By Dr Peter Lim
Christmas is arguably the most widely celebrated festival the world over. Shopping, partying, feasting and to a lesser extent giving are the order of the day. Amidst the festivities, I wonder how many people are aware of the true significance of Christmas.
Sure, many know that Christmas commemorates the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. But who is Jesus? The general public may acknowledge that He is a great prophet, a great teacher and the founder of the Christian faith. These views were similar to those held by the populace at the time of Christ. In fact, Jesus Christ himself asked His disciples “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The response was, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:13,14). Upon further probing, Simon Peter under divine prompting exclaimed “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. (Matthew 16:16)
Jesus Christ was born in a little town called Bethlehem, (as prophesied in Micah 5:2) and placed in a manger because there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the inn. This momentous event was prophesied by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah 700 years before His birth – “. . . The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). His first coming unfortunately was a non-event in the eyes of the world at large. Only the Magi (traditionally Wise Men) recognised that the Star of the East, which attracted their attention and which shone at the birth of Christ was no ordinary star. It behoved them to undertake a journey to pay homage to the incarnated Son of God. Although the Bible does not tell us about their religious persuasion, it is quite clear that the wise men were divinely inspired as their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh are symbolic of the three-fold ministry of Jesus Christ as King, Priest and Prophet (Matthew 2:1-12).
No such tribute was forth-coming from the fellow-countrymen of Jesus, the Jews. Apart from King Herod whose interest in the birth of Jesus resulted from fear that the “King of the Jews” sought by the Magi could pose to be a potential threat to his throne, there was scant interest. The announcement of Jesus’ birth to the Jewish community was made to a group of unnamed shepherds. These insignificant and unschooled herdsmen were honoured with the appearance of the glory of the Lord – “the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9). This was the Shekinah glory (symbolic of the presence of God Jehovah) present in the Tabernacle and the Temple, the glory that the prophet Ezekiel saw departing from the Temple (Ezekiel 10:4, 18-19, 11:22-23). For more than 500 years Israel had been without the visible sign of God’s presence among His people. And now this glory which Israel had waited for was revealed to ordinary shepherds in the fields and not to priests and religious leaders in the temple.
The shepherds were terrified by the revelation of God’s glory for “no man shall see me and live” (Exodus 33:20) but the messenger of God, the angel, had not come as a minister of death, but as a herald of the Gift of Life. The good news of great joy was moreover not limited to the Jews but was “to be to all people” (Luke 2:10-11). Indeed, the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ inaugurated God’s plan of salvation for humankind. He came to redeem us from sin and to give us eternal life through His sacrificial death on the cross. Unfortunately, this fundamental truth has been all but lost amidst the festivities of the season.
Christmas is indeed “joy to the world the Lord is come!” If you have not received this gift of all gifts as a result of the first coming of Christ then you will face the awful wrath of God at His second coming when divine judgment will be meted out to those who have not accepted the Lamb of God as their Saviour. This is not a hell-fire and brimstone message belted by some street corner preacher. It is clearly stated in the Word of God. Our recently completed worship service studies on the book of Revelation have established this teaching without a doubt.
This perspective should put a different slant to our celebration of Christmas. I pray and trust that this Christmas, you will join the Magi and the shepherds in their adoration and worship of the incarnated Son of God. While the opportunity is still available, may I humbly beseech those who have not as yet appropriated God’s gift of salvation, to do so this Christmas. This will then be the most meaningful, memorable and life-saving Christmas for you.
Gloria in excelsis Deo - Glory to God in the Highest!