It’s that time of year! The time when we are worn out! Santa Claus, Christmas trees, decorations, baking goodies, giving of presents, shopping, frantically looking for that hard-to-find-item, Christmas cards, visiting friends and loved ones – great stuff, but where is there room for Jesus?
One lady had a circle of friends for whom she really wanted to buy Christmas presents. Time slipped away and it was so busy at work for her she just wasn’t able to get to the store to purchase those gifts. Time was running out. So not too many days before Christmas she decided to give up on the gift idea and just buy everybody the same beautiful Christmas card. She went to the local gift store and hurriedly went through the now picked over stack of cards and found a box of fifty, just exactly what she wanted. She didn’t take time read the message, she just noticed a beautiful cover on it and there was gold around it and a floral appearance on the front of the card
and she thought, “That’s perfect.” So she signed all of them, “With all my love.”
As New Year’s came and she had time to go back to two or three cards she didn’t send from that stack, she was shocked to read the message inside. It said, in a little rhyme, “This Christmas card is just to say, a little gift is on its way.”
A frantic disaster! That’s most of our world. Most people miss Christmas every year. How? It’s on the calendar. Christmas advertisements are all around us. The stores shout Christmas shopping now before Halloween. How can you miss Christmas?
What has emerged is a cultural “thing-to-do.” The fantasy and myth and excitement of celebration has drowned out the true meaning of Christmas. The commercialism, the feelings of warmth, the giving and receiving of presents, the hustle and bustle of shopping, and the list goes on, have imposed on the holiday what it was never originally meant to be.
If you were to ask the average person what the purpose of Christmas is, you would receive various answers among which you would be hard pressed to find those who would recognize that it is the celebration of God’s entrance into the human race for the purpose of dying for the sins of man. Christmas has become a mess. The hype and hysteria have replaced the simplicity of that first Christmas involving a peasant woman, a mere carpenter, angels, shepherds, and a baby in a manger.
But something that has not changed since that night when Joseph and Mary were found in a stable with the baby Jesus placed in a common manger, is that people missed Christmas then too. People of that day were also consumed with the busyness of the time that they too missed Christmas. And the similarities are incredible. Each person of that day has a counterpart in our society today.
1. The Innkeeper
The innkeeper is never mentioned by name in Scripture. We only have words that describe the fact that he did not have room for Jesus and Mary and Joseph on that night in his inn. He was confronted with a man and a very pregnant woman who had all the signs of a near delivery. But, his inn was full. He turned them away because there was no room. Not only did he turn them away, but he also offered no help.
And she gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. -Luke 2:7
Some Christmas plays present the innkeeper as a cold, hostile, hardened man. We have no indication of that. All we know is that he was preoccupied during a very busy night. It was census time and Bethlehem was crowded. Bethlehem was the city of David, so every living descendant of David had to go back to Bethlehem, along with every other family who had their roots in that small town. So, the innkeeper was very busy.
Sound familiar? People are consumed with busyness. When you ask people how they’re doing, the usual answer is, “I am really busy.” It is not necessarily wrong kinds of busyness that is sinful. Just busy! There’s shopping, banquets, parties, concerts, school programs, gift buying, and the list goes on. A cluttered life filled with activity so that they are so preoccupied that they miss the birth of the Son of God.
2. King Herod
Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, "Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, that I too may come and worship Him."
Herod pretended that he wanted to worship Jesus. But really, he was fearful of the one who was called King of the Jews. Why was another King of the Jews necessary? He was King of the Jews. This sounded like competition for his throne. He was troubled. He was in a panic. His problem with the first Christmas was fear.
Herod missed Christmas. And in the process, because of his fear, a great tragedy occurred as well.
Today, people are fearful of their careers, their position, their possessions, their power, their goals, plans, lifestyle. No way will they allow anyone to take the throne of their life. Jesus is a threat! They will celebrate His birthday, but not allow Him to be King over their life.
They may talk about Him and try to add Him to their life, and may even call themselves Christians. But, King, no way. Jesus cramps their style. People wish to determine their own course in life – careers, decisions, master their own fate. So, the world is filled with kings, kings who do not allow for the true King to reign on the throne of their lives.
3. The Religious Leaders
Herod in his fear gathered together the religious leaders to try and ascertain where Jesus was born.
And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. And they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet, 'AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER, WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'" -Matthew 2:4-6
The religious elite knew exactly where the Messiah would be born. In fact, they knew it so well that they quoted Micah 5:2. Micah had prophesied where Christ would be born. Yet, they missed Christmas.
The Jews had looked for a Messiah. He would be a deliverer of the nation of Israel. They were longing for Him to come, especially under Roman oppression. The Old Testament Scriptures pointed to the coming of the Messiah. Yet we find the theologians just a few miles south of Bethlehem and they don’t even go themselves.
Why? They didn’t even care. Indifference had captured their hearts. They had the facts, but didn’t care. They were steeped in their traditions and religious pride. They were too busy to look for the Messiah. They were self-sufficient. They were religious. In fact, as Jesus began His earthly ministry, who opposed Him? These very religious leaders! He was hated and despised by them, and they plotted to kill Him. They didn’t think they needed Him.
Indifference is one of the greatest sins against Christ. Yet, it is one of the most common of reactions towards Him. Religious people don’t think they need a Savior. They think they are all right the way they are. What a dangerous position in which to find yourself.
4. The Inhabitants of Jerusalem
All of Jerusalem missed Christmas. Do you know why? Religion! Jerusalem was the heart of religious activity for the nation of Israel. The Temple was there, and every Jew who wanted to make a sacrifice had to come to Jerusalem. They were busy with religious activity and missed Christmas. Feasts, ceremonies, washings, their picayune legalism and externals made them miss Christmas. They missed the entire message of the Messiah who had come.
So what did God do?
And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger." -Luke 2:8-12
He sent angels to some shepherds on a hillside just outside Jerusalem. Shepherds who were considered the lowest and most despised of social groups. Because they were shepherds, they were not allowed to enter into the mainstream of Israel’s society. They couldn’t practice the religion of the Jews. They didn't miss the first Christmas but the religious people did.
5. The Romans
The Roman empire missed Christmas. All of Rome could have shared in the Savior’s birth, but they missed it. Rome was the ruling empire during the time of Jesus’ birth. Herod, was the ruler of Judea appointed by Rome. But it was Caesar Augustus who set everything in motion to move Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.
Jesus was born during the heyday of the Roman Empire. Yet nearly all of Rome missed Christmas. Roman soldiers were everywhere on that night in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. They were overseeing the census, registering people, and keeping order. Yet, they missed Jesus’ birth. Why? Idolatry! They had their own gods – they were even willing to let the emperor pretend to be God. Christ did not fit into their religious system. They worshipped mythological gods along with the emperor. So the Romans totally ignored the birth of Jesus. This baby was just one more person in the census along with all the other babies being born during that time.
Our world today is filled with paganism. And because of it millions will miss Christmas. Not just in distant foreign lands where they have never heard of Christ. But right here in America there are people who do not worship carved idols or follow demonic superstition like the Romans did, but they worship false gods. They worship money, sex, cars, boats, houses, power, prestige, popularity and fame. These things are pagan gods. The idolatry of the twenty first century America is selfishness and materialism. If that describes you, you will miss Christmas.
6. The People of Nazareth
Finally, Nazareth missed Christmas. It was a crude, uncultured town, quite a distance from Bethlehem. The people of that region had a reputation for violence. Nathanael expressed the prevailing opinion of that little town in John 1:46:
And Nathanael said to him, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."
Yet that little town was the home of Mary and Joseph, and the boyhood home of Jesus. He was born in Bethlehem, but He grew up in
Nazareth, and lived His perfect life before all the people there. Yet they completely overlooked Him.
What was their problem? Familiarity. They knew Him too well. They knew Him so well they couldn’t believe He was anyone special.
Familiarity mixed with unbelief is a deadly thing. Whenever people tell me they were raised in a Christian home but have rejected the faith, I cringe. Familiarity strangles conviction. Perhaps the most tragic sin of all is the unbelief of a person who has heard all the sermons, sat through all the Bible lesson, knows all the Christmas stories, but rejects Christ. There is no gospel, no good news, for such a person, because he already knows and rejects the truth that could set him free.
Perhaps you’ve been missing Christmas. You may get presents, eat a big dinner, and decorate a tree, but you know in your heart that you are no different than the various people of the first century A.D. You are missing the reality of Christmas.
You don’t have to miss another one. Turn from your sin and unbelief and receive Christ as Lord and God. He will forgive your sin, change your life, and give you the greatest Christmas gift anyone can receive.