There is no doubt that Christmas is coming. I think it was August when I started seeing the ads.
I was watching a cartoon with my granddaughter Stella, and there seemed to be an endless run of toy commercials. After every commercial, she would say, “Papa, can you get that for me? … Papa, will you get that for me?”
So I told her, “Stella, I don’t know. I didn’t like that last toy. Let me find one that is cool. If I see a cool toy, then maybe I will get it.”
After the next ad, she said, “Papa, was that cool enough?”
The pressure is on to get out there and spend your money and to celebrate this season. I don’t think it is possible to miss the fact that Christmas is coming.
But the first Christmas, the night Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, was largely missed.
Of course, there weren’t the telltale signs we have today. There were no reindeer on anyone’s front lawns back then. There were no Christmas carols to hear quite yet or brightly colored lights hanging from the little huts people would have been living in. There were no sales at the downtown market and no brightly wrapped presents.
It was a night like any other, yet that first Christmas had its own signs and signals that were being fulfilled. The Hebrew prophets had foretold the fact that a Savior was coming. A Messiah was arriving. He would be born of a virgin in the tiny little town of Bethlehem. He would come as a descendant of King David.
The signs were there, but for the most part, people missed it. Why? They were not paying attention. And many are still not paying attention today. We celebrate Christmas, but it is so easy for us to forget about Christ.
At the time of Christ’s birth, Rome was in power and had established Pax Romana, which was forced peace upon the people. Rome had also installed a puppet governor in Jerusalem known as King Herod. Ironically, Caesar had given King Herod the title King of the Jews. So Herod was trying to cover all his bases. On one hand, he was building pagan temples for the worship of false gods at the epicenter of where God’s people lived. At the same time, he was beautifying and rebuilding the Jewish temple. So Herod was doing a little of everything.
All kinds of religious ideas were swirling about, and things were very dark spiritually. Israel had not heard from God for 400 years. Not a single prophet had spoken. Not one miracle had been performed. Not one angelic appearance had been made. But things were ripe for the arrival of the Messiah.
The silence was broken when God dispatched the mighty angel Gabriel to a priest named Zacharias. Zacharias was an aged man who was told by God through Gabriel that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would be the parents of the Messiah’s forerunner. The very fact that Gabriel had been sent indicated that God meant business, because Gabriel is a high-ranking angel.
Then Gabriel was sent to Mary, a teenage girl living in Nazareth, and he told her that she would be the mother of the Messiah. Next, Gabriel went to her fiancé, Joseph, and revealed the same thing to him.
Then suddenly, Caesar Augustus gave a decree that everyone had to go back to their hometown to be taxed. Mary and Joseph, being descendants of David, made the difficult journey to Bethlehem. The innkeeper was too busy to give them the time of day. So Joseph and Mary found another place to spend the night: a stable, probably a cave where animals were kept. And it was there, in fulfillment of Scripture, that the Son of God entered the world. The news was first announced by angels to shepherds in a field. The Savior had arrived. And that is what we celebrate at this time of year.
There were a lot of people who missed that first Christmas. And there are a lot of people who will miss it this year as well. By that I mean, they will completely miss the point. They will go to endless plays, concerts and all kinds of parties. They will go to the malls and shop. They will listen to countless Christmas songs and buy gifts for everyone imaginable. And so easily they will forget about the one we are celebrating.
There are all kinds of things that can take the place of God in our lives. A relationship can take the place of God. A career can take the place of God. A possession can take the place of God. And as a result, we can miss Christmas.
The innkeeper in Bethlehem missed the first Christmas because he was just too busy, too preoccupied to make room for Jesus. King Herod missed it because he was too afraid to let anyone direct his life. The scholars and religious leaders were kept back from Jesus by their own pride, indifference and even religion. And the Romans missed it because other gods had taken God’s rightful place in their lives.
I love the Christmas hymn “Joy to the World,” because it reminds us, “Let every heart prepare Him room.”
So let’s make room for Jesus this Christmas. Let’s make time for him.