Of all the Christian festivals, the favorite is Christmas. Its appeal is universal. Christian communities everywhere want to celebrate the anniversary of Jesus’ birth, and they have found many ways to do it. Ask a hundred Christians from a hundred countries how the day is observed and you will get a hundred different answers. In some places there are elaborate celebrations, while in others the observance is simple.

There have been times in church history when ecclesiastical authorities tried to suppress all festivities related to the Nativity. While the attempts had little long-term effect, those officials must be given credit for trying to stamp out practices that were essentially pagan, not Christian. We would do well to take a fresh look at how Christians celebrate, not in order to restrict the observance but to enhance it by emphasizing practices that are universal.

Our Christmas will be truly Christian and authentic if its principal activities are those that fellow believers everywhere can share. What can the proverbial pygmy in Africa (who has heard of Christ and trusted him) do to celebrate the Incarnation? What can the imprisoned believer in a Marxist society do? How can a poor young student, or an invalid in a nursing home, or a sharecropper celebrate? What can they all share? Not tinseled trees and fireworks, nor plum pudding and sleigh rides.

There is a resurgence of interest in a simple life-style within the Christian community, and the observance of Christmas is a good place to demonstrate this interest. The greatest gifts do not come from the shelves of any store, after all. The most profound expressions of joy are the simplest. Every Christian everywhere should celebrate the birth of the Saviour. But let the celebration major on Scripture reading, prayer and praise, singing and testimony. These things all believers everywhere should share. Rejoice!

When God Was in Hiding—But in Control

The events surrounding the birth of our Lord were basically happy. True, the initial shock to Joseph when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy and later the difficulty in finding accommodations in Bethlehem were not pleasant. But the rejoicing of Elizabeth, of the angels and the shepherds to whom they appeared, of Simeon and Anna, and of the visitors from the East encompasses the event with joy.

There was one jarring exception. Matthew tells us that when the wise men from the East did not return to tell Herod exactly where to find the one whom they had come to worship, the king “was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all the region who were two years old or under …” (2:16). How many babies were murdered is unknown. Bethlehem and its vicinity were not highly populated, and so probably fewer than a hundred infants were slain. From Herod’s—and the world’s—perspective it was only a minor incident. But given the value that families placed upon male offspring at that time, we can be certain that the “wailing and loud lamentations,” the “weeping” and refusing “to be consoled” of which Matthew speaks in verse 17, were genuine and pervasive.

As we rejoice this month at the annual remembrance of the birth of the Saviour, let us remember also the grief of those who suffered the loss of their babies so suddenly and inexplicably. And let us recall too that even today, when Christ is freshly born into the lives of those who become Christians, it often causes some unhappiness—in some parts of the world, physical persecution and death.

We do not know why God allowed Herod to slaughter the babies. He could have prevented it, even as he led Joseph to take his family and hide out in Egypt. Similarly, God could prevent or enable us to escape from all troubles and sorrows. But the presence of evil and suffering serves to remind us vividly of the need for Christ’s coming. And we must not forget that even when God appears to be hiding, he is still in overall control, working in accordance with his sovereign purposes.

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