by Rayola Kelley
Christmas carries various meanings for people. Some see it as a great burden. Others see it as a time for the family to get together, while others see the gifts and hype of the celebration as a futile exercise in worldliness, pride, selfishness, and nonsense.
Regardless of our debates, attitudes and opinions over this holiday, the idea of Christmas holds important examples that we need to consider. When we think of Christmas, we may think of the baby in the manger or how that baby was God clothed in humanity. Both are correct, but there is so much more behind Jesus’ first advent. When you study the reality behind Jesus Christ coming into the world, you realize that it was a revelation, or mystery, of God unfolding right in the midst of man and history. Today, the cross looms before us as Jesus serves as the rock that will break us in repentance or crush us into powder in judgment. It all comes down to our attitude about Him (Matthew 21:42-44).
Let us consider why Jesus came into the world by way of a woman and a manger. Jesus came into the world in the manner He did to fulfill prophecy. By Him fulfilling prophecy, He confirmed His identity and His words. It was prophesied that a virgin would conceive and bear a son who would be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). In the prophecy surrounding this miraculous conception of Jesus, it stated that it would be a sign. The sign from God to His people is that He would keep His promises to them. He would visit, redeem and establish them. Denying or downplaying the virgin birth is to undermine Jesus’ identity and the validity of the Word of God. It also displays unbelief and reduces Jesus to an ordinary man.
Another aspect of Jesus coming by way of woman is His identification to man. He came through Mary as a fulfillment of a promise to King David. This promise was that a Messiah would come out of his lineage. The Messiah would not only be king, reigning from the throne of David, but His kingdom and reign would last forever (1 Chronicles 22:8-10). The lineage of Matthew 1 shows that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was from the lineage of Solomon. As the eldest son, Jesus would be heir to David’s throne and considered the firstfruits that must be dedicated back to God for His purpose. In Luke 3, we are shown Mary’s lineage. It not only identifies Jesus as being part of the lineage of David through his son Nathan, Solomon’s brother, but it takes Him back to God. He is the Son of Man, the Promised Messiah, and the Son of God (1 Chronicles 3:5).
It was vital that Jesus become identified to man. The Apostle Paul tells us He was fashioned or shaped in the form of a man. But, unlike the rest of us, Jesus did not have the selfish, independent disposition of Adam. As a result, He was without sin. This allowed Him to become the sacrificial Lamb or sacrifice of God on our behalf. He became our Redeemer, totally identified with man in every way, except that He never sinned (Romans 5:10-15: Philippians 2:6-8; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:21-22).
Jesus’ identification as man and with man, allowed man to become identified with Him by way of righteousness. The Apostle Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:21:”For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
The identification with Jesus went even further than just being fashioned as a man. He had to grow and develop into a man who would serve as a visible expression of a man who reaches His potential and fulfills His purpose for the glory of God. He never stood out except at His birth, in the temple when He was 12, and in His ministry. Like all men, He was formed in obscurity. But, for Jesus, it came with a price to be like man. He first gave up His glory or capacity as God to go into obscurity. It is clear that He retained His nature and identity as God, but he gave up His power and authority as God, and became subject to the Father. He was given back all power and authority to carry out His commission as man, but His authority was in line with the Father’s plan and His power was disciplined by the Father’s will. He did nothing apart from His Father.
Jesus was formed in the womb of Mary, but He was also raised in a small, insignificant community called Nazareth. Insignificance would mark Jesus’ life, but it was all in fulfillment of prophecy. He was born in Bethlehem, a small town that had one main distinction, it was associated with the Messiah’s birth. Herod took great interest in it when he asked the priests and scribes where the King of Israel would be born (Matthew 2:1-6). They quoted Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose going forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
According to Reader’s Digest, Great People of the Bible and How They Lived, Nazareth was a community of a 100 people during Jesus’ day. His hometown was also in compliance with Scripture: “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23). Most of the residents of Nazareth were farmers, but there were some craftsmen, such as carpenters. This small community was set back away from the main activities of the world. Jesus was trained as a carpenter. He lay no claim to the successes of the world and the importance of prestige. He was not spared the drudgeries or responsibilities of life. Obviously, He even experienced losses, as His stepfather passed away before His ministry was brought forth. Jesus lived an obscure existence, but in this obscurity, He developed as a man. It was said of Him: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man (Luke 2:52).
There was much significance in Jesus fulfilling prophecy. God wanted His people to know who they were looking for. Israel was not looking for just any baby. The only births that gain any notoriety are those of royalty. The birth of a baby in a manger was not some unusual event that warranted merit or recognition. There have been many births that have taken place in unusual circumstances. The events around Jesus’ birth were a means of identifying Him as the Messiah. We see the angels declaring this reality in the heavens, and the shepherds declaring it to others. The Messiah had come. It was not kept a secret. It was proclaimed in the Word of God, as well as by His creation.
There is another significance surrounding the birth and life of Jesus, and that is the example He has left us. Jesus came to be our example. This example was to serve as a visible revelation to each person of what it means to be righteous before God and godly in his or her conduct. Sadly, some of His followers act as if they are an exception to His example. After all, they have rights to act contrary to the example He has left. It is important to consider His example and compare our lives with His life.
A gift: Jesus was a gift from God. As a gift, Jesus displayed the love, commitment and devotion of God to each of us. Like all gifts, we did not deserve it, but God, out of His holy character and His moral obligation, freely gave the gift of Jesus. By receiving this gift, people will receive the gift of eternal life. This life is not just any life, it is the life God intended to give each of us. It is an abundant, satisfying life. It is full of purpose and hope. At the core of this life is peace that passes understanding, restoration of what is valuable and eternal, and reconciliation with God. Today, we may stress gifts during Christmas, but one truth remains consistent. There is only one who can give the gift of life. Regardless of the gifts this Christmas, you must consider if you have received the real gift of God. If you do not possess this gift of God, remembering Jesus’ birth will hold no real meaning. If you have received the gift of God, then it must be evident in your love for God and others, your devotion to His heart, and your moral obligation to do right by others.
Poverty: Jesus became poor when He gave up the glory of heaven and became man. Jesus’ example of poverty shows us that until we become poor in spirit, we will never discover the true, eternal treasures of heaven. Sadly, most of us base the concept of riches on the world’s definition of being rich. However, the world’s riches hold no value in the kingdom of heaven, unless God is allowed to use them for His glory and work. As a result, many who call themselves Christians are seeking after the riches of the world. Their search will lead them to desolation and devastation. Until Christians realize that we are not only poor in spirit, but we are in need of God, and His touch and intervention, we will always be living on the abyss of spiritual bankruptcy. Jesus said it best: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The Apostle Paul added his insight with these words: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Humility: Jesus’ birth and life reveal someone who was truly humble. Jesus could have not given up His glory, come by way of a woman, and submitted to the Father’s will, unless He had first been in that state of humility. It is only in a state of humility that you can humble yourself. Jesus humbled Himself in heaven, in order to become a baby. He humbled Himself at age 12 and became subject to His parents. He humbled Himself before the Father, in order to carry out His will. Paul talks about Jesus’ final act of humility in Philippians 2:8: “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
Servitude: In His humility, Jesus became a servant. All that is done in the kingdom of heaven must be done from the point of servitude. Servitude begins with a state of humility, responds in an attitude of meekness, and is expressed in obedient submission. As you study the Scriptures, you will realize that God never calls us to leadership, but to greater service. Every Christian is called to serve, beginning with service at the feet of Jesus. Today, many Christians are vying to come out on top, be acknowledged as a “somebody” or exalted in some way. Yet, this is so foreign and contrary to the example of Jesus. As Jesus said, we are not greater than our Master, and He washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:3-15). Regardless of circumstances or offences, we do not have a right to exalt ourselves to a place of judgment or vengeance over others. We must come to the state of humility where we will humble ourselves to be right before God and do right by others.
Meekness: Jesus’ birth, attitude and life show meekness. Meekness is a product of becoming poor in spirit, coming to a state of humility and a point of servitude. The lowly handmaiden, Mary, was meek. She became a vessel that God could entrust with the Messiah. Bethlehem may have seemed insignificant, but God designated this place, whose very name means the “house of bread,” to bring forth the Bread of Life. The manger represented poverty. Poverty that operates within the boundaries of God’s grace and redemption will become rich in God’s eternal blessings and inheritance, causing one to rejoice with the angels of heaven. Nazareth may have been a small community that many passed by, but it was there that God Incarnate resided in the midst of humanity. It was there that God in the flesh grew to manhood.
The Christmas celebration may seem insignificant, ridiculous and out or character to what Jesus’ birth and life was all about. However, our attitude towards something will always come down to how we approach it. This is true for this celebration. As I have said, whether Jesus came December 25 or some other day, the reality is that He came. He came in such a way that man would not be able to claim ignorance as to His identity and purpose. He came in such a way as to leave an example that will expose all levels of selfishness, arrogance and disobedience. Our attitude towards this celebration should not be one of resentment, but one of humility. Our approach to this holiday should not be one of rejection, but of separation.
In other words, we need to separate the worldliness out of the holiday and put back the celebration of life. We need to celebrate God’s gift to this world. We need to examine our own quality of life, as well as the example we are manifesting to those in our world. We need to come back to our humble beginnings and realize that our Christian life is developed in obscurity, tested in poverty, realized in humility, verified in servitude, and maintained in meekness.
My hope is that you will not get caught up with the world’s presentation of Christmas, but that you will separate yourself unto the real meaning and hope of Jesus’ first advent. Let it become a time of awe, examination and exploration. Let it become a time of preparation. After all, Jesus is coming back a second time. This time, He will not come as a babe in a manager, but as victorious King. And, to this I say, Merry Christmas!