Christmas Devotion – December 22

The Bible is filled with great historical drama. Some historical events revealed in the Bible overwhelm us by their sheer drama. God commands light and darkness to separate and creates massive continents “ex nihilo” or “out of nothing.” Moses leads an exodus of Hebrew slaves out of Egypt. Chased by thundering Egyptian chariots, the fleeing slaves come to the edge of the sea, and confronting a certain death at the hands of the pursuing Egyptians soldiers, the sea suddenly and miraculously separates and they safely journey to the other side.

1,400 years after the miraculous drama of the Exodus, the Christmas drama unfolds in Bethlehem and its surrounding areas. A millenium before the birth of Christ, Bethlehem had been the birth place of King David. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem was a small town of about 1,000 inhabitants and hardly a bustling center of cultural, economic, and military activity.

The leading men and women in God’s Christmas drama were Mary, Joseph, and some shepherds. Joseph and Mary were among the poorest of the poor. Mary became pregnant before the marriage was official. In this culture, this made Mary a candidate for death by stoning. Mary said God did it. Joseph considered divorce, but an angel convinced him otherwise. We know Joseph and Mary as the earthly parents of the eternal Son of God. At the time of the real story, they would not have been held in such high esteem. The 80-mile donkey ride to register in Bethlehem for a new Roman census and taxation program was probably more of a reprieve than a burden.

The shepherds were a story all their own. Shepherds suffered from a bad reputation in those days. The religious leadership lumped shepherds in the category of the godless, forbidding them to even enter the courtyard of the temple. Yet the night sky, filled with the resplendent light of God’s glory, first filled their sight. The sounds of the Heavenly Host first filled their ears. The gospel joy of Christ the Savior was first announced to them, and they became the first human heralds of the good news of great joy.

As the historical Christmas drama unfolds, the gospel story moves us from the miracle of Incarnation to the response of the ordinary people who witnessed it. “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). “All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:18).

Each year, there are dramatic reenactments of the Christmas story. Maybe you have seen one of them. Joseph looks the part. Mary is gorgeous. The manger holds a live-looking baby. The animals are real and the cattle are really lowing. There are flashing lights, fluttering angels, and sounds of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus fill the performance hall. All who hear and see the performance are thrilled. It is great drama. The only thing missing is the glory of God and the worship of Christ.

This is the way many celebrate Christmas. We say, “Merry Christmas.” We go to church. We see, hear, and buy, buy, and buy again. But what do we see and hear? Do we worship, ponder, praise God, or share the good news of Jesus Christ? Are we humbled and amazed that the Holy, Holy, Holy One entered this unholy and messed up world to redeem it and sinners like us, because Christ is our only hope?

A story is told about a Christmas pageant in the basement of a small church. It was not a good drama. An awkward little boy with a learning disability was chosen as the innkeeper. His only lines were, “There is no room in the inn.” He practiced these lines so he would be prepared for his part in the drama. The problem was when Joseph and Mary came to the inn for help; he got caught up in the drama. He started to say his practiced lines, “There is no room…” but then he startled the holy couple and everyone else by saying, “Wait a minute. Don’t go. You can have my room.”

It is this kind of Christmas pageant which best captures the wonder of the historical Christmas drama. It reveals what can happen when ordinary folks like Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and you and me, who are trying to make our way in this confusing world, suddenly see, hear, and believe the gospel of great joy. The drama of Christmas continues in our response of wonder and faith in the Christ of the drama. Today and in this Christmas week, I pray we will pause, ponder, praise, and worship.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).