“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:13-14)
We have entered the season that for many is the busiest time of the year. There is the shopping for the right Christmas gifts, then going to Christmas parties, making sure Christmas decorations are put up, and so on. The focus of the Christmas season seems to be on the festivities and various activities, and on all the preparations rather than on what the season is really about; as a result the joy of Christmas, becomes a burden. Where is the peace when we are so stressed out about the expectations of the season? And is goodwill toward men driving the furor of the spirit of giving to others, or is it just what is expected at this time of the year?
For many of us it is understood that it is about the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus Christ. And yet, sadly, for others it has become a secondary thought as the December 25th deadline approaches; secondary to getting our shopping done and preparing for the Christmas day meal with family and friends. Now, don’t get me wrong I enjoy the Christmas festivities as much as the next person, but shouldn’t our focus be on what gives meaning and purpose to all these activities at this time of the year? So how are we to embrace Christmas that is Christ honoring and not so man-centered? We can begin by reminding ourselves why we celebrate Christmas in first place. We need to remember what makes this time of the year so special. This means going back and remembering why we celebrate this season of joy, giving and goodwill toward men; that is, the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
At the time when Jesus was born in the manger to the virgin Mary (Luke 2:11-12), it was during a time when the people of Israel were suffering greatly under the oppressive hand of Caesar Augustus (verse 1), and under the hypocrisy of the legalistic religious leaders of that day, who had substituted the commandments and ordinances of God with man-made rules and man-centered rituals. But despite being oppressed there was a great expectation of the coming Messiah. And so when Jesus came there was great excitement that surrounded His miraculous birth, the birth of the Second Person of the Triune God, who had taken upon Him the very nature of man. The angel said to Joseph in Matthew 1:23, “’Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’” The excitement was focused upon the newborn child, who came to save them from their sins (Matthew 1:21). We see this excitement and joy in the verses that follow the song of praise to God by the heavenly host in Luke Chapter 2 (quoted above) – by the shepherds, who returned to their flocks “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen” in verse 20; by Simeon, who took up the baby Jesus in His arms and blessed God (exalted God) and said, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation 31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, 32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel” in verses 29-32; and Anna, a prophetess, who “gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” in verse 38. Even John the Baptizer, leaped in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth, when Mary went to visit her; it was a leap of joy prompted by the Holy Spirit, as a sign that the baby Mary carried in her womb was the long expected Messiah, the Savior of sinners like you and me (Luke 1:44-45).
When Jesus was born some 2,000 years ago, the people, who correctly understood the true reason for the coming of the Messiah, looked forward in anticipation to the day when Jesus would deliver them and redeem them from the bondage of sin and its penalty (everlasting death and torment). And now all who understand the true reason for Jesus coming long ago look back and know by faith that He came and actually accomplished God’s salvation for sinners by the shedding of His blood on the cross. And so as we look back, we are able to have even greater excitement in the birth of Christ, knowing by true faith that all that was promised by God in the Old Testament was fulfilled in Christ, who by His atoning work on the cross obtained the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting, whereby He also reconciled God to man, obtaining eternal peace with God for the sinner (Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2; Isaiah 54:1-12; etc.).
Thus, as we head into this Christmas season, we ought to focus on the miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Only when we embrace Christmas as such, embracing it as a celebration of the birth of the Savior of all who come to Him with a believing heart and in repentance of sin, will the excitement of this season return and the peace promised be experienced. Won’t you this day, come to Jesus Christ by true faith and repentance of your sins, looking to Him alone, the Incarnate Son of God, and His atoning work on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, reconciliation and peace with God, salvation, righteousness, and everlasting life? He is the only true and living Savior sent by the Father; He is our “righteousness, sanctification and redemption” to the glory of God alone (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). If you will, you will know the peace of God and understand just how God demonstrated His gracious goodwill toward men, toward undeserving sinners, like you and me.
And having come to Christ in true faith, you will be able to look back at the birth of Christ with great joy, knowing that in Him and Him alone is peace, peace with God, and personal peace; especially during the season when we tend to lose focus on its reason, and become filled with anxiety and uneasiness. And then, with great joy and peace through Christ Jesus our Lord, we will be able and willing to express meaningful goodwill toward men, demonstrating that everlasting peace with God in acts of kindness, unconditionally, graciously; and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, who came into this world and became for all of us, who are in Him by true faith alone, our Peace (Ephesians 2:14). Merry Christmas!
Rev. Richard Stetler