Every Christmas our thoughts are (rightfully) turned toward the babe in the manger who is the incarnate, eternal Word. We see scenes of that event in nativities set up in various places. Churches across our land tell the story again and again in plays and musicals. It can be a very emotional and even sentimental time; a time to recall those special times of childhood and evoke those nostalgic memories of yesteryear. This is the time of friends, family, and festivities. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things (indeed, many of these blessings are the result of what Christ accomplished), the first Christmas was not viewed by many the same way as many view it today. The people of God who were waiting for the redemption of Israel were certainly excited about the birth of Jesus, but it wasn’t because it called them back to their own childhood or good memories of days gone by. It was because in this child who would grow to be a man, the problem of sin and its captivity would finally be defeated as God promised to Abraham. The authorities of that time didn’t have the warm fuzzies over a little child being born in a cattle stall either. Matthew and Luke present to us a child who was destined to be king and who, consequently, stood as a threat to the powers-that-be. The way the world was being run would change if this child lived. Herod saw him as a threat and had all the children under two years of age murdered in Bethlehem. This newborn king was not welcomed by the existing powers because, as Mary sang when she visited Elizabeth, the Lord “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Lk 1.52). The first Christmas, though a very happy event for the faithful people of God, was a terrifying event for those who opposed God’s promised righteous rule.
During this Christmas season we can reflect the joy of those recorded in Scripture who rejoiced at the Savior’s birth, not only because we may have good memories of Christmases past or because this a great time to get together with friends and family, but also because the King who was born has challenged and defeated the unrighteous rule of sin, Satan and his seed on the earth. The righteous are and will be exalted and the wicked have been and will be defeated. He has established his kingdom, and of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end (Isa 9.7). Like the angels on the night of his birth, we proclaim this peace to the world, calling people to come to know this peace in submission to the world’s true Lord. We let them know that the joys they see historically in the Christian season are the result of his rule. Those who oppose him yet participate in the joys of the season enjoy borrowed joy. They are to recognize the source of this joy and pledge fealty to their true King. This joy they borrow will be turned to terror if they don’t submit to him as Lord. This is the message of Christmas, and the faithful people of God rejoice.