As we prepare for the Advent season, the time when we celebrate the coming of the Messiah, I thought it might be helpful to take a moment to look at how those who were present at His birth viewed the event. I fear that if we are not careful, we can easily get so caught up with all of the commercialism of the holidays that we lose sight of the real reason that we as Christians celebrate.
With the shepherds we notice that Christ served as the reason for their rejoicing. After the angel appeared to them to tell them the wonderful news of the Savior who had been born that day (Luke 2:8-14) and when they had found the baby lying in the manger as the angels stated, we read that The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them (v. 20). The arrival of the Messiah led them to worship God. They responded in praise and adoration.
For the magi, Christ served as the object of their search. They followed the star that indicated that His birth had come (Matthew 2:2). Perhaps they were thinking of the prophecy uttered through Balaam recorded in Numbers 24:17. A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel. They “traversed afar” (as we often sing) to finally reach the promised Christ child. And we witness further rejoicing by them and their worshiping of Christ Himself. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him (Matthew 2:10-11).
Luke highlights two individuals that come in contact with Jesus in the Temple. Their names are Simeon and Anna and Christ served as their hope. The Messiah was what Simeon had been waiting for. We are told that he was looking for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). He was hoping for this One to come to comfort and deliver his people and God revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen Him (v. 26). He even points out that the Messiah would be the hope for all the nations, both the Gentiles and the Jews (v. 32). Anna also was in the Temple and upon seeing the Messiah, was giving thanks to God (v. 38).
There are a few things we notice with all of those who first witnessed this monumental event in the course of history (really His-story). They all were centered on Christ. The shepherds rejoiced on account of Him, the magi sought after Him, and Simeon placed his hope in Him. It was all about Him. Also, they worshiped God on account of Him. This worship also can be seen with several others who had the special privilege of coming in contact with the Messiah such as Zacharias, Mary, and Joseph. And I think that it is very important to note that their celebration was not merely over the fact that God came to earth in the person of Christ but in what that Messiah would accomplish. It was not about the manger that cradled the baby as it was the cross that He would grow up to hang upon. The shepherds were rejoicing over the truth that the angel conveyed that this Messiah is the Savior (Luke 2:11). Simeon exclaimed that my eyes have seen Your salvation (Luke 2:30). Anna continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). Mary exclaimed, My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior (Luke 1:46-47). Zacharias likewise praised God for the salvation that this Messiah would bring. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant (Luke 1:68-69).
So let’s not lose our focus this Christmas season. While the “most wonderful time of the year” often becomes the “most stressful,” may we keep Christ at the center of our celebrations, worship and praise God for Him, and look past the “away in a manger” that we sing about to the purpose of His birth, salvation through His death in the place of repentant sinners and His resurrection three days later. In fact, it is because of Christ’s death on the cross that gives us the reason to sing of His birth. As one song properly puts it, “The beginning of the story is wonderful and great, But it's the ending that can save you and that's why we celebrate.” And this focus and celebration should not be limited of course to this time of Advent but one that we should have year round for the glory of God.
Love in Christ,