RESPONSES TO THE NEWS OF CHRIST’S BIRTH

(December 14, 2021) Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, shares insights regarding Christmas…

Despite the Christmas trees, lights, balloons, parties, seasonal songs, Santa Claus, reindeers and sleigh bells, Christmas is really about the birth of Jesus Christ!

But I have noticed that increasingly the celebration is becoming less about Jesus.  For many he is now largely considered as an irrelevant and disposable component to the event. The many and varied responses to the message of the birth of Jesus is not surprising.  His coming to earth 2000 years ago was met with similar responses and reactions.

Let’s briefly consider some of them.

MaryAmazement
Mary was a young bride-to-be who was engaged to Joseph.  Unexpectedly she was visited by an angel who informed her that she was going to have a child, ‘You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus’ (Luke 1:31).  To Mary that would not have been good news!  As an unmarried young woman, pregnancy was unthinkable. Furthermore, what the angel told her did not make sense and her response expressed her amazement, ‘How will this be since I am a virgin?’  (Luke 1:34).

Doubtless she had been looking forward to having children but the angel’s announcement would have been a shock. Nevertheless she clearly embraced God’s plans for her future – and not hers alone but for the whole of humankind. Her plans for her future would never have taken this unique development into consideration but when we are surrendered to God, as Mary was, his plans for us are significantly greater than ours.

Mary’s response shows us that we do not need to understand God’s purposes or actions but to yield to them.

JosephApprehension 
Joseph discovered that his fiancée was pregnant and he knew that he wasn’t the father!  How disappointed he must have felt for Mary. And in what a predicament that placed him!  There was considerable public shame associated with pregnancy before marriage. People would wrongly assume that he was responsible for Mary’s pregnancy. Once the news got out not only would Mary’s character be attacked but so too would his! He would be humiliated! 

Joseph was extremely apprehensive about the consequences of this unexpected development in his engagement to Mary so he came to a decision – he had to bring the relationship to an end: ‘Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly’ (Matthew 1:19).   Joseph wanted to limit Mary’s humiliation by separating from her without fuss.

However his apprehension was misplaced!  He too had a visit from an angel who told him, ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit’(Matthew 1:20).

The fact is that God often ‘works in ‘mysterious ways his wonders to perform’ (as the old hymn says) and because we are unaware of what God is doing in the background, we may become apprehensive. We need to remember the wise advice of Proverbs 3:5, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.’

ShepherdsAwe 
What an unexpected experience it was for that little group of shepherds that night when Jesus was born. It would have begun like any other night as they sat around their fire swapping stories. But that ‘ordinary night’ was to become an ‘extraordinary night’ – a night unlike any other in the history of the world, one that they would never forget, one that would still be talked and sung about 2000 years later.

On a field near Bethlehem, as the shepherds kept an eye on their sheep, the sky suddenly burst with light.  They were so awe-struck that the first thing the angel said to them was, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people’ (Luke 2:10).

To that group of ‘unimportant’ people was announced the greatest news the world had ever heard – the birth of the Saviour.  Their wonder would have been greatly multiplied by a great heavenly choir singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests’ (2:14).

Those shepherds were filled with awe as they were encompassed by a multitude of worshipping angels. But they immediately responded to the message by seeking the One about whom the angels sang, the Lord Jesus Christ.

True worship of Almighty God imparts to us a sense of awe as we realise that we are standing on holy ground. True worship is found not merely in using certain religious phrases when we pray, or when we sing our favourite ‘devotional’ songs or when we listen to an interesting sermon – true worship is found when we are filled with awe as we enter into God’s holy presence.  Sometimes that can happen, as it did to the shepherds, when we least expect it!

Wise MenAdoration
Despite the nativity scenes that depict the Wise Men worshipping the new-born Jesus as he lay in the manger, there is some debate as to when they actually arrived. We do not know where those distinguished foreigners came from nor how many there were. However there is no debate regarding their response to the Christ child – they adored him!  As Gentiles they saw and followed a star that they believed would lead them to the One whom they called the ‘King of the Jews.’ ‘On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him’ (Matthew 2:11). 

Despite their lack of knowledge about Christ, they were aware that he was uniquely the One who deserved their worship and they fell down on their knees in adoration before him and offered their gifts. Despite their lack of theological knowledge of the Messiah they acknowledged his unique kingship and that he was worthy of their adoration. 

I sense that Christians today are often blasé in their relationship with Jesus and often fail to pay him the honour that is his due.

Religious leaders – Apathy
In their search for Jesus they went to King Herod in Jerusalem and asked him, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?’  (Matthew 2:2). Their question upset Herod and, as he did not know the answer, he asked the religious leaders for advice. They knew that the answer was to be found in Micah 5:2, ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’

What I find remarkable is that although the religious leaders, the priests and scholars were aware of the prophecy, they made no effort to find the Messiah.  They were apathetic!  What was the reason for their apathy? Perhaps they did not want any disturbance to their lifestyle. Perhaps they were interested only in continuing to do what they had done previously. Whatever the reason, it is clear that they had no real interest in entering into a deeper more personal relationship with God nor of leading their people into a more profound encounter with the Living God.

Sadly in the church today there is evidence of a similar apathy among some Christian leaders. Equally sad is the fact that apathy has become the environment in which many Christians today also live. Apathy towards Christ does incredible damage to our Christian growth and does more harm to our Christian witness than actual hostility towards him.

Jesus gave this warning to the apathetic church in Laodicea, ‘Because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth’(Revelation 3:16). Their comfort and complacency had ensnared them and they were not even aware of it!  We today need honestly to examine afresh our love of and commitment to Jesus.

Herod Anger
Herod considered that the recently born infant was a major threat to him and his reign and when he realised that the Wise Men were not going to report back to him again, he was not pleased! ‘When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi’ (Matthew 2:16).

Here was a baby who could upset all his plans and intrude on his ambitions. He could not tolerate that so in his anger he decided to dispose of the problem – kill all the little boy, babies and toddlers two years old and under. William Barclay suggests that there were probably around 20 to 30 little boys who were destroyed because of Herod’s anger. Anger can lead to irrationality.

This is a sad side of the Christmas story.  Herod’s anger against the child who possibly could prove to be an inconvenience to him resulted to the death of many innocent babies. Doesn’t this have a modern ring about it? On the altar of anger and inconvenience millions of babies are slaughtered every year by abortion.

God’s Answer
How much this ‘weary world’ needs to rediscover the truth and glorious significance of Christmas.  The birth of Jesus was God’s answer to a broken and lost world.  And it continues to be his answer!

John expresses it in this way, ‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him’  (1 John 4:9).

The heart of the Christmas message is the birth of a baby, the very Son of God, who came to be the Saviour of the world. 

O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.
For he alone is worthy,
For he alone is worthy,
For he alone is worthy,
Christ the Lord.

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Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.

His helpful book, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, is offered free, all of Dr Jim’s writings are highly recommended – such as Grace Revisited, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, Overview of the Old and New Testaments, Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, The Masonic Deception, Word of Life in the Old and New Testaments, Interpreting the Letter of James, and Faith Works – A Commentary on the Letter of James. All are available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and. Link for orders and questions: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com

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One comment

  1. I am getting to this a little ‘late.’ Another excellent devotional, to those of us who believe He (Jesus) is precious and we’ll give Him all the glory.

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