During the 1930s depression a small town on the east coast of the USA held a public meeting to discuss the serious financial problems faced by the town.
Among those present was an out-of-town visitor whom no one knew. He seemed very interested and started to make helpful suggestions, but was interrupted. He stopped speaking and left the meeting early.
Just as he left, a council official arrived late. Joining the meeting, he said: ‘What was he doing here? Is he going to help us out?’
‘Who are you talking about?’ others replied. ‘Who was that man?’
The official said, ‘That was John D. Rockefeller!’ Rockefeller was a billionaire who devoted much time and wealth to helping others.
That night, that small town missed an incredible opportunity because they did not know who was in their midst. Sitting among them was a man ready to be the town’s saviour.
We see similar tragedies at Christmas. Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to find Christ, yet many continue to miss out on him. They miss the most stupendous good news that a Saviour has been born – one who alone can rescue them from sin, death, and hell.
Why is this? Partly because the true meaning of Christmas is swamped by advertising, encouraging us to see Christmas as just a time to spend money. It is partly because the true message of Christmas is drowned in traditions like trees, decorations, cards, and presents.
However, not only today can Christ be missed: it happened when he was first born. Many missed him then because they were so taken up with other matters. Let’s consider four such people.
The innkeeper missed Christ
The first person who missed Christ was the innkeeper. Christ was right in front of him, but he missed him.
After a knock at his door he opened it to Joseph and the heavily pregnant Mary. But he couldn’t find a room for them. Why not?
I suspect it was because he was too preoccupied with all his other guests. Bethlehem was full of visitors for the Roman census. For the innkeeper it must have been manna from heaven, financially. He was fully booked!
Perhaps the innkeeper was not unsympathetic, but just really busy. But the result was that he closed the door to the couple simply seeking a bed for the night.
Many are like this today. The rooms of their souls are full – filled with work, pleasures and pursuits. They are filled with stuff that doesn’t ultimately matter and they miss the Christ of Christmas.
Is that you? Is your life so full of activities that there’s no room for Christ this Christmas? Do you have so many parties to attend, programmes to watch, shopping to do, that you have no time to find out about Christ?
The innkeeper missed Christ. He missed being part of the most important birth in history. He missed becoming the man who welcomed Christ into his home.
And he missed it because he was too busy. He was too preoccupied with getting on with his life.
Nothing is more important than finding Christ. Our eternal destiny depends on it and eternity is a long time to be wrong. Don’t be like the innkeeper – don’t be too preoccupied with life to miss the Christ of God.
The people of Bethlehem missed Christ
Where was Mary forced to give birth? A stable? A cave? A field? We don’t know. What we do know is that she was alone with Joseph.
We are told in the Bible, ‘She brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger.’
Mary gave birth and it was also Mary who wrapped the baby in long strips of cloth. Normally a midwife would do that, but Mary did it herself.
Luke’s account also records that Mary laid Jesus in a manger: an animal feeding trough.
Why did no one from Bethlehem come to help? Mary and Joseph would have been well known as this was their hometown. Surely they wouldn’t leave a young woman to give birth alone?
But no one came and no one helped. Why? The people were indifferent. It did not seem important. It was just another birth, just another baby. Their own lives were more important.
Think what they missed witnessing – the arrival of the Saviour of the world! Think what the Jewish midwives of that town missed – helping to bring the promised Messiah into the world!
Sadly, many miss Christ this Christmas simply because it means nothing to them. It was just another birth, just another baby. Yes, there is a nice story – Wise Men, gifts, shepherds, and stars – but that is all. Is that you?
In the West we do not have to travel far to find out about the Lord Jesus. Many live within walking distance of a church. Many have a Bible in their home or on their phones. Yet most don’t read God’s Word or go to church because it means nothing to them. They don’t see the need.
Why not? Because they don’t see their sin. All of us live near a hospital but we rarely give it any thought. Why? Because we don’t need to use it! Discover a pain in your side that won’t go away, however, and immediately you’ll investigate where the hospital is and how to get there.
We all have an illness that won’t go away, and it will be the death of us. It is our sin. The Bible says that ‘the wages of sin is death’. It is what we all deserve, and only Doctor Jesus can heal us.
Don’t be like the people of Bethlehem this Christmas: don’t be indifferent to Christ or indifferent to your need of him to deal with your sin.
The religious leaders missed Christ
Jerusalem’s religious leaders missed Christ at Christmas. Isn’t that amazing? The Wise Men came from the East and arrived in the capital city: ‘Where is he is who is born king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We have seen his star in the East.’
King Herod heard of it and assembled the religious experts. He asked, ‘Where will the Messiah be born?’
It was a short conference because the answer was known. The prophet Micah had recorded that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
We might expect to read that the religious leaders immediately journeyed to Bethlehem (just six miles from Jerusalem).
But none of them went. Not one.
The religious leaders knew about the prophesied Messiah. They knew this great deliverer would one day come. And yet they didn’t bother walking a few miles to Bethlehem to find out if Jesus was the Messiah.
Why? Religion. They were happy in their self-made religion. They thought they were good enough for God. They neither needed nor wanted a Saviour. They were self-righteous.
Don’t be like those religious leaders; don’t think that your religion or your good works can save you. Only Christ can save you.
King Herod missed Christ
Finally, consider King Herod. He knew that the Messiah had been born (the Wise Men had told him). He also knew where the Messiah was born (the religious leaders told him). Yet he still missed Christ.
Why? We read he was ‘troubled’ when he heard that one was born who was called King of the Jews. Herod was troubled because he wasn’t a Jew, but rather an imposter with no legitimate right to rule.
Upon hearing that a Jew was born in the royal city of Bethlehem and called King of the Jews, it is no wonder Herod panicked.
Why did Herod miss Christ? Because he did not want to give his crown to another, even the rightful owner! Herod wasn’t about to let this little child interfere with his career, position, or power.
Are you like Herod? Are you like him in the sense that you are not prepared to give your ‘crown’ to King Jesus?
Perhaps you see that you need Jesus, but you want him on your own terms. You want him as a resource when facing trouble, a spiritual chum when lonely, or just someone to punch your ticket to heaven.
Many desire to be like Herod and hold sway over the little kingdom of their life. But this is not what Jesus wants. He deserves to be Lord of your life. He wants you to hand over the crown of your life and become his servant. Jesus is either Lord of all or he is not Lord at all.
But King Jesus is no tyrant like Herod. Christians know him to be a wonderful king – the kindest and most gentle of rulers. He even calls his subjects his friends!
We’ve considered a sad collection of people who missed Christ at Christmas: the innkeeper, the people of Bethlehem, the religious leaders, and Herod.
Don’t add your name to the list. Don’t let the world, indifference, religion, or a crown of self-determination cause you to miss the Saviour of the world. See him for whom he really is: the divine Son of God who came to save you from your sins. You need this Saviour more than anything else in life. Nothing matters more.
Alan Hill is Pastor of Lausanne Free Church, Switzerland.