The first Christmas
The following is a portion of the message I delivered at the Christmas/Remembrance Service of Billings Funeral Home on December 2, 2021.
You’ve all lost someone this year, and I know this may be a very challenging season for you. I’m just thankful we could be together for a brief time this evening to fellowship and possibly encourage one another. I was already encouraged when some of you called to say you were coming and asked, “Will there be a time of fellowship?” To answer your question, absolutely.
If you look around this room, you will see people from your community. These are your neighbors. More to the point, you all share something significant in common. You’re all facing your first Christmas without someone who was undoubtedly very special to you. Tonight, you share a common bond with most everyone in this room. Tonight, you are more than neighbors. By definition, you are friends.
We want to honor your loved ones this evening. Before we do, though, I want to briefly turn our attention back to the very first Christmas some two-thousand years ago. It shares more in common with this Christmas than you may realize. Even if some of us aren’t Christians, we probably all understand that Christmas has its origin in the story of the birth of Christ.
When most people think of Christmas, they think of joy and peace. They think of families coming together. They think of gifts and giving. They think of many wonderful things, but the first Christmas was very different. All was not merry and bright.
First of all, consider Mary, the mother of Jesus. At a relatively young age, she learned she was pregnant, though she had never been with a man. A young, unmarried pregnant woman could still be scandalous today in some communities. Imagine the controversy she faced in first-century Israel.
Second, think of Joseph. He was still betrothed to Mary when he learned she was pregnant. He knew he wasn’t the father, so what would be the logical assumption for him to make? Even after an angel came to him to enlighten him about the situation, he still had to marry her on tremendous faith. After all, it’s not every day a virgin conceives a child, let alone the Son of God.
Third, consider the circumstances of Jesus’s birth. Raise your hand if you’ve ever given birth to a child. Can you imagine being miles and miles away from home, lying on the floor of a barn to give birth without any chance of modern medical intervention if something went wrong? That’s precisely how Jesus came into this world.
Fourth, we can’t forget about the slaughter of thousands of children at the hand of King Herod. In case you don’t know this part of the story, some astrologers came looking for Jesus about two years after his birth. They understood a King was to be born based on their study of Jewish manuscripts—that is, the Old Testament—and their observation of the stars told them the rest. So, they came to Israel looking for Christ.
After King Herod meets them and learns they’re looking for the so-called King of the Jews, he starts to get nervous because he’s supposed to be the king of the Jews. Once he realizes the astrologers won’t help him find Jesus, he decides to murder every Jewish child under the age of two. He commits horrendous genocide simply because he was an insecure man.
Finally, let’s not forget why Jesus was born into this world in the first place. He was born to die. He was born to suffer terribly. He was born to carry the weight of humanity’s sins on his shoulders to a Roman cross, where he would face humility, shame, mocking, torture, and death. He was born to face the wrath of God, which is what we deserved, not him.
In other words, the first Christmas was not merry and bright, not on the surface anyhow. But if you believe the Bible, everything I’ve described had a wonderful purpose. It all leads to ultimate and eternal joy and peace.
As one author put it:
Christmas doesn’t ignore our many pains; neither does it bid us wallow in them. Christmas takes them seriously, more seriously than any secular celebration can, and reminds us that our God has seen our pain and heard our cries for help, and he himself has come to deliver us.
Christmas, in this age, doesn’t guarantee merry and bright. Not yet. But it does promise that merriness and brightness are breaking in. Christmas, at its best, gives us a peek of the uncompromised joy that is coming, and as we glimpse it, even from afar, we have a foretaste. Like the apostle Paul, and the man of sorrows himself, we are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” We may be overwhelmingly sorrowful at Christmas, and yet in Christ, by his Spirit, God may give us the wherewithal to rejoice.
That’s one of the reasons I love this time of year. I can walk into just about any secular retail store and hear songs about the Savior. Christ is everywhere this time of year, and for me at least, it reminds me of that “uncompromised joy that is coming.”
I don’t know whether you’ve found hope in Christ, but I think we all understand the biblical principle that says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps 30:5). Even the most challenging seasons of life eventually pass, and we may find some joy and peace once again if only we press on.
Thankfully, we don’t have to endure alone. We have our families. We have our friends. If nothing else, you have the people in this room. You all may have different backgrounds and stories, but tonight, you are very much united. May we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Ro 12:15). May we bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). May we be stronger together.