This year as we come upon this Christmas season, let us ask ourselves this question – are we truly happy and looking forward to Christmas? Through the familiar story of Jesus’ birth, let us look at two groups of people, one group had a positive response while the other had a negative unhappy response and who felt Jesus’ birth was an absolute burden.
1. King Herod and all of Jerusalem
Matthew 2:1-3 records 3 wise men inquiring of ‘he who has born king of the Jews’? When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. The word “troubled” is “tarasso” in Greek and means “to shake up, to disturb, to agitate”. King Herod was very burdened by this news, as he wanted to stay king. The people in Jerusalem were burdened because even though they were under a tyrannical king, he was a tyrant they were familiar with.
Likewise, we become burdened by the Word of God when we do not want to change. Each time we hear the Word, we know how much God loves us. We love God and want to do more, but many times our flesh is at war with our spirit, so we don’t do the things that we desire or get inspired to do, and when we force ourselves to go through the routine, we get burdened. Let us not be burdened this year. Instead, let us recover the joy of Christmas!
2. Chief Priests and Scribes
King Herod sought the chief priests and scribes for more information on the birth (Matthew 2:5-6) and they quoted the prophecy from Micah 5:2 that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. Yet none left their comfort zone to journey to Bethlehem which was only about 8 hours walking distance away to check it out. Our founding pastor once preached that if those chief priests and scribes were alive today, they would only be celebrating Christmas as a ‘feast of mere words’. We too will be participating in a feast of mere words and will be just as guilty as these chief priests and scribes who took no action and remained in their comfort zone in Jerusalem, if we were to have no joy and anticipation towards Jesus’ birth this Christmas.
When the Word we receive does not move our hearts, it becomes just mere knowledge that produces pride and self-righteousness (1 Corinthians 8:1; James 2:26). As many years as we have been Christians are the number of years we have celebrated Christmas. Is Christmas still special? If we receive the Word of God by faith, it will challenge, encourage and stir us to do more – to pray, read the bible, and love more zealously (Hebrews 4:12). But if it doesn’t, the Word is just tickling our ears.
Now let us look at the good examples.
3. Three Magi from the East
There are many theories of who the magi were, although no one is sure. They were Gentiles who could have come from as far away as Persia, India or Arabia. They saw the star, recognized it was special and followed it from their country all the way to Jerusalem. Matthew 2:10 states that they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy”. This phrase is a repetition of the same thing. To rejoice is to be exceedingly happy. To rejoice exceedingly is rejoicing double the intensity. Combined with great joy, it is like saying they rejoiced and rejoiced, greatly and greatly. It is God’s way of showing us their hearts of great happiness and jubilant ecstatic joy.
The Bible records them as having better faith than all the scribes, Pharisees and even King Herod. It was because they were joyful. When the magi saw baby Jesus, Matthew 2:11 recorded how they responded:
(i) Immediately they fell down on their knees and worshipped Him. Falling to the ground is a sign of humility.
(ii) Secondly, they only worshipped Jesus, not His parents Mary and Joseph, only baby Jesus.
(iii) Lastly, they brought gift offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They didn’t come empty-handed. Gold in the bible refers to tribute given to kings. It also signifies faith that has been tested through numerous afflictions but remained strong (1 Peter 1:7). Gold also symbolizes their loyalty and allegiance to the King baby Jesus.
Frankincense is a raw material used for incense. In the bible, incense symbolizes prayer. It is given to priests, thus signifying that Jesus is the true high priest. Frankincense is the sweet aroma of sincere prayers that we must bring to God (Exodus 30:34-35; Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8).
Myrrh is an antiseptic gum, a perfume that is put on a dead body to embalm it, to prevent it from decaying. It is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death on the cross. For us today, myrrh symbolizes in the world where everything is decaying, our faith will not decay but remain strong and steadfast. May we bring these 3 gifts of loyalty, prayer and unchanging faith to our Lord Jesus Christ on Christmas Day!
4. Shepherds, Simeon and Anna
Luke 2:8 records shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. This nighttime vigil is only done during lambing season when ewes give birth or during Passover when the Passover lamb had to be offered unblemished and was thus protected day and night. Because the shepherds faithfully stayed at their post, we were able to meet the angels bringing the good news of Jesus’ birth. After hearing the good news, the shepherds went in haste to meet the Lord, and later shared and evangelized to all about the birth. (Luke 2:15-17).
Simeon was a devout man who was waiting for the Messiah (Luke 2:25-26). He believed the Word of God and it happened as he was promised. We too must have such an anticipatory and waiting heart. Anna was a very old lady who could recognize Jesus and shared with all who too were waiting for the Messiah (Luke 2:36-38). There are lessons we can learn from them:
(i) They were faithful – the shepherds were faithful to their duties; the magi were faithful in following the star; Simeon was faithful to the promises given to him by the Holy Spirit and Anna remained in the temple faithfully in prayer. Today, our little acts of faith in whatever ministries we are serving in church, are like pieces of bricks that will build into a huge wall in the end. This is what it meant by being found to be ‘trustworthy’ (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).
(ii) They sacrificed the comforts of life to meet Jesus. The magi walked 1000s of miles to follow the star, the shepherds were out late at night in the cold. Simeon and Anna never left the temple. They all chose faithfulness to God over their own comfort. In order to meet Christ truly with faith, we have to break out of our comfort zones and leave them.
(iii) They took action and boldly evangelised (Ephesians 6:19-20).
How do we have a truly joyful Christmas this year? Joy cannot be switched on automatically. True joy can only come from being thankful! Joy is automatic when we are thankful. So, this Christmas, write a thanksgiving list! Take the opportunity to sit down, reflect and remember, and make a list of how God has blessed you, and what you are thankful for. Then joy will come naturally. Then, like the magi, we will be ready to prepare and present the gifts of loyalty, prayers and unchanging faith to God this Christmas!