The feverish materialism of the Christmas season has been dampened somewhat by the recent recession. Americans are now more frugal in their holiday spending and more careful about their extravagance. But there remain all the trappings of America’s Christmas season: the parties, the cards, the tree, the food, the tinsel, the concerts. . . When Christmas Day finally arrives, we are nearly exhausted—and we thereby miss the point of Christmas. But what is the point?
Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood once said, “I like to compare the holiday season with the way a child listens to a favorite story. The pleasure is in the familiar way the story begins, the anticipation of familiar turns it takes, the familiar moments of suspense, and the familiar climax and ending.” The story of Christmas is like that! So, let’s go back to the biblical narrative and review the story. The scene is the backwater town of Bethlehem. The innkeeper, Herod and the other political and religious leaders all missed the enormity of what was occurring before their very eyes. How could they have missed the obvious? But consider the shepherds and the magi; they understood.
The shepherds were tending their flocks in the fields near Bethlehem, keeping watch against thieves and predatory animals. In all likelihood, these very sheep would be offered as sacrifices on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, less than five miles away. Shepherds were despised and distrusted and were not even permitted to give testimony in a court of law. They were poor and most likely uneducated, perhaps even unable to read the Hebrew Scriptures. On that Christmas night, Luke 2:8-17 reminds us, an angel, joined by a host of angels singing praises to God, announced Christ’s birth. The shepherds immediately went to Bethlehem, but, because they were poor, they offered no gifts to the Child; instead, they spread the word.
Luke 2: 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
The magi (Matthew 2:1-12) were likely from Persia and members of a religious caste devoted to astrology and divination. Therefore, they quickly discerned the importance of the star, which guided them to the Christ child. Arriving at Bethlehem, they worshipped the Child and gave Him the most extravagant, valuable, and marketable gifts imaginable in the ancient world—gold, frankincense and myrrh. Perhaps, that is how Mary and Joseph financed their sojourn to Egypt. These potentates from the East were rich, powerful men who could afford a long, expensive trip. What a contrast with the lowly shepherds!
But the shepherds and the magi were united in their expression of joy, excitement and exhilaration. They understood the same truth that historic, biblical Christianity has always embraced: This child was Immanuel, the world’s Savior, the Messiah and the coming King of kings and Lord of lords. That is why we sing the carols, decorate our homes and give our gifts—all in celebration of God’s provision in Jesus Christ. For millions, He still offers the abundant life—and that is the point of Christmas.