Songs, Scenes and Scripture
December 27, 2009 | Randy Smith
Songs, Scenes and ScriptureGalatians 4:4-5
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Pastor Randy Smith
How is anybody to know what is true this holiday season? Can Santa really ride Rudolf? What did Jesus think about the Little Drummer Boy? Was it the Wise Men or St. Nick that brought gifts to Jesus? Since Jesus was of Jewish decent should Christians celebrate Hanukah? Should Frosty have a place in our manger scenes?
Apart from God everything would be acceptable. Reject God, as much of our society has done, and truth lies in the minds of the beholder. There would be no standards. There would be no ultimate authority. There would be no objective truth.
Yet there is a God. And since God is God, that means He set the rules. And fortunately God has revealed those rules and moreover Himself in the Bible. So the only way to determine objective truth especially during this holiday season is to examine His instruction in Scripture.
This morning I would like to have some fun and highlight the things that we cherish this time of the year sifting them through the grid of Scripture. Let's look at the very things that represent the Season such as our scenes and our songs and our sacred traditions as to what is true and what is false. I believe all you, to some degree, will be surprised.
Now I trust we are all wise enough to recognize many of the myths behind the modern Christmas traditions of our day. Some traditions can be neutral. Yet some things can be outright destructive to worshipping God. Consider our holiday songs. Is Santa, "Making a list and checking it twice" in his attempt to find out who's "naughty and nice?" Does the Bible teach of an omniscient Santa Claus? Should his goodness be the primary focus on our kids' hearts? Is the "Most Wonderful Time of the Year" the opportunity to share "scary ghost stories of Christmases long time ago?" How would you like to grow up in his family? I'm not sure what that really means, but I don't think such a practice really brings much excitement to the Lord.
Some songs may be less sinister, but fall into the category of pure fiction like "Frosty the Snowman" and "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch." Sorry, but Frosty and the Grinch don't make an appearance on the pages of Scripture. Evil songs? No. Potential for diversion? Yes.
Others like "Winter Wonderland" and "White Christmas" and "I'll be Home for Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" do a nice job of capturing the mood of the season, but never take any time to mention the true reason for the season. They are songs perfectly acceptable for an atheist. I am not saying that you shouldn't sing them; I am just saying emotional uplifting is not always spiritual edification.
So what does the Bible say about Christmas? Let's take our time this morning to examine our time-honored Christmas traditions in light of what the Bible teaches. Let's cut the truth from the falsehood with the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17).
We'll start with Mary.
The Bible does affirm the Christmas belief that the virgin became pregnant with Child. As a matter of fact it was prophesied in the Old Testament. As Matthew states it, "'BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,' which translated means, 'GOD WITH US'" (Mt. 1:23; cf. Isa. 7:14). This is the greatest miracle of the Christmas story. And this is a concept we must not only believe, but also contemplate with serious reflection.
When you think God's plan must always comfortable, put yourself in Mary's shoes. God's favor and suffering are not polar opposites. What a predicament our Lord placed upon her. How would she explain this one to her parents or Joseph, the man to whom she was engaged? "Well, you see an angel told me that the Holy Spirit came upon me and 'poof' I now have this kid growing in my womb who is the Messiah!" Yeah right! Pregnancy out of wedlock, especially back then, meant the loss of just about everything for a young girl. God did not make it easy on her or on Joseph. No wonder he "being a righteous man…planned to send her away secretly" (Mt. 1:19). Or consider the 90-mile trek she had to make from Nazareth to Bethlehem while pregnant (Lk. 2:1-7). No record of her riding on a donkey while Joseph walked as many believe. Such a scenario is doubtful because the couple was very poor, probably too poor to even purchase the animal (cf. Lk. 2:24).
The Bible says in little time Mary came to accept the truth (Lk. 1:38) and took great joy in her favored position (Lk. 1:30). She is quoted as saying, "My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name" (Lk. 1:46-49). She was honored, that in her was, as the angel said, "The Son of the Most High" and "the Son of God" (Lk. 1:32, 35).
Though Mary was probably much younger than we portray her in our manger scenes, many of the stories that surround her are biblically accurate.
How about the men that we call the shepherds? What's a manger scene without shepherds? Yet were they present that first Christmas morning?
According to the Bible, shepherds played an active role that memorable day. We read they were "staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night" (Lk. 2:8). The animals are not specified. It is traditionally believed to be sheep, but it could have been goats. So keep the sheep in your nativity set but put an asterisk or question mark on each one!
According to the biblical account, the angel of the Lord appeared before them and said, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will 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" (Lk. 2:10-11). They did travel to Bethlehem to see the news for themselves (Lk. 2:15). They saw the Baby in the manger (Lk. 2:16). They reported what they heard to all present (Lk. 2:17-19). And then the Bible says, "[They] went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them" (Lk. 2:20).
Come to think about it, they became a model for all people. They came to Jesus, told others about Jesus and they glorified God. That is how we should celebrate Christmas!
Though Christmas cards portray them well, shepherds in the first century were dirty, regarded as thieves and despised by the "good and respectable" people of the day. Their work in the fields kept them from religious activities in the community adding further to their condemnation. They were not permitted to give testimony in law courts. The only people thought to be lower during that particular time in Jewish history (on most social lists) were lepers.
Yet like Mary, God made Himself known to people of humility. It was not the "high and mighty" but rather the "low and needy." As the first beatitude teaches, God takes pleasure to dwell among those spiritually bankrupt, those "poor in spirit" (Mt. 5:3), those who see their need for Him and desire to trust entirely in His resources. And that is how these shepherds responded. God-honoring excitement. Eager worship. Christ-centered evangelism. Glorifying and praising God.
Third point. Let's turn some attention to the Magi.
If anybody is shrouded in mystery, it is no doubt these fellows. We believe they came from Persia. How they became acquainted with the things of God is anybody's guess. Most likely they were influenced through the teaching of Daniel the prophet who was taken into Babylonian captivity, but had a high influence in the Persian government when the Persians overthrew the Babylonians. The Bible says these Magi "saw His star in the east" (Mt. 2:2). Now if they geographically needed to head west to Israel, it means the star was in the west and they saw that star while they were in the east. They would march to Bethlehem (Mt. 2:5), the prophetic birthplace of the Messiah (Mt. 2:6; Mic. 5:2).
How many traveled across the desert? Our mangers say three. Wrong! We get that number because of the three gifts they presented baby Jesus. There were more likely dozens of these guys - a whole entourage with all imaginable oriental pomp accompanied by an adequate cavalry escort to ensure their safe penetration into Roman territory. So "We three kings of Orient" is not accurate. There were more than three; it is also incorrect to call them kings, a tradition that was in place by the 3rd century. As I said earlier, they are best described a Magi - the supreme priestly caste of the Persian Empire. By the 6th century they had names: Bithisarea, Melichior and Gathaspa. Again, no biblical evidence to support these claims.
Why did they come? According to the Bible they came to "worship [Jesus]" (Mt. 2:2). Worship, what a great picture they provide for all of us regarding the way we should approach Jesus. And what a great picture they also provide regarding the persecution we face as Jesus promised when we seek to worship Him (Jn. 15:20).
Could you imagine King Herod's reaction when he was told that a new "King of the Jews" was born (Mt. 2:2). No wonder the next verse says, "When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him" (Mt. 2:3). At the time there was no telling what this tyrannical, power-hungry dictator would do. And their concern was warranted. In a short time Herod had every baby two and under slaughtered (Mt. 2:16).
When did they arrive? Not on the day of His birth because the Bible says they came to visit not a baby but a "child" (Mt. 2:9) and they came not to a manger, but to a "house" (Mt. 2:11). Based on Herod's decree to slay the babies under two, we have to believe that Jesus was probably already a year old. Furthermore, had the Magi come earlier in the life of Jesus with those nice presents, His parents would have been able to sacrifice more than two turtledoves (Lk. 2:24), the minimum sacrifice for poor people (Lev. 5:11; 12:8).
So maybe we should add turtledoves to our Nativity scenes in place of the three magi we need to remove because they weren't there yet. Maybe just keep them off to the side or better yet, put them in the garage to show they're on the way!
The Bible says when they came "into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Mt. 2:11). Is that not another wonderful picture presented to us by the magi? Giving Jesus worship and then presenting Him with our very best. Presenting Him with a heart of love that then overflows in allowing Him to occupy first place in our time and treasures and talents. Many Bible scholars have also concluded that the gifts themselves were prophetic, speaking of our Lord's offices of king, priest, and savior. As we learned three days ago, gold speaks of His kingship; frankincense was a spice used in the priestly duties; and myrrh was an embalming ointment anticipating His death.
So from a young female teenager surrounded by apparent scandal to smelly shepherds rejected by society to Gentile priests. How about the birthplace of Christ? From what we have already discussed, do you think Jesus would be born in a palace?
The Bible reads, "[Mary] wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk. 2:7). It was a common courtyard where animals were kept. Some believe it was a cave. Put out of your minds the freshly swept, country stable. The earth was cold and hard.
Everything in this story pointed to obscurity, poverty and even rejection. You can almost feel Mary's pain, Joseph's shame. You can smell the stinking barnyard. You can sense the people's indifference and the couple's helplessness. You can see the young, poorly dressed couple potentially surrounded by a plethora of dirty animals. Onlookers, if any, could already predict the short and meaningless future this child would have. Most likely He would follow in the footsteps of His uneducated parents, insignificant nobodies from the nothing town of Nazareth. Even Bethlehem, according to Micah 5:2, was an insignificant city itself.
There were no rooms in the inn. Sounds like many hearts today. "Sorry, Jesus, no room for You in my life."
Our songs have really missed the mark on this one. There is no biblical record of a "Little Drummer Boy" who appeared that evening. "Good Christian Men, Rejoice," nice song but no evidence of "Ox and ass before Him bow." There were no ships that sailed on Christmas morning to the inland city of Bethlehem. No evidence of bells ringing. Jesus was not born on a "cold winter's night that was so deep" (most likely He was born in the spring). And in my favorite, "Do You Hear What I Hear," the night wind never spoke to the little lamb. Also, though we have an example of a talking donkey in the Bible (Num. 22:30), there is no proof of a little lamb speaking to a shepherd boy. Furthermore, I trust Mary would have found a way to keep her newborn from "shivering in the cold."
So from Mary to the Men to the Magi to the Manger to our final point, the Messiah.
Are the Christmas traditions beginning to overshadow the true reason for the season? Have even people in the church put more emphasis on the unbiblical than they have the biblical? Some things definitely need to go. Some things need to be reconsidered and I trust the Spirit of God will lead you accordingly. Overall a greater focus on the biblical account needs to be adopted. There is no doubt that a generation is being raised with a greater concentration on fairy tales, Christmas sweets, snow forts, house decorations and presents than they are on the themes we discussed today.
Is Jesus Christ given "first place" (Col. 1:18)? Do we as a family demonstrate the attitudes of humility, self-denial and sacrifice to show Christ and Christmas to others? Like the shepherds, are we eager to tell others about the birth of Jesus? Like the Magi, are our hearts filled with worship and praise? Do we recognize Jesus as the King of our families? Do we give Him our treasures? And like Mary, do we take time to treasure these things and ponder them in our hearts (Lk. 2:19)?
The shepherds, the Magi, the manger and Mary are only illustrations of a proper response. Moreover, they are the four sides of a frame that focuses our attention on Jesus Christ!
The world is in sin. They are unable to save themselves from sin's penalty. God had to intervene. That is why the angel told Joseph, "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Mt. 1:21). On that first Christmas morning God gave us the greatest gift - not an entertainer or economist, but a Savior! As the angels declared, "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk. 2:11). As the apostle Paul said it so clearly in Galatians, "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5).
And the way Jesus redeemed humanity was to live the perfect life and then to become our substitute on the cross. He received our sin and in return gave us His perfect righteousness. In other words, He provided forgiveness for us to no longer be under God's wrath, but now to be the full recipient of God's love.
And this forgiveness comes as a gift to all who receive Him. As it says in the Bible, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). And "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16). And "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (Jn. 1:12).
So this Christmas, do you understand the real meaning of the season as it comes to you from God recorded on the pages of Scripture? And if you rightly understand it, I trust you acknowledge that Jesus is indeed your Lord and Savior. And they way you live your life in ongoing adoration and proclamation gives evidence to yourself and others of this awesome miracle of Christmas.