It is still my favorite Christmas song. "Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright ..." Simple, yet profound. Most everyone knows it, and the song contains one of the most powerful messages you’ll ever hear, the essence of the Christmas story: "Christ the Saviour is born." That’s far more than just a line in a song. For millions of people, it is a statement of grace and salvation, crucial to eternal life and companionship with God forever.
Consider the things happening in the story, outside of Mary and Joseph’s experiences. Certain philosophers from the east — from outside of the accepted religious establishment – had evidently been studying the Hebrew Scriptures. Upon seeing a mysterious star and discerning it was the star spoken of by Balaam in Numbers 24:17, they set out in search of the Saviour the Scriptures foretold. Much like Abraham when God called him, and as Israel when following the pillar of cloud, they went forth full of hope and expectation.
And then something interesting happened. They came to Jerusalem, where, surely, the entire city would be abuzz with the birth of the promised Messiah. We can be certain the arrival of these Wise Men would have aroused some excitement in Jerusalem, and their mission would have become known. "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" they asked. "We have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him" Matt 2:2.
You’d think that in the great capital city, the home of scholars and priests and dignitaries and doctors of the law, these Magi would have found a ready answer. "Oh yes! We’ve seen it too! Isn’t it wonderful? The Messiah’s birth is about to take place!"
But no. There were no glad announcements, no parades or celebrations planned. The city was ignorant, and its inhabitants distracted by whatever it is that gets a person’s focus off spiritual concerns.
At this Christmas season, I wonder if this isn’t a good opportunity to ask where our focus really is? Life is just plain busy for the most of us. We’re busy earning a living and making ends meet and getting our kids through school and paying the bills and figuring out our health care and planning vacations and doing good things in the community and watching television, and there’s just no end. But wait! The Messiah is about to be born! Isn’t that worth slowing down long enough to reflect upon?
Of course, for us living in the waning moments of 2009, it isn’t the Messiah’s birth that demands our attention; it isn’t His first coming that calls us to stop and think, but it is the Messiah’s return to Earth, His second coming. It is the living Christ, the risen Christ, the saving Christ who appeals to hearts today.
If the Wise Men showed up in Walla Walla County this Christmas, would they find people just as distracted as those in Jerusalem 2000 years ago?
Jerusalem was a very "religious: city, but that didn’t prevent its residents from missing the greatest event since the creation of the world. The Saviour Himself was about to be born, and they didn’t have a clue. This in spite of the Scriptures making clear where He would be born (Micah 5:2), approximately when He would born (Dan 9:25), and the unique circumstances of His birth (Isa 7:14).
Our society is, likewise, a very "religious" society. Even unchurched people know the words to ‘Silent Night’. Virtually the entire population recognizes Christmas, whether the cards say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas". There are manger scenes and "Christmas specials" and "Holiday sales" and Christmas cantatas and decorated streets and parades and so much more.
All these things proclaim loudly, "it is Christmas time!" Which, by interpretation, says, "Hey! The Saviour of the world was born 2000 years ago! That’s what this is all about!"
With everything declaring "Christmas," it is worth considering the meaning. Those dear people 2000 years ago had every reason to be ready for the birth of the Messiah: the prophecies, the services at the temple, the Scriptures, and even the arrival of several foreigners alerting them to history’s greatest happening. Today, people again have every reason to be ready to know the living Christ, and to be ready for His second coming.
In spite of its shortcomings, the Christmas season exists not only as a boon to retailers and to give people a couple of days off work and school, but to call minds to remember. The stable. The long walk. The pregnant woman and her "just" husband. The star in the east. And the baby, in a manger, in a stable, in the presence of farm animals ... What was it for? "Christ the Saviour is born."
The wise men sought Him, and found Him. I hope and pray that this Christmas time, you too will seek Him, and find Him.
John Bradshaw is senior pastor of the Village Church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church at 12th and Larch in College Place. Contact him at email@example.com. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.