This article originally appeared in Decision Magazine in December 1983.
What does Christmas mean to you today? As we think back to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, the city of the King, the city of royalty, the city where David was born and grew up, we must notice the attitudes of some of the people who were involved in the Christmas story.
Too little attention, I think, is given to Joseph. He is called a “just man,” which means he totally obeyed the will of God. That term also carries with it the meaning of sympathy and kindness, and it indicates his devotion to God and to Mary.
Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary. To be engaged in that time was legally about the same as being married. When Joseph found that his wife-to-be was with child, he could have called her ugly names.
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He could have exposed her “infidelity” to the public. But he didn’t, because an angel came to him in a dream and told him, “Fear not! This child that Mary is going to have is to be the Son of the Most High.” What faith it took on Joseph’s part to believe and to trust!
And then notice Mary herself. She was a young woman, probably not more than 16 years of age. She was a young woman of tremendous faith. The announcement that she would bear a child was made by Gabriel the herald of God: “Blessed art thou among women….[You have] found favor with God.”
What kind of favor did she find? What were the results? Many of us would be reluctant today to claim that favor. She would go on a long and tiring journey to a small town. The pains of childbirth would come upon her in a stable.
Then there would be the long trip to Egypt, the return to Nazareth, long years of obscurity and perhaps poverty. And she would see her Son crucified on a Roman cross. That was her career; that was the favor of God upon Mary.
If you are suffering, can it be a favor from God? Maybe this Christmas you are suffering the loss of a loved one, the end of a courtship that broke your heart, or financial reverses. It may be something that has happened at school. Whatever it is, it may be the favor of God in your life, because God is sovereign, and nothing happens to a believer by accident.
When disappointments and heartbreaks come, that could be the favor of God—a steppingstone to a greater involvement with Christ and a greater surrender to him. God’s favor for a person or a nation may be bestowed not by affluency but in challenge, when faith is put to a costly test.
The child in Mary’s womb was her first test. What would people say? What would they think because she was not married?
Notice the angels and their gladness. We are told by our Lord, in the three marvelous stories reported in Luke 15, that the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents. One person coming to Christ can cause the angels to rejoice as they did the day that Jesus was born.
Notice the shepherds. At first they were afraid. The first thing the angel said to them was, “Fear not.” Four times in the Christmas story we read, “Fear not.”
The world is trembling with fear today. Its leaders tremble when they see what possibly lies just ahead. Some people feel that we cannot come to the end of this century without blowing up our planet or parts of it. When we travel in different parts of the world and talk with world leaders, we feel the fear and sense it.
If ever there was a moment to say, “Fear not! God reigns! God is sovereign! God has a plan,” it is now! Look at the 43rd chapter of Isaiah where God says, “I formed you. I made you. I redeemed you. Fear not! I will be with you through the waters. I will be with you in the times of trouble.” Whether it is our personal lives or our national lives, he will be with us.
This Christmas, as we give our Christmas gifts to one another, we cannot help but think of the starving people in the world and the people who are living under oppression. Our hearts go out to them.
We must share what God has given us. Christmas carries with it the idea of sharing with others. And the greatest need that the world has at the moment is love–we need to share our love.
There is no law anywhere in the world which says you can’t love the person whom you work with or live beside, or someone of another race—and to love so much that you give. Love is not a passive word but an active word. Most people are looking for a little bit of love—true love.
What does Christmas mean to you? This Christmas let it mean the birth of the Person of Jesus. He didn’t come just to be born; he came to die. His death was planned before the foundation of the world. When he was dying on that cross, God laid upon him your sins and mine. Because of that cross and the glorious resurrection, God can say to us today, “I forgive you.”
You can go to bed tonight and know that your sins are forgiven and that you are ready to meet God. The Christmas story speaks to us of his death and victorious resurrection. Jesus died for us, and we are going to die too. We are going to die either without Christ or with Christ. We are going to go either to hell or to heaven.
Jesus said that there are two roads from which to choose, the broad road or the narrow road; that there are two masters from which to choose, self or Christ. And it is up to us to make the choice. God has given us that marvelous ability to choose. May God help you to choose Jesus Christ.
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