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The Night Before Christmas

By Dr. Kieran Beville, Pastor of Lee Valley Bible Church, Ballincollig, Ireland
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Consequently, when Christ came into the world, He said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, "Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book" (Hebrews 10:5-7).

A Journey Completed

Imagine the angel Gabriel making a report on all the events that had been committed to his care. He appeared to Zacharias in a vision; the father of John the Baptist. John would be the forerunner of Christ, heralding the Saviour.

Then there was the great announcement to Mary that her child was to be the Saviour; that she was the chosen vessel of God to be the mother of Jesus. Imagine Gabriel reporting on Mary's obedient and worshipful response.

The journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem was completed. Christ must be born in Bethlehem, in order to fulfill the prophecy of Micah. Joseph had received a crucial communication from heaven in a dream so that the infant Jesus would be protected. The promise of the Saviour was long expected. Mary had a normal gestation period of nine months but in a sense there was a spiritual gestation period of more than 2000 years. This thought is expressed in the Philip Doddridge hymn:

Hark, the glad sound! The Saviour comes,
The Saviour promised long;
Let every heart prepare a throne,
And every voice a song.
He comes the broken heart to bind,
The bleeding soul to cure,
And with the treasures of His grace
To enrich the humble poor.


The great congregation around the throne of God in heaven was waiting for the moment called "the fullness of time" to strike on the eternal clock. The angels were waiting to worship and praise and glorify the baby Jesus who was about to be born. Just imagine that night in heaven when the Father said farewell to the Son. These words of conversation are recorded in Hebrews:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, He said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book'" (Hebrews 10:5-7).


These words tell us something of Christ's purpose in coming into the world. The "fullness of time" had come. The Son said to the Father, "a body you have prepared for me." The Father was not pleased with burnt offerings and sin offerings because they were a temporary measure to address sin. They were to be accompanied by genuine repentance but they had become a substitute for heart religion whereby people began to focus on the externals of the ritual and neglect the symbolic and temporary nature of these sacrifices.

Foreshadowing

These offerings foreshadowed the ultimate and final offering that would atone for sin, that is, Jesus. The principle, that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sins, would remain, but the slaughter of animals would be superseded by the slaying of Jesus. He would become the once for all time sacrifice to atone for the sins of those who would believe and repent. In this divine dialogue Jesus said, "I have come to do your will, O God" His obedience was perfect and complete, even unto death on a cross. This satisfied the requirements of the law. Jesus said, "it is written of me in the scroll of the book". The Scriptures spoke of Him. They foretold where and why He would come.

The writer to the Hebrews, in this same chapter, reveals that the true purpose of the incarnation was to complete the will of God, And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all' (Hebrews 10:10). We can become right with God today on the basis of what Christ accomplished by coming into the world on that first Christmas so that He could complete the divine plan at Calvary. Enormous preparation had been made, no detail was overlooked and no expense was spared, "For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

The fullness of time

But turning our attention to earth; this world was largely unaware of the event of Christ's birth. Mary and Joseph had arrived in Bethlehem, the "fullness of time" had come and she was about to give birth to Jesus. Then there is a dramatic scene where angels appear to shepherds as they were tending their flocks of sheep at night. The veil that separated heaven and earth was drawn back and these few men saw the angels. The wise men who had been studying the sky saw a star that led them to Christ. They were searching for the messiah. They brought gifts to express their devotion. They were the first of many Gentiles (non-Jews) to come to Christ to express their loyalty and love. There are many more yet to come and worship the Christ of Bethlehem.

That was the first Christmas Eve in heaven and the first Christmas Day on earth. But what about Christmas in our hearts; have we made any preparation to receive this honoured guest in our lives? Does Christ live in us? The historical incarnation is a reality that has really nothing to do with us unless we have received Christ in our hearts to reside and reign as lord of our lives. Christmas can be a continuing reality if Christ is incarnate in us. Christ was embodied in human form at a particular time and place in history, for a specific purpose; so that we might become the living embodiment of Christ as Christians in the community of the church fulfilling his purposes on earth. The question, therefore, is this: is Christ incarnate in you? It is possible to be busy preparing for Christmas and to miss Christ.

What's missing?

We have seen the secularization and commercialization of this festival in our world today, where the word "Christmas" is often abbreviated to Xmas. It is a form of shorthand. But Christ is the X factor. He is the essential but missing element in the equation. Christmas makes no sense without Him. It might seem trite, hackneyed and clich├ęd but surely there is a great truth contained in the slogan, "He is the reason for the season."

What do you suppose the innkeeper who turned Mary and Joseph away might have done if he had known whom he was dealing with? Christmas is still a very busy time for innkeepers. The hotels and pubs and restaurants are full at Christmas time and we still live in a world that has no room for Christ. But we are all called to make room for Him in our hearts.

Have we acknowledged Christ as King in our hearts as the magi did in theirs? Will you worship as they did? The angels who appeared to the shepherds worshipped and adored Jesus, not out of habit or even in obedience to a command of God. Their worship was a spontaneous outpouring of their inner devotion. Do we "worship" out of mere habit? Is it anything more than a traditional recreational activity that we have become accustomed to? Does Christmas have any real spiritual meaning for us or is it just a hedonistic festival? Jesus is the Saviour but He wants to be your Saviour.

Foreknown, foretold, fulfilled

People talk of the Christmas story but there isn't a Christmas story; there is a Gospel story and Christmas is a chapter in that story. In order to make sense of it we must see Christmas as something foreknown, foretold and fulfilled in Christ's coming, crucifixion, resurrection and return. Christmas must be put in context. Where do we fit in this ongoing story of God's redemptive purposes? With all the preparation we make at Christmas time to receive guests into our homes have we made any preparation to receive Christ into our lives and homes?

Spelling it out


C is for cards and carols, but it is, more important, for the Christ child.

H is for holiday and holly, but more important, it is for heaven.

R is for rushing and relatives, but more important, it is for redeemer.

I is for icing (on Christmas cakes), but more important, it is for Immanuel (which means "God with us").

S is for shopping, but more important, it is for the star that the magi followed, the stable where Christ was born which speaks of his humility, the story of Christmas which is a chapter in the overall scheme of God.

T is for turkey and tinsel, but more important, it is for tidings of great joy as announced to the shepherds.

M is for mince-pies, but more important, it is for the magi who, in their exemplary behaviour, searched and found and adored the Saviour.

A is for almonds and alcohol, but more important, it is for the advent and the amazing news announced by the angels.

S is for stockings being filled with surprises, but more important, it is for the Saviour.


Dr. Kieran Beville is an experienced Christian newspaper columnist and author of several books. He has taught theology on leadership training programmes in Eastern Europe and Biblical Studies to postgraduate seminary students in India. He is a fellow of the Society of Oxford Scholars.


 

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