Christmas: The Missing Message - Part 1

Richard Ames

What does Christmas mean to you? Does observing Christmas bring you closer to God? Or are "Christmas" traditions obscuring the wonderful truth of Jesus Christ's real message?

For many people, it is the most festive time of the year. Families come together to exchange gifts under a Christmas tree, perhaps near a fireplace where a Yule log is burning. Children beg Santa Claus [Sing Daan Lou Yan] to bring them their most desired presents. All around are traditional decorations—holly wreaths, mistletoe, bright lights and tinsel. From time to time, one may even find a "nativity" scene and a sincere desire to mark the birth of Jesus Christ.

For most retailers in professing Christian nations, the Christmas season is the most profitable time of the year, accounting for up to 40 percent—sometimes more—of annual sales. Christmas-related promotions may begin weeks—even months—before December 25. Santa Claus and his reindeer have been used to sell products ranging from soda to electric razors!

This year, in a time of economic downturn, businesses are concerned that Christmas revenues may be weak. As one reporter noted during "back to school shopping" season last August, "Consumers who feel threatened by the economy may delay their frugality until November and December. Little Jimmy needs notebooks, pencils and clothes for school. He does not need an XBox Kinect for Christmas" (Back-to-school shoppers aren't scrimping—yet," Minneapolis Star-Tribune, August 18, 2011). It remains to be seen whether 2011 will reverse the anemic trends of some recent years.

Of course, for the wealthy, options abound. One famous upscale department store featured in its 2011 Christmas catalogue a life-sized edible gingerbread playhouse for children—at a price of $15,000!

Even for those of more modest means, "Christmas shopping" is one of the central traditions of the season. But the nature of Christmas shopping is changing in the Internet age. Earlier this year, British marketing firm eDigital Research reported that, in 2011, about one-third of consumers will be spending at least half of their Christmas-shopping budget online, while one in four will do up to three-fourths of their shopping on the Internet ("Gains for mobile shopping," eDigital Research, August 24, 2011).

So, is Jesus' message about consumerism? Is it a message of stress for those who rush about trying to stretch tight finances to purchase coveted consumer goods for friends and loved ones? Is it a message of guilt for those who do not spend enough, and a message of greed for those who are eager to receive the generous gifts of those around them?

Many of the millions who exchange gifts this year will assume they are following a tradition established by the Magi—the "wise men" from the East who came to pay their respects to Jesus. But is there more to that story than the common traditions assume?

The Magi

Scripture describes the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem as they searched for the prophesied King of the Jews. "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him'" (Matthew 2:1–2).

What happened when they found Him? "And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (v. 11).

Had the Magi come to offer "birthday presents"? No! They had come to "worship" a child they had recognized as King of the Jews! They were offering tribute to a king!

Notice that Jesus was in "the house"—not in a manger—by the time the Magi visited Him! The Magi visited when Jesus was no longer a baby or an infant, but rather when He was a "child." The NIV Study Bible comments about this visit: "Contrary to tradition, the Magi did not visit Jesus at the manger on the night of His birth as did the shepherds. They came some months later and visited Him as a 'child' in his 'house'" (pp. 1442, 1444).

Just how old was Jesus when the Magi came to visit? From Scripture we know an upper limit. An angel warned Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt to protect Jesus (Matthew 2:13). King Herod was not looking for an infant to kill—he ordered the murder of all male children two years old and younger in the Bethlehem area (v. 16). Jesus had to have been at least several months old when the Magi came to worship Him!

Birth of a King

As you can see, the true biblical account is quite different from the traditions that inventive men have created around it. The birth of Jesus was the birth of a king. What purpose was revealed to Mary, Jesus' mother, regarding His birth? "Then the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end'" (Luke 1:30–33).

About 30 years later, Jesus began His full-time ministry. And what was His message? It was a message of a coming Kingdom—a Kingdom of which there will be no end! "Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel'" (Mark 1:14–15).

The angel Gabriel announced that Jesus was to rule a Kingdom that would never end. Jesus Himself preached the gospel, the good news, of the coming Kingdom of God! One popular Christmas-time tradition today involves Messiah, the famous oratorio written in 1741 by English composer George Frideric Handel. Many of us have heard, set to Handel's music, the stirring words from the prophet Isaiah, announcing the revelation of the Messiah: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).

Yes, Jesus Christ—the Messiah—is now preparing to return to this earth and to establish world peace. He is the Prince of Peace. But, how will He establish world peace? Notice the next verse: "Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this" (Isaiah 9:7).

Can you imagine total world peace? Can you imagine peace and prosperity among all nations? This is what will happen when Christ establishes His Kingdom on earth! The prophet Zechariah wrote of the time when all nations will send representatives to worship in Jerusalem: "And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep, not Christmas, but the Feast of Tabernacles" (Zechariah 14:16).

We can look forward to the return of Jesus Christ to this earth as the King of kings. We can look forward to the coming Kingdom of God that will bring peace to all nations.  Pray for that Kingdom to come!