Message of Christmas

We live in a world of paradox. On the one hand there is development in the fields like science, technology. Today the world is no longer big. We can watch what is happening in any part of the world sitting in our drawing room. We live in a global village. (I have reservations in using this term because the question is what is the culture of this Village) On the other hand there is deterioration in personal and social values. There is discrimination of people on the basis of caste, color, creed, and race; some marry for fun and some live under the same roof without any commitment. This trend is growing in the cities of India. There is economic disparity- poor countries and rich countries, powerful and the powerless, exploiters and the exploited. There is deterioration in the relations among the nations, among people which has resulted in suspicion and growing sense of insecurity. The world, societies and families are torn apart.

To this world which is torn apart what is the message of Christmas?

Christmas gives four-fold message.

1. Christmas is a Message of Sovereignty of God

Jesus was born during the reign of Roman Emperor Augustus. Augustus was a great conqueror and subjugated many kingdoms. These conquered nations had to pay tribute to the Roman government. In v.1 it says that Augustus passed a decree that “all the world should be registered”. This census was taken for the purpose of taxation. So people had to go to their ancestral house or town to be registered. What did this taxation mean to the conquered? Payment of tribute meant domination, subjugation and exploitation. Since for Jews paying tribute was subjection to alien rule and disloyalty to God, there was tension between the Roman government and the Jews. This continuing resistance resulted in slaughter and enslavement of Jews. Many were imprisoned and about two thousand were crucified around 4 B.C.

This was the situation in which people in Palestine were living. They were longing for deliverance from this yoke of slavery. It was a time of gloom. Many a time we wonder why God allows some seemingly evil things happen to us and in the society. We see injustice, exploitation of the weak and the triumph of the wicked. Sometimes we cry like Habakkuk, “Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise…. The wicked surround the righteous…. Why do you look on the treacherous and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they” (Hab. 1.3,4,13). Even though we do not understand his ways, we need to confess that he is sovereign. God can bring beauty out of ashes. The decree of Augustus brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, thus fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem (Mt.2. 5-6).

It is God, not Roman Emperor, who is the king of kings. God is sovereign and is in control of the situation. Bill Hybel writes, “How do you pray a prayer so filled with faith that it can move a mountain? By shifting the focus from the size of your mountain to the sufficiency of the mountain mover.” Among the twelve spies of Israel who went to spy the promised land, ten looked at the size of the mountain but two looked at the mountain mover and wanted to move forward.

2. Christmas is a Message of Hope

In this time of gloom an angel of the Lord announced to the shepherds who were keeping watch over their sheep in the night, “I am bringing you the good news of great joy to all the people”. V. 9 says that when an angel of the Lord stood before them, the glory of the Lord shone around them. It was like light shining in the darkness. The shepherds, who were in the night, were completely encompassed/encircled by light, the light of “the glory of the Lord”. This denotes the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk. 1.78-79).

Shepherds were the first receivers of the good news. Shepherds in the 1st century Palestine were poor and had very low status in the society. Jesus by being born in a manger has identified himself with the poor and ordinary people. Jesus’ identification with the poor shows an openness, which broke down all the barriers that separated people from one another. God has inaugurated in Jesus his redemptive act both in the lives of individuals and also in the life of society. This deliverance is not only from the bondage of sin (1.77) but also from the oppressed structures of the society. It is the inauguration of the new world where there is no discrimination based on caste, color or creed and all are valuable.

I do trust that all of us have the experience of Christmas in our lives. I read an article in the News Paper during the time of persecution of Christians in Dangs district in Gujarat. The writer says that one of the reasons of persecution was that after these tribal people, who were illiterate, were converted into Christianity; there was such a positive change in the society that there was no need of police or judiciary. These tribals were exploited by the local non-tribals, middlemen and officials. Their enlightenment and confidence in questioning the policies and the corrupt practices of the rulers/landlords and non tribal officials, in fact, triggered in the form of persecution. This change was reported by a Muslim journalist by name Seema Mustafa. Jesus transforms not only the lives of people but also the life of the society – the very ethos of society and its norms.

The story of Christmas is about the deliverance of those in bondage. That is why Christmas is a message of hope and Jesus is the hope for the world.

3. Christmas Brings Peace

The angelic host praised God by saying “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors”. Christmas brings peace not only into the life of an individual but also into the life of the society.

In those days Emperor Augustus was honored and worshipped as the divine saviour of the world and his birthday was celebrated as the “good news for the world” and the beginning of the new world, because he had restored peace and order in the empire by defeating those, who were the cause for the unrest. However this peace was brought by military might. Pax Romana (“Roman peace”) means subjugation of other nations. It was brought about by mass slaughter and mass enslavement. Roman peace means tranquility and prosperity for the privileged on the basis of the subjection of common people. This is what some are trying to bring through military power.

Luke is challenging this Roman self-propaganda by claiming that it is Jesus, not Augustus, who is the Saviour and source of true peace and whose birthday marks a new beginning in the world. He is the Prince of Peace (Is.9.5). He brings peace through the power of love. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is the state of wellbeing of the whole person. It means wholeness in the relations between God and the people, among people and the whole created order. Peace is the mark of His kingdom. Is. 9.6-7 “For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders and he is named wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore”. He establishes a kingdom of peace through love, justice and righteousness. In this kingdom there is neither discrimination nor exploitation of the poor by the privileged. There is no more war. There is no need of weapons of war. Is. 2.4 “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” The weapons that are used in this kingdom are the weapons of love, mercy and selflessness.

4. The Paradox of Christmas

The essence of Christmas is the Word becoming flesh and living among human beings (Jn. 1.14). The Greek word used for “live” in Jn. 1.14 is skēnoō, which means “to pitch a tent” “to tabernacle” “to dwell in a tent”. So the Jn. 1.14 may be translated as: “And the Word became flesh and tabernacle among us….”

Before a temple was built for God, God “lived” in a tent or tabernacle. In other words, tabernacle denotes a place of God’s presence or God’s glory. Therefore, Jesus, as the Word of God, is an embodiment of God’s presence or God’s glory. He manifested God, whom human beings have never seen, among human beings.

What kind of God did Jesus reveal?

Paul beautifully delineates in Phil. 2.6-11 the kind of God Jesus has revealed. Although Jesus Christ “was in the form of God, (he) did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” (Phil. 2.6). The Greek word harpagmos (NRSV: “something to be exploited”) means neither something not yet possessed but desirable (to be snatched at), nor something already possessed and to be clung to, but rather the act of snatching. Jesus did not consider equality with God as plundering or grabbing or acquisitiveness or self aggrandizement. He understood equality with God as not getting, or using it for self interest.

It is a popular view that God’s almightiness or sovereignty means the ability to do whatever He likes. God, like an earthly king, is often associated with wealth, splendour and power to gain self glory. Popular mind imagines that it is divine prerogative to do what he wants. This is what the divine Roman emperors did.

But Jesus thought equality with God otherwise. He considered it not an act of snatching but an act of serving, not gettingbut giving. Jesus Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil. 2.7-8).

The “form of a slave” is in antithesis with the “form of God” in popular view. Kenosis (i.e. emptying) and divinity do not belong together in popular perception. But the self emptying was an exhibition of Jesus’ equality with God or “form of God”. Although Jesus Christ was in the “form of God”, a status people assume meant exercise of power, he acted in character contrary to what we would expect (in a shockingly ungodlike manner according to normal but misguided popular perceptions of divinity), but in accord with true divinity, when he emptied and humbled himself, taking the form of a slave.

Christ’s divinity, and thus divinity itself, is defined as kenotic in character. Humility and service are divine qualities. Greatness consists in humility and service (Mk. 9.35; 10.42-45). This is the good news that the angel proclaimed to the shepherds: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: YOU WILL FIND A CHILD WRAPPED IN BANDS OF CLOTH AND LYING IN A MANGER” (Lk. 2.10-12).

The shepherds went straight to the manger in Bethlehem to see Jesus (Lk. 2.15-17), whereas the wise men from the East went to Jerusalem, the centre of power and privilege, to find Jesus (Mt. 2.1-2)!!!

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