It’s obvious that Christmas today resembles nothing like the first Christmas.
Plenty of people contrast the original simplicity with our current excess. The reality of a pregnant woman with no sanitary place to give birth has been usurped by fir trees, light displays, pageants, and online purchases.
But the two Christmases also have much in common. Human history has changed dramatically; human nature has not. The age of technology and materialism has not corrected human cynicism, competition, or selfishness.
In Matthew’s version of the birth of Christ (Matthew 2) we’re introduced to a villain, an anti-Christ by the name of Herod, and “all the chief priests and scribes of the people” (v.4). Herod, the regional ruler, gets wind of the birth of a potential political foe (Jesus) and wants to kill Him. He calls the religious scholars and leaders together and asks them where the Messiah (the new King) would be born. Interestingly, these Jewish leaders provide Herod with the precise prophecy (Micah 5:2) but apparently make no effort to go and check out the rumors themselves.
Just not interested.
Biblical stories, like all good stories, draw us in. But the Gospel writers do not intend to merely fascinate us. They want to challenge and confront us. They tell their stories so that we can understand both human nature (ourselves) and Divine grace more deeply.
Matthew makes Herod the chief figure in his version of the birth story. Why?
It is human nature to respond with hostility (Herod) or apathy (the religious elite) to anything or anyone who might change our status quo. And Jesus certainly does that, still. As others have said so often, “He comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”
It’s appropriate that Christmas should be followed so quickly on our calendar by the New Year. If we welcome Christ unreservedly, then “old things pass away; behold, new things come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
This Christmas, will we thoroughly and recklessly embrace the babe of Bethlehem who threatens to turn everything about us and within us upside-down? Or will we walk in the steps of Herod and the religious elite of that day? Hostility and apathy remain two of the most common responses to the coming of Christ.
Seems like Christmas hasn’t changed that much at all.
I’d like to take this moment to thank each of you who has graciously received “Because of Grace” throughout 2016. It has been a joy to share the Journey this year with you. May this Christmas and New Year season be filled with faith, hope, and love for each of you. Blessings. — David Timms