Some Christmas Lessons

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There are a lot of important lessons to be found in “the Christmas story.” Of course there are the usual lessons we hear about every Christmas in church:  things involving the Incarnation, the fulfillment of prophecy and so on. But there are some other lessons to be learned for those with eyes to see.

For example, we can learn something from the Romans. Rome was the governing authority of the ancient world. When the Savior of the world was being born; when God was putting His plan of redemption into play; when Heaven came down to Earth, the governing authority was concerned about one thing: collecting taxes. In other words, the Romans wanted to maintain their sway over the population by forcing them via regulation to do what they wanted them to do. The government didn’t care about Jesus and it’s no different today. Our politicians, a little more tactful than their Roman counterparts, though no less tyrannical, are still unconcerned about Jesus, even though they tack His Name on the end of a speech every now and then. The church needs to understand that it’s not the governments job to proclaim or promote Jesus as Lord. It’s their job. Americans have been fortunate in that their government, up until recent years, has been generally receptive to Jesus. But now, not so much. It’s a heartbreaking lesson to be learned, but the government is not necessarily a friend to the church of Jesus Christ.

Another lesson we can learn comes from the angels. The big announcement of Christmas was delivered by angels. The lesson here is that God will do whatever it takes to get His message through to man. Sometimes He uses angels. He speaks to us through His Word. He also speaks to us through His Holy Spirit, through other people, and even through circumstances and miracles. God is God, and He can choose His method of communication.

The shepherds teach us a third lesson. Did you ever wonder what would have happened if the shepherds simply ignored the message of God given by the angels? What if these shepherds “had better things to do?” Like go shopping. Or cook breakfast for the wife. Or cut the grass. The big lesson here is one that Christians in 21st century America need to learn: respond properly to the God’s Word. Don’t ignore it. Don’t run from it. Don’t treat it with contempt. Just do what God tells you to do.

Then there are the parents. Hardly anything needs to be said about Mary and Joseph. What child could do any better than to have a mother who put fulfilling God’s will above anything else in her life? What about a father who gave up his home, his plans for the future, and his comfort, to peruse a Word from God that he wasn’t even 100% sure about? Talk about Godly parents! Serving God and being obedient to Him was more important than anything else. They risked life, limb, and ridicule because God meant everything to them.

Finally, we can even learn something from the baby. If we could go back in time and see the birth of Jesus, we’d notice that painters and artists got it all wrong. There was no halo around baby Jesus’ head. Handel’s “Messiah” was not sung as He was being born. There was nothing extraordinary about baby Jesus. Gloria Gaither, though, was someone who got it right:

He was just an ordinary Baby

That’s the way He planned it, maybe

Anything but common would have kept Him apart

From the children that He came to rescue…

He was just an ordinary Baby,

That’s the way He planned it, maybe

So that we would come to Him and not be afraid.

God came to us in an unremarkable, almost mundane way. Today, God is still revealing Himself in everyday life in such a way that it takes spiritual discernment to notice.

There are some other lessons we may learn from the Christmas story.

A humble birth, Luke 2:1 – 7

Caesar Augustus, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, concocted this brilliant scheme to tax everybody throughout the Roman Empire. It was an ambitious undertaking necessary to fund his army and to keep on living in the lap of luxury. Not only ambitious, it was terribly inconvenient for the citizens.

Everyone was required to return to his ancestral home for this registration. And because Joseph was a member of the royal line, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, King David’s ancient home—journeying there from the Galilean village of Nazareth. (Luke 2:3, 4 TLB)

The inconvenient part – having to return to the place of one’s birth – was not part of the Roman imperial decree, but rather it was a Jewish custom. It seems as though Rome permitted at least some freedom in how Caesar Augustus’ registration was to be carried out. Joseph’s ancestor was King David, therefore he had to make the journey, along with his very pregnant fiancé, to Bethlehem. A question arises as to why Mary accompanied Joseph. The two were not married so neither Roman nor Jewish law required her to accompany Joseph for this registration. Some scholars have advanced ideas like these: Mary went with Joseph because she loved him; she loved Bethlehem; she wanted to have Joseph with her when the baby was born; or it was because of the leading of the Holy Spirit.

And here’s the lesson. It wasn’t Caesar Augustus who was calling the shots. He may have thought the census and registration were his big idea to further his own political agenda, and Mary may have had many reasons for accompanying Joseph on the arduous trip to Bethlehem, but behind the scenes it was God pushing history along in the direction He wanted it to go. Everything that happened was quietly orchestrated by God to fulfill His Word. Generations before the birth of Jesus, we read this stunning prophecy:

O Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are but a small Judean village, yet you will be the birthplace of my King who is alive from everlasting ages past! (Micah 5:2 TLB)

So you see, everything hinged on getting Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born; and she gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn. (Luke 2:6, 7 TLB)

Most of us know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. A lot of people get bent all out of shape trying to figure out when He was born but they are missing the whole point of the story. It’s not when He was born that’s so important, it’s that He was born!

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4, 5 NKJV)

It all happened in God’s own good time. It wasn’t the circumstances of the world that prompted the birth of Jesus as this particular time. It wasn’t any human reason that moved God. This is a very important lesson for us to learn. We pray for friends and family; we ask God to meet needs, and there is always an expectation that He will answer a prayer based on our timetable. It doesn’t always work out that way because God’s time isn’t always our time. But one thing in for certain: God’s time is always the right time!

Angelic announcement, Luke 2:8 – 20

The Son of God could have entered our world the first time as He will the next time: in power and glory. But He didn’t. The first time Jesus came to us, He came in the weakest, most humble way possible. George MacDonald expressed it like this:

They were looking for a king

To slay their foes and lift them high;

Thou camest, a little baby thing

That made a woman cry.

It was to the shepherds that the angels appeared, giving the good news that something wonderful had happened in Bethlehem.

The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem! How will you recognize him? You will find a baby wrapped in a blanket, lying in a manger! (Luke 2:11, 12 TLB)

A millennium earlier, David kept his father’s sheep in these same pastures. Being a shepherd was a lowly occupation, so it’s no wonder God chose to reveal the good news to them. This night was all about humility from start to finish.

Among the good news delivered to the shepherds was this:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,” they sang, “and peace on earth for all those pleasing him.” (Luke 2:14 TLB)

Considering the distinct lack of peace on earth, did the angels get it wrong here? The peace being referred to here is not peace between men, but peace between God and man. Jesus came to earth to bring peace into man’s hearts.

For God was pleased to have all his fullnesst dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation… (Colossians 1:19 – 22 NIV)

You have to admire these shepherds. They probably didn’t have a lot of education and certainly no social standing. They knew about sheep. They didn’t know theology. Yet there was no doubt in their minds that what they heard was true. Their decision to go to Bethlehem was immediate. They didn’t stop to think about it or debate it. They just went.

Seeing God’s salvation, Luke 2:21 – 38

For 40 days after the birth of her child, the mother is considered “unclean” according to Jewish law. As a sinner, Mary need to bring a sacrifice to the Lord. Also according to Jewish custom, the baby was both circumcised and named on the eighth day. Over and over again in the Gospels, we see Jesus living and acting in complete harmony with His faith. This is why He was able to say in complete honesty:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17 NIV)

He was an ordinary baby, and an ordinary man.

Joseph and Mary, while at the Temple, offered turtledoves as their sacrifice. This offering was evidence of their poverty, and it was made for Mary, not for Jesus. It’s an interesting piece of trivia to take note of: Jesus Himself never offered a sacrifice.

That day a man named Simeon, a Jerusalem resident, was in the Temple. He was a good man, very devout, filled with the Holy Spirit and constantly expecting the Messiah to come soon. (Luke 2:25 TLB)

Not everybody was like this man Simeon. A lot of Jews those days were not looking for the Messiah. Absorbed in their own trivial affairs, so many for so long had been merely going through the motions, yet they had no hope. Even the priesthood had become worldly and corrupt.

But this fellow was one in a million. Led by the Holy Spirit, he was at the Temple at the exact moment Jesus and His earthly family were there. Somehow, he was aware that this baby was his long-awaited Messiah:

“Lord,” he said, “now I can die content! For I have seen him as you promised me I would. I have seen the Savior you have given to the world.” (Luke 2:29 – 31 TLB)

God had promised Simeon that he would “see” the salvation of God. What he saw that day was a baby. Salvation is not what you do; salvation is a Person: Jesus. Once again we have another lesson in Simeon. He was old. He didn’t have to be at the Temple. But he was there. He spent a lifetime not only waiting for the Messiah to come, but he expected the Messiah to come. Simeon, like Joseph and Mary, was devoted to God. When a person is devoted to God, there’s no telling what good things will happen to them. There are a lot Christians missing out of God’s best because they haven’t given Him their best.

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