|'Twas The Night Before Christmas
Most of us are familiar with the poem, "'Twas The Night Before Christmas". It tells of a family whose stockings are hung from the chimney with care in eager anticipation that Saint Nicholas would soon come and fill their stockings with gifts that would bring delight to their hearts.
Most of us have experienced those heart-warming moments when at the appointed time we hear the patter of children's feet…the excited receiving of gifts…the ripping of wrapping paper and the special satisfaction we receive when eyes sparkle with delight at the expression of our love.
It is no surprise why this tradition has been enthusiastically embraced around the world, while knowing little about the real meaning (the celebration of Christ's birth).
I would like for us to go to that first Christmas night when God's special gift was given to all the families of the world. In our imaginations we will focus on the attitudes various peoples had that night.
There Was Preoccupation By Many
Government leaders were preoccupied. Over in Rome Caesar Augustus and the Roman senate are preoccupied with keeping nations they had subdued under control and planning conquests of new nations. They are also preoccupied with raising enough money to accomplish all this. They have ordered a census to register everybody in the Roman Empire so that none will be missed in the collection of taxes.
In Judea, King Herod was preoccupied with staying in power. He really had no legal right to be King over the Jews. His father was an Edomite and his mother was an Arab. His only claim to the throne was that he had married the daughter of the high priest, named Mariamni. Herod had been appointed King of Judea because he and Caesar had grown up as close childhood friends. After Herod became King of the Jews he rounded up all the true heirs to the Davidic throne He could find and had them put to death. In time, he killed his wife, Mariamni, and the sons he had by her. No wonder that when the wise men told him that the King of the Jews had been born that "he was greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him."
Masses of people were preoccupied with making money. Bethlehem was a typical example. Since Bethlehem was "the city of David" all living descendants of David were required by Roman law to return there and enroll for taxation. The market was filled with returned travelers as well as local people. Hucksters were hawking their wares on the street. Local homes were filled with returned relatives. We may assume that the local inn was charging outrageous prices for a room and it was because Joseph and Mary could
not afford to pay the price that "there was no room for them in the inn."
Most people were preoccupied with the affairs of their world.
There was little room for thoughts that on this night God's Son would be born of a virgin "to save His people from their sins."
There Was Smug, Religious Complacency
Hosts of people rested content in the religion of their ancestors. This was as true among the people of Israel as anywhere else on earth.
At the Jerusalem Temple the Levitical priesthood routinely offers the same sacrifices that had been offered for over fourteen hundred years without realizing that every one of them pictured some aspect of the sacrifice of Jesus, the Christ.
The Scribes are smug in their confidence that they are masters of the revelation of God. They have studied it, copied it, and memorized it to the extent that they are looked on as the official lawyers of Mosaic law. When Herod asks them where the Christ was to be born they immediately answer, "Bethlehem of Judea…", and quote the prophecy of Micah 5:2. Bethlehem is only five miles away but because they are so smugly complacent in their religion they do not put forth the effort to go there.
The Pharisees are smugly complacent in believing they have the true revelation of God and the true interpretations. Some believe their interpretations and applications are of equal or greater authority as God's word.
The Sadducees are smugly complacent that they are members of the high
priest's party and they have the intelligence to cast aside Biblical teaching they do not consider rational and pride themselves in being able to cast away what they consider religious superstition.
The majority of religious leaders in Israel rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah after they saw Him and heard Him. His life and teachings collided with the religious beliefs in which they rested in smug complacency.
There Was Hopelessness and Despondency Among Millions.
The great mass of humanity worshipped idols of stone, wood and metal. These idols had eyes that could not see; ears that could not hear; mouths that could not speak; noses that could not breathe; feet that could not walk, and hands that could not lift the heavy burdens of humanity…no matter how agonizing the worshippers were that prayed to them.
Greek philosophers had lifted humanity intellectually. Brilliant men like Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates had opened the understanding of many to higher levels of thinking…but they could only rise so far in spiritual understanding. It was not enough. Socrates summed up this fact when he said in effect, "The supreme God must be holy and man is obviously sinful. I can only presume that God has some way to forgive sins but I do not know how."
Most of humanity were aware that they were in spiritual darkness and felt it was hopeless that they could pierce that darkness and come to the light of knowledge of the true God.
It is even more amazing that in our day when the gospel light is shining throughout most of the world, the majority of mankind still feel hopeless and despondent in spiritual darkness.
There Was Hope and Expectancy By a Few
Joseph and Mary were filled with hope and expectancy. The archangel, Gabriel, revealed to Mary that as a virgin she would conceive a Son by the power of the Holy Spirit and that He would be the Son of God. The Angel of the Lord confirmed this to Joseph and further revealed that Jesus would save His people from their sins. Luke1; Matthew 1.
The wise men from the East had hope and expectancy. They knew a special baby was to be born Who would be King of the Jews. When they saw a certain star they knew it was "His star" and they followed its direction some 500 miles so they could worship Him. Matthew 2:1-11.
Zecharias and Elizabeth were filled with hope and expectancy. An angel told Zacharias that even though they had never been able to conceive a child they would have a son and he was to be named John. The angel informed him that John would be the forerunner to go before Jesus to prepare a great host of people to believe on Him. Luke 1:13-17.
And there was a just and devout man named Simeon to whom it was revealed that he would not taste of death until he saw the Lord's Christ. Every day must have been filled with hope and expectancy for him. Luke 2:25-32
And here is 84 year-old Anna who was called a prophetess. She was still practicing her habit of praying and fasting in the Temple night and day. For this God would reward her with the privilege of seeing and holding the Christ child. We take note that she went forth speaking of Jesus "to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem." Luke 2:36.
And the scriptures give special emphasis to the shepherds in the field below Bethlehem as they watched over their flocks by night. We are told that "the
angel of the Lord appeared to them" in all the glory of the Lord
and revealed that on this day there would be born in the city of David a
Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And if that wasn't enough, a multitude
of angels burst into visibility praising God and saying, "Glory to God in
the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Luke 2:8-14. We might well wonder why God puts all this emphasis on shepherds. They were looked down upon as ignorant, dirty, and unrefined. They were the commonest of the common. Perhaps Mark, in 12:37b, helps us with that question best with the statement, ". . .And the common people heard Him gladly." We also find in scripture that Jesus was the Good Shepherd Who laid down His life for the sheep. He is also the Chief Shepherd Who watches over His earthly flock and
He will be the Great Shepherd Who shall come some day to gather all His sheep into the fold. The scripture also refers to overseers of the church as "pastors" = "shepherds".
Even the adulterous Samaritan woman was looking for the Christ. Listen to her words, ".
. .I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when He comes, He will
tell us all things." John 4:25. Jesus brought salvation to that woman and a host of others in Samaria who were looking for Him.
There Was Excitement In Heaven
For God the Father this was an event that was greater than creating the heavens and the earth. For all the angelic hosts this was the fulfillment of prophecies that began in the garden of Eden and had been given down through thousands of years. For all the saints of God whose spirits had departed this life, this meant the redemption price would shortly be paid that would provide all believers acceptance in the presence of God. I believe that Satan and all his fallen angels were also excited about the birth of the One Who would bring them eternal defeat and damnation.
And before the rays of sunlight heralded the new day Mary came full term and the birth pangs began. Although the stable is far from sanitary Joseph begins to make the best preparations he can to deliver the Christ child in the midst of cows, donkeys, and sheep.
I believe Jesus was born in a stable located a short distance north of Bethlehem called "Migdal Edar" or "Tower of the Flock" (Micah 4:8). It was here where lambs were born and raised to be offered as sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. The official introduction of Jesus by John the Baptist was "Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world." John 1:29. A little over 30 years later Jesus would be offered as the Lamb of God for the sins of all mankind.
The great majority of mankind missed out on the great salvation He made possible for them because their attitudes left no room to be looking for Him. However, those who were looking for Him with hope and expectancy were not disappointed. The same is true today.
Copyright © 2004 Thomas E Berry
All Scripture quoted from NKJV unless otherwise noted