The story of the first Christmas sets before us an array of unique individuals. First, there is Mary, a teenage mother. Then there is Joseph, her conscientious husband, a simple carpenter.
Next, we have a powerful Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, who orders all the people in his vast empire to be counted. Why? Probably because he senses he is not receiving all the tax money that legally belongs to him. Perhaps too his inflated ego is curious to know exactly how many people are under his absolute rule. Because of his edict, Mary and Joseph are forced to make the journey to Bethlehem, a trip of about 90 miles. What makes this journey such a hardship is the fact that Mary is nine months pregnant. At this critical time in her pregnancy, she will be deprived of her family and women friends who could have helped her to deliver her baby. Mary and Joseph’s lives, like so many of our own lives, are subject to political forces and historical movements beyond their control.
Other individuals are part of the story of the first Christmas. There’s the innkeeper whose inn was filled, but perhaps he was the one who directed them to the stable. Then there’s a bevy of angels who announce Jesus’ birth to a band of hard-working shepherds. Soon a trio of star-gazers enter the story bearing precious gifts for this newborn king. A little later, Mary and Joseph will encounter two other holy people when they present their newborn in the Temple: Simeon and Anna. These elderly individuals, who realize the significance of the child before them, have important speaking roles in the Christmas story.
Another person plays a vital role in Jesus’ early life: Herod, the megalomaniacal King of Judea. By all accounts, he was a very nasty person even before Jesus was born. He had his potential rivals murdered (including a number of family members) in order to secure his power. Once he hears the Magi talk about the birth of a new king, he mercilessly orders the slaughter of all the little boys under two in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.
And last, but certainly not least, is the central character in the Christmas story: the baby…Jesus!
One important lesson we can learn from the array of characters in the Christmas story is this: God can—and does—work through all kinds of people to bring about good. All kinds of people. The young and the old, the simple and sophisticated, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the helpless, the humble and the arrogant, the saint and the sinner. Incredibly, each person in this story plays a role in the history of salvation. Some did it through their love, goodness, generosity, and holiness; others did it through their hatred, evil, selfishness, and sinfulness.
The amazing fact is that God can use everyone to bring about God’s plan, to bring about God’s goodness—even you, even me. A question to reflect on this Christmas is this: Where am I in the Christmas story for 2018? What role am I playing to bring about God’s plan in today’s world? How am I partnering with God to bring about goodness in 2018 and into 2019?
In Romans we read: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God” (Rom. 8:28). Isn’t that some of the best news in the entire Good News? It makes me want to burst into song… and to sing to each one of you:
Merry, Merry Christmas!
Speaking of bursting into song, I offer you two wonderful songs today. The first is Mannheim Steamroller”s incredible version of “Joy to the World.” The second is “Little Drummer Boy” performed live by the Christian rock group, “for King & Country.” Turn up the speakers (unless someone in your house is sleeping right now!)
Here’s a unique take on “Little Drummer Boy.”
I would love to hear what you think of the reflection and the songs.