While answers to this question might appear so obvious that it doesn’t bear asking, I invite you to pause this Christmas Eve and actually write down your own answers. They probably won’t match anyone else’s list and that’s just fine. What this simple exercise does is bring the life of Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth over 3 billion people celebrate this Christmas season, into our hearts a bit more.
So as we close another year, it is a joy to share with you, my much-appreciated BibleRoads friends, some of my reasons and hope you will share yours in the comments section below.
- First, I celebrate that God loved His/Her creation enough to send the son who would not be fooled by what his senses told him was ‘real’ – leprosy, deafness, blindness, etc. His example in busting through compelling physical evidence remains an astonishing example to follow. And where would we be without it?
- Next, I celebrate Joseph, who had the humility to stay on the marriage track with Mary, since he was legally within his rights to have her stoned for a pregnancy that could only be explained through the ‘overshadowing’ of the Holy Ghost.
- Mary is almost beyond comprehension as a teen whose spiritual-mindedness was so developed that she was receptive to the angel’s extraordinary message. She is a model of listening on tiptoe and then being obedient, regardless of how much the message stretches us or goes against popular custom and others’ opinions.
- The Wise Men are particularly appreciated this season since they symbolize the universal appeal of Christ, the divinity of Jesus’ nature. With today’s technology, we increasingly learn just how interconnected our little global village actually is. I appreciate these insights from a sermon given around 440 CE:
How did it come to be that these men, who left their home country without having seen Jesus, and had not noticed anything in his appearance to enforce such systematic adoration, offered these particular gifts? It was the star that attracted their eyes, but the rays of truth also penetrated their hearts, so that before they started on their toilsome journey, they first understood that the One who was promised was owed gold as royalty, incense as divinity, and myrrh as mortal…and so it was of great advantage to us future people that this infant should be witnessed by these wise men.1
- The Shepherds are a lesson in preparation. The qualities their profession demanded – to see that those in their care found enough food and water, that they were well-guarded from wolves or thieves who would carry them off, that the animals wouldn’t be overdriven, that the young ones sometimes needed to be carried, not pushed, counting each animal at night as they passed under their hand – were the very attributes they would eventually recognize in the leadership of Jesus over Israel, willing to die for those in his ‘flock’.
- And finally, the foiling of Herod the Great’s scheme to kill off the Christ child before his life’s purpose could be fulfilled. I sometimes forget that the Wise Men journeyed first to Jerusalem and there had that encounter with Herod who thought to use them for his own malevolent purposes. As someone threatened by anything or anyone that would encroach on his power, upend his authority, overturn his sense of reality, Herod is a reverse model for all that we want to rule out of our lives and actions: jealousy, scheming, deception, and the draining ambition of personal power. The Magi’s ‘wisdom’ was never more in evidence than when they wisely did not inform Herod of the child’s location and instead returned to their homes, content to have seen him.
This list is far from complete. Please share what makes you pause this Christmas season in gratitude for all that the Master Christian’s birth means to you.
Sermon by Pope Leo, quoted in “The Magi in Literature”, Robin Jensen, Bible Review, Dec. 2001, Vol. 17, #06.