On Wednesday, life in our community and across the world will be a little bit different. Everything tends to slow down. Stores and businesses, which pride themselves on being open constantly, will close their doors for 24 hours.
On Wednesday, we will celebrate Christmas Day, a celebration that is undertaken by both those who believe in the Christian roots of this day — a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God — and those who celebrate in a more secular fashion.
Regardless of which side of this issue you fall, bear with us for just a few minutes as you read a decidedly less-than-secular message for this day.
In the book of Luke in the Bible, Chapter 2, there is the description of the moments after Jesus’ birth, the announcement of his coming to people who are among the lowliest in that culture.
‘Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.
Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’”
This message, this event, did not occur in a vacuum.
Jesus’ birth came at a time in history marked by division and strife, hard times in which man’s inhumanity to man was often a hallmark of people’s dealings with each other.
Into this, amongst a people enslaved by empire, is born a baby, delicate and fragile as any other, whose coming was wrapped up in expectations for the Messiah — many of which involved the idea of the Messiah conquering the Roman oppressors and putting them to the sword.
Instead, the baby grew up, guided by providence, and became a teacher of a new way, a way marked by peace and love, a way marked by His refusal to take up arms against His enemies and His orders to His followers to bless those who persecute them.
The message was then, as it is now, frowned upon.
In fact, reading just a brief description of the first century — noting the division, the strife, the war and other issues — it’d be easy to assume that, even 2,000 years after Jesus’ death, His words fall on ears that neither hear nor listen.
And that’s why the message of Christmas delivered on that day to shepherds outside Bethlehem still resonates, still matters today, and that’s why Wednesday is more than just a day off work, or a day to gather with family and open presents.
On this Christmas, more than 2,000 years after that first Christmas, the divisions still exist. We’re still struggling to show even the most basic kindness to our fellow man and “peace on earth” is no more a reality today than it was then.
But Christmas Day, very often, offers a window into that peace promised by the newborn king and the prophets who foretold His coming. Even those who don’t believe in the words of the Bible find in Christmas a peace and comfort that is uncommon in our rushed daily lives.
Even for those whose world is not reflective of all we hope for in Christmas — peace, love and joy — and even for those who don’t believe in the underlying message, the spirit of Christmas still offers something often lacking in our everyday lives — hope for a better world.
So, on this Christmas and beyond, from our families to yours, we pray that those things hoped for will be reality and pray that the spirit of Christmas will be something that carries much farther than just a single day.
Merry Christmas and may it and others truly be days of peace on earth and goodwill towards men.