Commentary by Walter Albritton


December 25, 2005


Christmas – a Gift of Joy to Receive and Share!  


Isaiah 61:1-3; Luke 2:8-20


Key Verse: To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. – Luke 2:11


          My longtime friend Ben Johnson invited me to spend four nights in a monastery last April. There I would share a time of spiritual renewal with Ben and 17 of his friends. I decided to go, but with some apprehension about the willingness of these strangers to accept me.

          My fears were soon melted by their gracious acceptance. I relearned the joy of acceptance. Surely what I felt was akin to what Saint Paul experienced when, early in his ministry, he tried to join the disciples in Jerusalem.

          They were not sure they could trust this former enemy of the church until Barnabas spoke up (Acts 9:27). I think what Barnabas said, with a hand on Paul’s shoulder, was something like this: “Hey fellows, you can trust this man; he is a real brother and you will like him. He is one of us.”

          Paul had experienced the loving embrace of Christ in Damascus. Now he felt the sheer joy of being embraced by his brothers and sisters in the Jerusalem church. No wonder he would write later with such feeling about the family of God! 

          Such joy is what Christmas is all about – joy in the coming of God to announce our inclusion in his forgiving love. What wondrous news – that God’s love excludes no one and embraces “all people”! Isaac Watts has phrased our most appropriate response: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come”!

          For centuries the Hebrews must have felt excluded from God’s love. Their disobedience had brought on the wrath of God’s judgment – bondage in a strange land. The prophets tried to give them hope – the promise of a Messiah who would come and save them. But would the promised one ever come?

          Finally, in “the fullness of time,” he did come! Jesus was born as promised! The God whose name is Immanuel had arrived; the one born in a cow’s stall is “God with us.” That is why Christmas invites a glad “Hallelujah!” from every believing heart!

          What made the early Christians certain that the Bethlehem babe was the Messiah was the remarkable way Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy. The prophet had said the anointed One would say, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me” (Isaiah 61:1). His mission would be to deliver and set free the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners, and all who mourn.

          The early Christians knew they had more than a baby to worship. They had a Savior who stood up in that dramatic moment in the synagogue at Nazareth and after reading Isaiah’s prophecy declared, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”!

          From that moment on those who observed Jesus realized they had to “fish or cut bait.” Decision time had come! So down through the subsequent centuries the great question has remained: Was Jesus a lunatic or was he the Savior? Only those who accept him as the Savior can truly celebrate Christmas! The rest are merely caught up in the superficial commercialism that seeks to profit from this “happy holiday.”

          The biblical story of Christmas invites us to reflect on God’s decision to have angels make the announcement of the birth of his son to, of all people, lowly shepherds. In doing so God chose shepherds instead of the learned, the elite, and the powerful. He chose to share the good news first with common people, not the privileged.  

          The shepherds surely must have felt unworthy of God’s favor. They had no reason to believe they were included in the Father’s love. The powerful and “important” people would probably have greeted the angel’s good news with skepticism. The shepherds, however, received the news of Jesus’ birth with “great joy.”

          Some brilliant people have trouble embracing the simple, beautiful truth of the biblical Christmas story. It does seem somewhat whimsical so perhaps it is merely a lovely myth. Frederick Buechner suggests that even Gabriel may have wondered:

          “She struck the angel Gabriel as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child, bud he’d been entrusted with a message to give her, and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named, and who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. ‘You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,’ he said.

          “And as he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great, golden wings he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of creation hung on the answer of a girl.”

          In the days that followed Mary’s obedience caused Gabriel’s fear to turn to joy. Mary fulfilled her role! The great plan of God became a reality as salvation became available to all people through the birth of that precious little baby.

          One final thing should be said. Since Christmas is truly God’s gift of joy, those who receive it must share it with others. All around us, wherever we are, there are those who feel excluded from God’s favor. Ours is the joyous privilege of embracing them as brothers and sisters, letting them know by our love that they are included in the Father’s transforming love. God’s joy is so astounding that once you feel it, you’ve got to share it! That, after all, is what Christmas is all about!

          Merry Christmas!

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