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How the First Christmas was Celebrated
By way of introduction we are going to read a poem named "The Christmas Story" which was written several years ago. It is appropriate to the occasion, and to the theme.
THE CHRISTMAS STORY
In the vaulted skies of glory,
Long before earth's ancient morn;
There began this Christmas story,
Christ was given to be born.
In the garden, in the gloaming,
God stepped forth with stately mien;
Man had sinned, his God dethroning,
Then, the Christmas star was seen.
Through long ages, slowly weaving,
While the Christinas dawn delayed;
Men, with anxious sighs upheaving,
Longed to see the Christ, and prayed.
'Mid the hills, their vigil keeping,
Shepherds heard the angel say,
"Unto you good news I'm bringing,
Christ is born; 'tis Christmas Day."
O my soul, be hushed, and wonder,
In a manger, come to die,
'Mid the cattle, and the plunder,
Christ, the Christmas Child, doth lie.
Centuries have passed, fast flying,
Since the infant Christ was born;
What now mean the shouts, the crying,
Heralding this Christmas morn?
How the world, with joy-bells ringing,
Praise the Babe of long ago;
Christinas revelry and singing
Fill the air, dispelling woe.
Not that all who join the singing,
Do within their hearts believe;
Yet, the world is homage bringing
To the Christ, this Christinas Eve.
All men know that Christ is living,
Not a Christmas babe is He:
To the Son of God, we're giving
Honor, praise, and majesty.
He, who came as babe, is dwelling
Now above all pow'r and might;
While the world His praise is swelling
On this happy Christmas night.
I. BETHLEHEM (Luke 2:3-4 )
We shall see how Christ was received by this little town where He was born on that first Christmas Day. In our country on this Christmastide, the almost two thousandth anniversary of Christ's birth, we see towns and cities all lighted up with colored lights all glowing with anticipation of Christmas Day.
When come the shorter, colder days,
The frost-filled air, the winter's haze;
When pinioned ducks to southward fly,
And snowy flurries fill the sky,
We know that Christmastide is nigh.
The falling nuts, the leafless trees,
The swish and sway of winter's breeze;
The clear, cold sky with azure blue,
The twinkling stars a-looking through,
Proclaim that Christmastide is due.
The chilly moon, the clear, cold stars,
The Milky Way, the glow of Mars;
The snow-clad fields, the sleeping wheat,
The forests draped with shining sleet,
Then Christmas tidings all repeat.
The boys and girls, with frost-nipped face,
Their blithesome step, their quicken'd pace;
Their songs of glee, as on they go,
Their happy faces all aglow,
Approaching Christmas plainly show.
The city streets ablaze with light,
The thronging shoppers ev'ry night,
The stores well-draped, and open wide,
The Christmas trees gay-decked, inside,
Proclaim the happy Christmas tide.
It was all different in the town of Bethlehem. There were no beautified streets; there were no temples ablaze with light; there were no decorations to honor the birth of the Babe. In the "house of bread," the "House of God," there was no room in the inn. People were altogether oblivious of the fact that there was born that day a Saviour, who was Christ the Lord.
II. THE WORLD IN GENERAL (John 1:10 )
To look at the world's preparation for Christmas, one would at first imagine that it had really received a change of heart since the day long ago when Christ was born. Of that day we read, "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not."
Not only did He come into the world which He had made, but He came into the world which He loved. "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son." The world, however, at that day utterly repudiated Christ Jesus. During His earthly life the Lord said, "The world hateth Me." It hated Him because He testified that its works were evil. It hated Him because men loved darkness rather than light.
Does the glitter and the glare, the joy and the song of our Christmas mean that the world of our day has received Christ? It certainly does not. The joy of the yuletide is the joy of gift giving, and gift getting. It is the joy of self-centered men and women, boys and girls. The world does not love, and does not receive Christ today any more than it did on the first Christmastide.
We read that "it is related of Michael Angelo that when he came down from the scaffolding from which he had for some weeks been painting the frescoes of a high ceiling, he had become so accustomed to looking upward that it was with real pain he forced himself to turn his eyes to the ground. Oh, blessed engagement possible to these spiritual orbs of ours! Would that they might evermore be so arrested, habituated, held by the countenance of Divine Love, that we could never be satisfied to turn them from His face!"
III. THE JEWS (John 1:11 )
Our text says, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." It was a sad day when Christ was born. Sad because the chosen people, upon whom God had poured forth His love, refused to receive, or to welcome, the incarnate God.
Those who studied the Prophets, and who proclaimed the Prophets Sabbath after Sabbath, utterly rejected the One of whom the Prophets had said, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His Name Immanuel."
It was a sad day because those who professed to love God rejected His Son. The Lord plainly said, "He that hateth Me hateth My Father also." Therefore, when the Jews refused the Child that was born, and the Son that was given, they also refused the God who gave the Son.
IV. THE SHEPHERDS (Luke 2:15-18 )
We now come to a more pleasant consideration. The town of Bethlehem had no room for Jesus. The world knew Him not. The Jews received Him not, but the shepherds accepted with gladness the message of the angels.
1. The shepherds represented the lowly of the earth. Perhaps, it is still true that not many who are great, or noble, or rich, or mighty, open their hearts to the Saviour. Christ Himself said, "The poor have the Gospel preached to them." He even said that He was sent to preach the Gospel to the poor.
2. The shepherds represented the ones with open hearts. When, as they fed their flocks by night, the Glory of the Lord shone around about them, and when the angel gave the annunciation, "I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people," these shepherds immediately received the message from God. The appeal to them was greatly strengthened by the fact that they heard an innumerable company of angels praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
3. The shepherds represented the inquirers after God. When the angels were gone, they immediately said to one another, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us."
Would that the people of today were as willing, and as ready, to go as were the shepherds. Let those who are reading these paragraphs remember the little word, "now." The shepherds said, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem." God grant that we may go now, and present our hearts' love and worship before the Lord.
V. THE WISE MEN (Matthew 2:1-2 )
1. The wise men were not the worldly-wise. They may have known much of astrology. In fact, they may have been sages among men, and seers. However, the wisdom that led them to Bethlehem was that wisdom that cometh down from above. It was the wisdom which belongs to those who walk with God, and who seek His face.
2. The wise men came following the star. They came seeking the King of the Jews. The reason they came was because they were wise in the Scriptures, and they believed the Prophet's message.
God give us a wisdom that will come seeking the Saviour that we may worship Him, and crown Him Saviour, Lord, and King!
VI. SIMEON AND ANNA (Luke 2:34-36 )
We now come to a very peculiar thing. We have seen how the first Christmas was celebrated by the town of Bethlehem, by the world in general, by the Jews, by the shepherds, and by the wise men.
There were two divisions of Israel: ten of the tribes had gone off with Jeroboam following the days of Solomon. Those ten tribes had gone into the deepest of apostasy, and had finally been swallowed up among the nations. Here, however, stand before us two who were of the ten-tribes-group. Anna is spoken of as being of the tribe of Aser. Thus, we see that out of the apostasy and the rebellion of the ten tribes, there were some who were waiting and looking for a Redeemer.
1. Simeon. Simeon came in and said unto Mary, "This Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel." He agreed that there was to be much bitterness against the Child, and that even Mary's heart should have a sword to pierce her through. However, he rejoiced in the birth of the Heavenly Child.
2. Anna. Anna was a woman of eighty-four years of age. She had separated herself unto God. She also was a prophetess, and she "departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers."
Simeon had scarcely finished speaking to Mary when Anna came in, and gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of the Babe to all them that looked for redemption in Israel.
Thus we see that on the first Christmas Day there were the shepherds and the wise men, Simeon and Anna who welcomed and honored the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
VII. HEROD (Matthew 1:7-8 ; Matthew 1:13 )
The attitude of individual rejecters is given only in the case of Herod.
1. He feigned a desire to worship the Babe. He inquired of the wise men and of the scribes where Christ should be born, and then he told the wise men that if their opinions were true, and if they found Christ in Bethlehem, that they should immediately bring him word again that he might go down and worship Christ, also. Of course, this was a ruse on the part of Herod. He had no intention to worship one who was born of the Jews. His heart was set against Him. Alas, how many there are today who outwardly parade a love for Christ, when in their heart of hearts they despise Him.
2. His heartlessness. God warned the wise men to go home another way. Herod, however, was not to be outdone, and he signed an edict that every male child from two years of age and under should be killed throughout all the region of Bethlehem.
One thing stands before us in a strange light. There are myriads of people who will go through the form of worshiping the Babe. They enter into every Christmas festivity. They will sing, "Holy Night," with a luster and seeming delight, and yet that Babe, of whose birth they sing, was crowned with thorns. He died upon the tree, the Just for the unjust, and then ascended into glory. The Babe of Bethlehem they honor, but the Christ of Calvary, of the empty tomb, of the Father's right hand, they reject and repudiate. Will some one explain this strange fact? We take it that the world fails to realize that the Babe of Bethlehem was both God and the Son of God.
Let us restate the poem with which we started this study, in another way:
In the vaulted skies of glory,
In the ages past and hoary,
There began the Christinas story,
Christ was given to be born:
'Mid the hills, their vigils keeping,
Watching while the world lay sleeping,
Shepherds heard the angel's greeting,
Blessed news he brought that morn.
Here's a mystery to ponder,
Let thy soul be hushed with wonder.
In a manger, 'mid the plunder,
God in flesh, a Babe doth lie:
God, incarnate, sweetly sleeping,
Prophecies of ages keeping,
Yet no one to give Him greeting,
Coming in the flesh to die.
"The Star of Bethlehem burst into sunrise on that holy night; it was the dawn of peace, emancipation and redemption the unsetting sun, whose morning is not yet gone, whose noonday may be a thousand years away, when Christ will receive all millions at His feet. The world today is re-echoing the cry, 'Where is He that is born?' 'Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!' The Master replies: 'Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me?' Ah, 'there standeth One among you. whom ye know not.' To know Him is to love Him. The wide world knows the historic Christ, but to have Him born in the Bethlehem of your heart, you must believe in Him, and follow Him. May this Christmastide witness the festivity of the wedding of your soul with the Christ! Then will it be true that 'a little child shall lead them': and if the Holy Child Jesus shall lead us away from sin and self and sorrow, it may be your own little child will meet you at the Heavenly gate, and lead you up to Him." Rev. E. W. Caswell, D.D.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Matthew 2". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29