It’s time to pack up our decorations, put away the Nativity set, recycle the Christmas cards, and store or discard our Christmas trees. Christmas is over, and the New Year is right around the corner.
Not so fast. Christmas isn’t the end of a story about a birth. Christmas is the beginning of a story. You see, the message of Christmas is that Jesus is King, Messiah, Savior, Emmanuel, and Light. Christmas is the beginning of a life that matters, and that is satisfying.
After Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary, following the customs of their culture, traveled to the temple in Jerusalem to have their child dedicated to God. Just one problem. According to custom and tradition, an offering is required as part of a mother’s purification ritual. The standard was one lamb and one dove (Leviticus 12:1-8). But these were expensive animals.
A poor family raising lambs couldn’t afford to give one up. This family traveled for days without livestock. Fortunately, the rules allowed those unable to afford the preferred offering to instead offer two pigeons. So Mary and Joseph purchased two pigeons as part of their adherence to this tradition.
On the day of Jesus’ dedication, Mary and Joseph cannot get in and out of the ceremony unnoticed. As they walk into the temple, they meet a man named Simeon, who came to the temple that day at the urging of the Holy Spirit. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and prayed, thanking God that he had at last seen God’s salvation and revelation for the Gentiles (Luke 2:29-32). I’m guessing that this encounter unexpected, but then this couple was getting accustomed to the unexpected.
But then Simeon tells Mary that her Son is destined to meet opposition because He will reveal people’s inner thoughts, and His fate will break His Mother’s heart. This is intense. Suddenly, we discover that Christmas is both a celebration of the birth of Jesus and a recognition of what comes next.
The old prophet’s prediction is followed by yet another prophet, Anna, who tells the parents and anyone in the temple who would listen that this child would redeem Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). Redemption is a payment for the freedom of another. This tiny baby, Jesus, will be a ransom for our salvation.
According to the story told by Matthew, sometime after the birth of Jesus, visitors from Persia arrived with gifts, appropriate for who Jesus will be, but not so suitable for a newborn. Gold, for a King; frankincense that a priest offers to God; and myrrh used for burial.
This group traveled over 1,200 miles across the ancient highways of the Fertile Crescent. A trip lasting over 100 days each way. They did this because they believed that the star they discovered would lead them to the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.
They arrived with gifts, but not gifts for a child, but gifts with enough street value that the family could leave town. Sometime after the visitors leave, the Holy Family has to flee to Egypt. It turns out that King Herod feared that he could lose power, and his paranoia got the best of him. It didn’t seem to matter how many or who needed to die as long as he held power. This makes me think about what’s going on today.
He will be a sign from God which many people will speak against and so reveal their secret thoughts.
So, the Holy Family became refugees in a foreign land, offering even more foreshadowing. We live in a world today where millions are forced to leave home and country due to famine, political unrest, violence, religious persecution, and war. From places like Central America hoping to find refuge in our country, entire families, uprooted through no fault of their own. Hoping to be shown hospitality wherever they end up.
For our last week of December, we remember that Jesus is Lord of lords.
“Lord” is the title most frequently used by the early church for Jesus the Christ. Lord appears over 600 times in the New Testament regarding Jesus. And another 100 times in a broader sense to refer to God, or as a title of respect for individuals. Lord is an ancient title that refers to the highest authority of a house, community, or nation. This person is the “distributor of bread” who holds power over resources. The Lord is the person in charge.
When we pray, addressing God as Lord, we acknowledge that Jesus is the primary authority over us, and we submit entirely to His will. We recognize that we belong to Him; we express our relationship to Him; we yield our life to Him; and we live as though Jesus is Lord.
God is always near. And God proved His love for us by living among people, teaching through His words and acts. We end our series, titled Incarnation on December 27. I invite you to join us online at 10:30 am.
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1 Adam Hamilton. Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas. © 2020. Nashville: Abingdon Press.