Even those of us who truly believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that Jesus truly was born of a virgin, in a manger, in Bethlehem, surrounded by angels and shepherds and Wise Men, even for us it’s very easy to put the Christmas story in the category of “religious myth” or “Christian fairy tale.” We would never say it that way, or even believe it that way, but there is a danger from viewing the sweetness of a Christmas play where all our children are so adorable and everything is so clean and neat, and the lighting is just right, the costumes so well done, and the staging so powerful, and the music so inspiring, that we can subconsciously think that this is the way it really was.

But it wasn’t that way at all. It wasn’t as beautiful as it appears in our plays. And it certainly wasn’t as clean or neat. The whole story of Jesus’ birth is set against a backdrop of hostility. The scribes knew and didn’t care; Herod knew and tried to kill baby Jesus. To make matters worse, he lied to the Magi in Matthew 2:6 when he sent them to Bethlehem to find the baby. “Tell me where the baby is,” he said, “so that I might go and worship him, too.” That was a bald-faced lie. And as far as we can tell, the Magi evidently believed him. And why not? If Herod showed interest in the baby, why shouldn’t they take him at his word? They had come so far to find the infant; no doubt they just assumed that everyone else would be as excited as they were. But it wasn’t that way then. And it’s not that way now.

The Christ of Christmas was a threat to Herod and threatens many people today. Here are a few examples:

In the Houston area a teacher was reprimanded for giving Truth for Youth Bibles to students as Christmas presents.

In Seattle, a King County official sent out a memo asking county employees not to say “Merry Christmas” and to be “religion neutral.”

In Frederick County, Maryland, a school employee was prohibited from handing out Christmas cards on a public school campus.

Red poinsettias were banned from the Ramsey Court House in St. Paul, Minnesota because they offended one person who believes the flowers are a symbol of Christianity.A Pennsylvania fourth-grader was stopped from giving Christmas cards to classmates.

Two Minnesota middle-schoolers got in trouble for wearing red and green scarves in a Christmas skit and for ending the skit with a Merry Christmas wish for the audience.

The Chicago Tribune carried a two-panel cartoon that showed two police officers in a squad car. One is reading from a sheet about how to spot suspicious people: “Male … bearded … Middle-Eastern-looking … Suspicious behavior—Yep, I’d say they fit the profile.” The next panel shows the Wise Men on camels under the Star of Bethlehem. One of the officers in the police car says to them, “Ok—Let’s see some I.D.” Pretty good, I thought. The Tribune also carried four cartoons with a strong biblical cast.

One is a traditional manger scene with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, surrounded by angels. The star shines overhead. Everyone has a halo. The caption reads, “The Original Lord of the Rings.” That’s entirely accurate. Then there was a cartoon depicting a news reporter outside Bethlehem. In the distance oke rises from the village, almot but not quite obscuring the Star. The reporter holds a microphone and says, “A woman, an infant and a carpenter were pinned down near a manger as Jewish and Palestinian militants clash.”

Those cartoons remind me that the Christmas story is a real story about real people.

Mary was pregnant with Jesus just as the Bible says. When they came to Bethlehem, there really was no room in the inn. Herod was so sick with paranoid delusions that he slaughtered the infant boys of Bethlehem in a desperate attempt to kill Jesus. It all happened just as the Bible says. Francis Schaeffer warned us repeatedly of the danger of taking the Bible and relegating it to what he called “upper story” truth, like the stories of Dr. Seuss. Or even the stories about Santa Claus and Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman. When we treat the Christmas story as something other than sober, historical truth, we drain it of its true meaning and reduce it to the level of a nice, sweet fairy tale that teaches us to be good and love each other because that’s what Jesus would want us to do.

Now I’m all for loving each other, and even loving our enemies, but that doesn’t begin to exhaust the meaning of the birth of Christ. Consider these powerful verses:

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

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The birth of Jesus Christ is more than the birth of an ordinary baby or a great leader. It represents the literalentrance of Almighty God into the human race. As John 1:14 puts it, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It means that the Son of God, who from all eternity was and is and always will be the Second Person of the Trinity, humbled himself, laying aside the outward manifestation of his deity, and entered our world through the womb of a virgin named Mary.

Jesus is much more than a moral teacher or the founder of a great world religion. He is much more than the foundation of Western Civilization. He is the true Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, the promised Seed of the Woman, and the One predicted by all the prophets! He is the Savior of the world!! And without him, there is no salvation!!!

We shouldn’t be surprised that the world either ignores or attacks Christmas. The world has never been a friend to the Son of God. The people of the world, for the most part, were too busy with their own pursuits 2,000 years ago to pay attention to a baby born to a peasant family in the little village of Bethlehem. It just didn’t matter. And some, like Herod, found his birth a personal threat, and so they did what they could to kill him.  Jesus was born in the shadow of the cross. When Simeon took the infant in his arms and offered this word of divine prophecy: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34 ESV). Did you get that? Jesus is a “sign that will be spoken against.” Meaning that even though he is God’s “sign” of salvation, many will speak against him. Some will call him Savior; others will “fall” because of him. As Jesus himself said many years later, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). How strange to hear those words at Christmas time. Not peace, but a sword. But should it surprise us? The Word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword. Jesus cuts both ways, revealing the thoughts and intents of every heart. When you see him, you have to choose. You can’t remain neutral forever.

In addition, His birth was attended by miracles so that we would know for certain that he has come from God. Sometimes it is said that Jesus was born “the usual way.” That’s true if you consider being born of a virgin “the usual way.” And if your idea of a normal birth includes being announced by angels and having strangers from a distant land follow a star to find your home, then it truly is “the usual way.” Not to speak of angels appearing in visions and dreams and babies leaping in the womb and things like that.

As I read Matthew 2, it seems to me that there is a very delicate relationship between the human and the divine. Herod’s hatred is very human and, on one level at least, entirely understandable. He is a sick, deranged, paranoid old man, an evil toad squatting on the throne. He hates everyone and everything so it’s not surprising that he hates Jesus. And it’s not surprising that he lied to the Magi about his intentions. He was self absorbing and wanted to alleviate the possibility that this baby might grow up and dethrone him.

The scribes seem to be just too busy to get involved. They are so religious that they don’t have any time for Jesus. We all know lots of people like that today, don’t we?

Finally, there is the star of Bethehem. Something about that heavenly light seems so appropriate. What was the star? It helps us to remember that the Wise Men were students of the sky. That means they would not be frightened by anything unusual that suddenly appeared to them. In those days it was not uncommon to associate the birth of a great ruler with unusual heavenly phenomena. The star would make perfect sense to them and would in fact perfectly fit what they already believed. You might say that if God wanted to get a message to these pagan priests, he picked the perfect way.

But what was the star? Honestly, we don’t know. The particular Greek word is a very general one that could refer to any bright object in the sky. I believe the “star” was a special heavenly light prepared by God to guide the Magi. Evidently this “star” appeared in the east to alert the Magi to begin their journey. It disappeared and then reappeared after they left Herod to journey to Bethlehem. Somehow they knew it was “His” star and they were overjoyed when they saw it (Matthew 2:10). It led them to the very home where Mary and Joseph were taking care of the baby. The “star” sounds more like a special light from God sent to direct the Magi to Jesus.

The most extraordinary baby ever to be born laid in a manger there in Bethlehem. The Light of the World. The King in the cradle. Immanuel. God with us. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus, Savior, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The birth of Christ is the reason we celebrate Christmas.

We live in a troubled world where people are looking for direction. Wise men still seek him. And those who seek him find him. That will never change. With that thought, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.



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