That first Christmas…
So long ago…
What was it like?
Granted, it wasn’t called “Christmas.” Those involved probably had no real idea at all of what was going on, and what the result would be of this one single day in their lives.
And we’re not concerned with the present celebration of Christmas.
What was it like for them…
Mary, Joseph and the Infant?
For the most part, it was a time of scandal.
- There was the scandal of immorality.
Remember, Joseph and Mary hadn’t yet been married, though their engagement was as binding as a marriage. It could only be broken by divorce.
Now, there are professed Christians who are quite comfortable with the idea that Matthew or, more likely, someone much, much later who just used his name, invented the story of the virgin birth in order to make the best of a bad situation. After all, living together without the benefit of marriage, or other “adult situations,” are quite acceptable and very common in our day, even among church people.
It wasn’t like that back then. There were those who lived in immorality, to be sure, witness the incident of the Samaritan woman in John 4, but it surely wasn’t as widely accepted as it is today.
When Mary came back from her three-month visit with her cousin Elizabeth, no doubt she had begun to “show.”
We’re given no details of this at all, except the angelic visit to Joseph, who was the other concerned party in all this. But what was the reaction of her parents? What did the townspeople think of it, this hurried, sudden marriage of Joseph and Mary?
I’m sure it wasn’t all loving and accepting.
Then, too, there was Joseph. How did this affect him? His reputation? Beyond his perplexity about what to do with his beloved, there is nothing.
And there was a third party affected by this.
- There was the scandal of illegitimacy.
This concerned the Lord Jesus Himself. If His conception was no different than any other conception, then the Mosaic Law shut Him out from the nation. Deuteronomy 23:2 says, One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD.
He could have no access to God. He certainly couldn’t have become our Redeemer.
There could be no salvation – no reason to “celebrate Christmas.”
- There was the scandal of ignorance.
Except for a few shepherds, who were socially among the lowest of the low, no one else beside the little family knew anything of what was going on. There were no floodlights, no fireworks, no “breaking news” on the local TV stations – if they would have had them. True, the shepherds made known what they had seen and heard, but who listened to shepherds?
No, just another birth, another little baby.
Life went on.
What about the wise men?
- There was the scandal of indifference.
Though they’re always part of a nativity set, the visit of the wise men was probably more than a year later. After Jesus was born, Matthew 2:1, not “when”, the men found what they were looking for, not in a stable somewhere, but in a house, Matthew 2:11.
The thing is, in trying to find whom they were looking for, they had gone to Jerusalem. After all, when one is looking for a King, where else to go but the royal city?
Herod had no idea what they were talking about, so he called in the local minister’s alliance: the chief priests and scribes, Matthew 2:4. They were immediately able to give him the information he wanted.
The sad thing, the somber thing, is that, as far as we have any record, these men, these scholars of the Scripture, never went to Bethlehem themselves to see what was going on. The visit of the wise men had stirred up the whole city, for surely there were more than the three men commonly thought of. Even if there were only three wise men, taken from their gifts to the infant child, surely they had what we could call “support staff”. Their’s had been a dangerous journey of months, and even if they joined a caravan to make the trip, surely they took provisions and guards with them.
The wise men had gone to a great deal of trouble to travel hundreds of miles, but the academics in Jerusalem couldn’t be bothered to travel just down the road.
Sad, isn’t it, that those closest to the text of Scripture were farthest from its truth.
- There was the scandal of infamy.
The scholars may not have been interested in what the wise men said, but Herod certainly was. He had no inherent right to the throne, but only held it through the power of Rome. He wanted to find this Rival, not to worship Him, as he lied to the wise men, but to kill Him.
Using the time line supplied by the wise men, Herod sent soldiers to the region around Bethlehem, ordering them to kill all male children two years and younger. He would brook no competition.
So, that first “Christmas” wasn’t all lights and tinsel. There was a lot of sorrow and grief associated with it. A lot of scandal.
The scandal of Christmas.