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introduction

What Is the

Reality of Christmas?

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e probably feel like we know the Christmas story word for word. After all, this story is the centre of our Christmas celebrations and festivity. Yet, have we lost some of the awe and humbling wonder that the birth of Christ demands of us? Has this story become so familiar that it is reduced to being mundane and ordinary? The birth of Christ was never meant to make things feel festive once a year; the reality of this event 1


should shock us and leave us praising God in reverent fear. As Christians, it can be easy to consider the Christmas story as simply an evangelistic opportunity; yet there is a depth to this story that can still powerfully challenge us within the church as well. Let’s look at some of the details of the Christmas story to be reminded again of the reality, love and hope revealed by the birth of Christ.

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WHAT IS THE REALITY OF CHRISTMAS?


contents one

The Ugly Truth .

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two

The Saving Love of God .

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three

The Hope of His Return .

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four

Responding to Christmas .

Editor: Cover Design: Cover Image: Interior Design: Interior Images:

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Chris Wale Mary Tham www.pexels.com Mary Tham (p.4, p.12) Our Daily Bread Ministries, (p.8, p.15) www.pexels.com

Unless indicated otherwise, Scripture is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright Š 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All rights reserved Š 2017 Our Daily Bread Ministries Printed in Malaysia


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The Ugly Truth

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n many parts of the world, Christmas is presented as a time of fun, family and food. There’s shopping to do, decorations to put up and presents to wrap. But the tinsel doesn’t really cover up what our world is actually like. Wars are being fought; people are seeking refuge in foreign countries; poverty increases. And even within the “Christmas environment” many of us will be suffering with pain, grief, illness, rejection and loneliness. Christmas, as we know it today, can’t cover the ugly truth of our broken world. It is full of sin and 4


suffering now; and it was full of these things when Jesus was born. The traditional nativity scene often forgets the selfishness, horror and violence that surrounded the birth and early years of Jesus’ life. Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’” —Matthew 2:1–6 Herod, the governing king in Jerusalem, is often remembered in our nativities as the “evil ruler” determined not to lose his throne to the supposed “King of the Jews”. However, we rarely consider the reaction of the Jews in Jerusalem who were just as “troubled” as Herod.

The Ugly Truth

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When Herod sought advice on this new-born King, the religious leaders in Jerusalem were able to quote the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Christ. They knew the promises, but we are not told that they rejoiced when they heard news of His birth. It is probably quite safe to assume that they, along with “all Jerusalem”, Christmas, as we were disturbed! In the same way there was “no room for [Mary know it today, and Joseph] in the inn” (Luke 2:7), can’t cover the there was no room for the coming ugly truth of our Christ in His world. Even His own broken world. people, equipped with Scripture, did not want Him (John 1:11). Later, when Herod realised that the wise men were not going to help him find this new-born King, he took drastic measures to destroy any threat to his rule: Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. —Matthew 2:16 6

WHAT IS THE REALITY OF CHRISTMAS?


Unsurprisingly, even though we include the wise men in our nativities, this massacre is hardly ever mentioned. It is a horrific crime and not something we want to dwell on. Yet it did happen, and it is included in the Bible for us to reflect on, rather than forget about. While we will not have done anything as atrocious as Herod, his single-minded determination to hold on to his power and status is something that can resonate with all of us. Surely this is a picture of what our lives looked like before we gave them to Christ: we wanted to be in full control; our way was most important, even if it hurt others; we didn’t want God to be king; we did anything to quiet Him or remove Him from the picture. In the real Christmas story, the ugly truth of sin is clearly revealed, along with its devastating effects. Yet the Creator did not come in anger or judgment, but in a tiny, helpless baby. God’s intention towards our rebellious world couldn’t have been made any clearer. He had not come to destroy; He came as a gift of hope and love to a world that didn’t know Him and wasn’t looking for Him.

The Ugly Truth

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two

The Saving Love of God

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lthough we might think of Christmas as a time of “escapism”, the intention of the biblical narrative couldn’t be any more different. Jesus’ birth was not one of fantasy—He wasn’t born in a rich palace with midwives on hand to support Mary. If He had, what would it have said about God’s gift? That it’s only for the rich and powerful? Or only for those who are worthy in some way? The actual events and details carry a very different message.

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A birth for everyone: Jesus’ birth plunges us into the real world. Imagine the anxiety of Mary and Joseph as they tried to find somewhere to deliver the baby, or the unclear future that lay before them as they fled to Egypt to escape Herod (Matt. 2:14). Jesus was born in the stark reality of poverty, uncertainty and weakness. As we are told by the apostle Paul: Christ “made Himself of no reputation . . . coming in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7 emphasis added). He wasn’t born in “the likeness of rich, powerful, self-sufficient people”; by His own choice, Jesus was born among livestock in the humblest of circumstances, and then placed in a feeding trough. We are told in the book of Hebrews that Jesus can fully “sympathise with our weakness” and He was “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). It wasn’t just that Jesus looked like us; He became like us, suffering through hardships and trials, even from the day of His birth. He truly became one of us. Jesus really is for everyone. He was born in a stable (or cave of some sort) crowded with animals. It wasn’t a high-profile, “private property” kind of place; there was no lock on the door to keep the world out. In fact, the first visitors to see the Baby in the manger were people of relative unimportance: shepherds (Luke 2:15–16). They didn’t stumble onto the scene, but were invited by “an angel of the Lord” (v.9). Jesus came that all would be able to find Him and know Him personally. A rescue for everyone: Jesus was given two powerful names at His birth:

The Saving Love of God

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“You shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” —Matthew 1:21 (emphasis added) “The virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” —Matthew 1:23 (emphasis added) The promise of these names should leave us in absolute awe. Jesus was born into a world not ready for Him or looking for Him, yet He came to “save His people” and be “God with us”. These are the names God instructed to be given to His Son. Their message doesn’t rely on our circumstances or how well we are doing; it’s His mission to save us and make us His again. Jesus’ names show His rescue can be for everyone because it depends only on Him. A sacrifice for everyone: Jesus was called another name at the beginning of His public ministry; one which adds some crucial explanation to the Christmas Story: “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus wasn’t just born among livestock, He was born as “The Lamb”. Lambs were very significant in Israel’s worship towards God. God’s law required lambs to be sacrificed as sin offerings (Lev. 4:32), guilt offerings (14:12) and other forms of offering. Yet the most important lambsacrifice happened during the Exodus, when God freed the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt (Ex. 12). Every 10

WHAT IS THE REALITY OF CHRISTMAS?


Israelite family was told to slaughter a lamb and put its blood on their doorposts. When God then visited Egypt in judgment that night, whenever He saw the blood on the doorposts, He passed over that house. He only brought death to the firstborn in the Egyptian houses, where this payment of blood had not been provided. Jesus, “The Lamb of God”, is the fulfilment that the Exodus “Passover Lamb”, and all the other sacrificial lambs, pointed to. He wasn’t just born to teach and lead us; He was born to die. In a similar way to the Passover lambs (who died in place of the Israelite firstborn), Jesus paid for “the sin of the world” for us by dying in our place. He brought an end to the need for sacrifices, taking away “the sin of the world” for good. Jesus didn’t die for innocent people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And He didn’t die for His friends. Jesus died for His enemies— messed up, broken people who have no relationship with God and no way of making things right on their own. Now, anyone who puts their faith in Christ can enjoy a life and eternity of “God with us”.

The Saving Love of God

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three

The Hope of His Return

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he Lamb was sacrificed when He was brutally executed on the cross. His mission complete, “He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). The mission, predicted in the manner of His birth, was complete. We are told: “after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, [He] sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12). The way to God was made open for us and the rescue was complete—Jesus “sat down”.

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Of course, this is not the end of the story. Jesus’ first arrival on earth also gives us a glimpse of His promised return. God came to live among us, and now we wait for the day when we will live with Him forever. As surely as God kept His promise to enter our world and free us from sin, He will keep His promise to return on that final day.

God came to live among us, and now we wait for the day when we will live with Him forever.

We need to learn the lessons of Christmas and apply them to Jesus’ return. When Jesus was born, few looked for Him, few expected Him, and many were troubled by Him. Which category do we fit in as we wait for Him now? Are we like Herod, who didn’t want his world to be disrupted? Are we like the religious leaders, who “knew” about the promised Christ but didn’t want Him to come? Or are we like the often forgotten Simeon (Luke 2:28–32) and Anna (vv.36-38), who had been waiting eagerly for Jesus and rejoiced when they saw Him? The day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them . . . But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of

The Hope of His Return

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light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. —1 Thessalonians 5:2-6 (emphasis added) We are told that Christ’s return will mean “destruction” for many; this should spur us on to share the good news of Jesus with those we know. For those of us who already trust Him, it means a fulfilment of “God with us”. We will finally be with Christ in His home, safe and secure with Him. As the promised Christ should have been central to the Israelites’ hope, so too should His promised return be what we are watching for and expecting. Christmas is a powerful reminder that the end of the story is yet to come!

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WHAT IS THE REALITY OF CHRISTMAS?


four

Responding to Christmas

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s well known as the Christmas story is, crucial details and implications can quickly be forgotten. Most notable is the fact that God had a choice. He chose to become a weak human child. He chose to come to earth and be our sacrificial Lamb. We can decorate this story with tinsel, stars and presents, but that should never mask the purpose of Christ’s entrance to our world: to suffer and die for us. There is nothing wrong with joining in with the fun and festivities of the Christmas season, of course, but how might we also respond to the reflections in this booklet? 15


Honouring Jesus as our King and sacrifice: Jesus, “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation . . . He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6–8). The mind-blowing truth of Christmas is that our Creator God, who holds the world in His mighty hands, became our sacrifice for sin. Although we too frequently consider this to be “normal”, it should shock us every time we think of it! A powerful example of the kind of reaction Jesus’ sacrifice should stir in us can be seen at the last supper before His crucifixion. Jesus wrapped a towel round His waist and knelt down to wash his disciples’ feet (John 13:2–17). Peter was shocked at seeing His God kneeling before him, lower than the lowest servant, to clean him. “You shall never wash my feet!” he exclaimed (v.8). How could his Lord think of lowering Himself and doing Our Creator God, a servant’s job? Yet Jesus’ reply who holds the was clear: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (v.8). world in Jesus “humbled Himself” on the His mighty cross and became nothing to save hands, became us. The shock Peter felt during our sacrifice for the last supper is the shock of sin. Christmas! How could the King of the universe become such a 16

WHAT IS THE REALITY OF CHRISTMAS?


nothing for us? How could He have come to die for us? If we are to submit to Jesus and honour Him, we must honour Him not just as King, but also as our personal sacrifice for sin. As shocking as it is, we cannot ignore this essential part of His work in saving us. It is very humbling to realise Christmas—and Easter—fulfil the image of God kneeling before us, wearing nothing but a towel, in order to wash us and make us clean so we can enter His home. We can only come to Him in awe with humble thanks and praise, relying on Him to do the work of salvation for us. Sharing the message for everyone, with everyone: Jesus came to pay for “the sin of the world” (John 1:29). His rescue is for everyone—this includes the people we look at and say “They will never believe” or “I can’t ever see them singing praises in church.” The real Christmas story gives us a horrible glimpse of how devastating and useless it is to fight against God. We need to take this image of sin seriously. Those who continue as God’s enemies are headed for destruction. And so we need to take the wonderful rescue seriously too. The people around us don’t desperately need to hear just that Jesus came to earth as a Baby—they need to hear why. He came to rescue them personally and to sacrifice Himself in their place. As great as it is to invite friends and family to our Christmas church services and events, those things can’t take the place of praying for the unbelievers we know and seeking opportunities to share our faith and hope

Responding to Christmas

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with them. If we are deeply impacted by the reality of the Christmas story, we will be much more ready to share why Christmas is so important to us personally.

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The Christmas story is not just a tradition or outreach opportunity, it is God Himself leaving His throne in heaven to save us. It shows us just who our God is and what Christ was willing to do out of His love for us. Reflecting on this story will help us stay “rooted and grounded” in His love, so that we “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17–19).

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WHAT IS THE REALITY OF CHRISTMAS?


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What is the Reality of Christmas?  
What is the Reality of Christmas?  

This Discovery Series booklet examines the remarkable story of Jesus’ birth and how it speaks to the sin and suffering we experience today....