We Christians do Christmas extremely well. We’re all about the decorating, shopping, family gatherings, singing carols. In fact, we’ve romanticized Christmas to the point where the reality of it may be a little unrecognizable.
Let me take you back….waaaay back. Back to about 3-4 BC (around the actual date of Christ’s birth) and let’s look at reality.
Meet Mary; a young woman betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter. Probably an arranged marriage between this young woman and an older man of means. In the middle of wedding preparations, God sends an angel to tell her she is going to have a baby….before the wedding….and Joseph will not be the biological father. Engaged, unwed and pregnant during this time would have been a death sentence for adultery. Even though an angel eventually revealed God’s plan to Joseph, the damage would have been done to both their reputations as well as their families. Ridicule and scorn would have followed during the pregnancy and after the birth. Their life plans derailed. Their futures uncertain. But, Mary and Joseph believed in God’s prophesy to bring the promised Messiah. Their faith in God’s promise and trust in his plan over their own plans sustained them during this time of crisis and chaos.
The blessed event was probably not the sweet baby Jesus, cooing in a manger surrounded by halos of peace and joy. A very pregnant Mary and nervous Joseph arrive in the obscure Judean outpost of Bethlehem for the census to find they have no place to stay. Offered a room or area where animals are housed, Mary begins the very messy process of birthing a baby. In very unsanitary, smelly conditions….surrounded by sheep, goats, maybe a few cows and chickens, the Messiah enters the world. He arrives after 400 years of God’s silence in anything but a silent night.
And we really can’t have Christmas without shepherds and angels, right? But why shepherds? This occupation was considered one of the lowest form of employment. Because they tended the flock 24/7, they probably weren’t frequent temple attendees. They held no value in the culture except to take care of sheep…specifically the lambs used in sacrificial offerings in the temple. And, the very last thing they expected to see while in the field was the sudden, unannounced appearance of beings from another realm in the sky. Startled, terrified and confused might have been words used to describe their reaction. God announced to these men tending the sacrificial lambs the divine message of the birth of the ultimate Lamb to be sacrificed. But, given their social status, who was going to believe them?
The messiness of a livestock shelter and a feeding trough. Wealth and means were nowhere in sight. No, it was dirty and crude. Just the way it was supposed to be.
And now we get to the Magi. We’ve elevated them to “kings,” but in reality, they were men knowledgable in the sciences of that era, astrology and astronomy. Magi were common in the court of kings to interpret dreams and provide “wisdom” based on their knowledge of the stars and universe. Their understanding of prophesy would have been second hand at best, yet there’s the possibility ancient magi were trained under Daniel during his captivity in Babylon. As a prisoner, Daniel came to serve under the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (605–562 B.C.) when he offered to interpret the king’s nightmare. Impressed, the king made him “chief of the magi”….where he would have had opportunity to share the prophesies of Jehovah. And, that training would have been passed down through the centuries within the magi trained by a servant of God. These prophesies would have been coupled with their understanding of the stars and geography of the region. Their arrival may have been days or a couple of years after Jesus’ birth. This is unknown. But they did seek to find him.
Disrespected shepherds and pagan astrologers who may have came to know the God of Israel. These were the Messiah’s first recorded visitors. Not exactly the cream of the crop of nobility and influence.
Don’t get me wrong. I love all things Christmas. I love the sparkly lights, Christmas trees, carols, decorating, gift giving….the whole nine yards!
But, perhaps our love affair with Christmas should be less about sparkly lights and tinsel, and more about the reality that God used the bare minimum of accommodations….the lowest and most disenfranchised of witnesses….unexpected types of “wise” men…to announce to the world that this king would be unlike any they’ve ever seen on every level.
May you have the light and hope of Christmas in your heart today and always.