jesus, we too will want to express our gratitude in being generous ourselves – and not just at Christmas. But Christmas does give us an opportunity to celebrate this wondrous joy together.
© John G. Mason, Anglican Connection
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