Are you looking forward to receiving gifts … or dreading the last-minute rush and painful expense of buying for others? Are you looking forward to family reunions … or dreading the thought of superficial talk and arguments?
Or perhaps you are anticipating a lonely Christmas, where your only company will be memories of past Christmases? We can approach Christmas with mixed feelings.
This was true of the very first Christmas, when it was not the arrival of a festive public holiday, but of a person. Doubtless, Mary was relieved to have her baby, though having to lay her newborn son in a feeding trough would have scared any young mother.
The shepherds too were delighted with the news; they returned to their flocks praising God for all that they had heard and seen.
But not everyone was pleased with the news. When King Herod heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. You probably know the story. Wise men from the east came seeking a new king of the Jews, having seen his ‘birth star’.
Herod’s enquiries revealed that the long promised Messiah-King was to be born in Bethlehem. The wise men found Jesus and gave him the famous gifts — gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Warned not to report back to Herod, they return to their own land by a different route. Finally Herod, discovering he had been outwitted, savagely murdered every young child in the Bethlehem district! Mary and Joseph had already fled to Egypt.
Why was Herod so disturbed? Jesus posed a threat. Herod was the king of the Jews, and his son was to be the next king. He was the one who would rebuild Solomon’s Temple. The last thing Herod wanted was another claimant to the throne, when his own position was far from secure.
Herod was not the only one to feel uncomfortable. All Jerusalem was troubled. Perhaps they feared popular nationalistic revolt and harsh Roman reprisal. Perhaps they just felt uneasy about the unknown — strange visitors, ancient prophecies, heavenly portents.
This was not the last time Jesus made people feel uncomfortable. His life and teaching often made people uneasy. When he put his finger on selfishness, greed and pride, people didn’t like it.
When he uncovered unsavoury motives and religious hypocrisy, he made many enemies. His constant demand for unswerving loyalty to God was too much for most to stomach, even as it is today.
Are you uncomfortable at the mention of Jesus? Do you wish that Christmas could be rid of ‘religion’, so you can happily continue in its materialism and excess? Would you rather not hear that Jesus commands us to deny ourselves and put the needs of others before our own?
Do you secretly wish Jesus out of the way? If so, are you really any different from Herod in this respect?
Maybe that’s not you. Many people are all for baby Jesus, meek and mild. The nativity story seems to add flavour to the whole proceedings … as long as Jesus stays there in the manger!
People would rather not remember that the baby Jesus grew into the man Jesus, who called people to turn from their sinful, self-pleasing lives to follow him; Jesus, who warned people of God’s inevitable judgement on their sinful agendas, a place of unending punishment for those who will not come to God on his terms, seeking his mercy.
A manger is OK, but not a cross, and certainly not an empty tomb declaring that Jesus is alive and at large!
The wise men worshipped Jesus as king of the Jews. The next time he was openly proclaimed as king was in mockery, when nothing seemed farther from the truth — when he was taunted, flogged and nailed to a cross.
But, in reality, this was his greatest triumph, for there he was setting free countless millions to be his willing subjects. By bearing the punishment deserved by sinners, Jesus opened a way by which we who are God’s enemies can become his sons and daughters, and heirs of heaven.
Do you have mixed feelings about Christmas? Or do you understand why genuine Christians relish Christmas — not its hustle and bustle or glib commercialism, but the chance to reflect on the coming of Jesus Christ and his grace?