It was a cold night. Darkness compassed all around. All activities had ceased. Movements slowed down. All were at rest. The tiny town was asleep. Years ago, the town was in caravan route and was known as the ‘house of bread’. It was also known as ‘city of David’, named after king of Israel, who was crowned here to rule the nation of Israel. Over the years, it had reduced to an insignificant and non-descript village in the mountains. Out in the fields, shepherds stayed and watched over their flock. Nothing was visible. Resting on make-shift beds, they hopelessly looked at the dark sky dotted with twinkling stars. Struggling to keep themselves warm and watchful, they looked forward to the dawn. Before daybreak, the most glorious and supernatural celebration unfolded before them. They had an angelic visitation. An angel of God appeared before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. The poor shepherds were terribly afraid. They were scared of sudden and unexpected incidence. The angel told them not to be afraid and hastened to declare the first ever good news of great joy that would be for all people – “In Bethlehem, the town of David, the Saviour has been born; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign: a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
As the shepherds were awestruck, suddenly a huge heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. No angel or man ever told them to announce this good news. But they could not conceal the great joy, When they had seen Jesus the Saviour, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about Him, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen which were just as they had been told.
It was the first Christmas celebrated by the shepherds, angels, heavenly hosts, Joseph & Mary in the midst of cattle in a stable, and the people who marvelled at the good news. Much later, the wise men from the east visited the young child Jesus and worshipped Him. They opened their treasures and presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Him. Centuries later history reveals that the first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336 AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. A few years later Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December. In the present days, people celebrate Christmas in many ways. It is often combined with customs from pre-Christian winter celebrations. In the days or even weeks before Christmas Day, many people from the church or fellowship visit homes for Christmas carols, decorate their homes and gardens with lights, Christmas trees and much more. It is common to organize a special meeting and a meal, often consisting of turkey and a lot of other festive foods, for family or friends and exchange gifts with them. Children, in particular, often receive a lot of gifts from their parents and other relatives and the mythical figure Santa Claus. This has led to Christmas Day becoming an increasingly commercialized holiday, with a lot of families spending a large part of their income on gifts and food.
God revealed the significance of Christmas first to the poor and ordinary shepherds. Years later Lord Jesus Himself revealed importance of new birth and purpose of Christ’s birth to a Jewish ruler and well known religious lawyer who secretly came to Him by night in the following words: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. It is not important when or how we celebrate Christmas. It is worthwhile to hear the good-news God intends to declare to us on this occasion. Christmas signifies acts of ‘loving’, ‘giving’ and ‘believing’. The Scripture says “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved.” “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” God’s love is unconditional, steadfast and everlasting. His love never fails. When God’s love is in us, we can love and move with compassion. Because God loved, he offered and gave away His only begotten son to suffer on the cross till death for the redemption of humanity. Jesus was born as the only sacrifice for the sins of the world. He lost His life that we may gain life eternal. Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He took upon Himself chastisement of peace to become the prince of peace who fills us with peace which passes all understanding and shows good will to everyone. Christmas is the fulfilment of God’s time & purpose and Christ Jesus is the answer to our every need. Joy of Christmas is not only knowing and making others know the love and sacrifice of God but also inheriting eternal life by believing and receiving Jesus as saviour and Lord in personal life and living as He lived. God intends each one to be saved and none to perish.
When we love others as Christ loved us, give away to others as Christ gave Himself for us and believe Him to have life more abundantly, our lives will be full of joy. This is the testimony of good news of great joy. Scripture references: John 3:16, Rom 5:8, Eph 2:4-5, I John 4:9-11, Phil.2:6-8.
Dr. NANDA DULAL, works as group director in a govt. organisation. He lives with his wife Geetanjali and daughter Bonita in Bangalore.