Throughout December we hear uncounted replays of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. You know the one, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas just like the ones I used to know.” Now, I must admit I love to wake up Christmas morning to a blanket of white covering field and forest. The season brings a certain nostalgia as Christmas cards start arriving with idealized villages deep in snow, kids skating on frozen ponds and sleighs drawn by high stepping stallions. In our part of the world we expect a snowy Christmas. Even south in Florida and across the globe in Australia and Fiji, it’s part of the mythology of Christmas.
Of course, some Christmases are green. Temperatures stay well above freezing. Maybe that’s not a bad thing—reminding us to get back to the real history behind the myth. The story behind the fairy tales of Santa Claus, Frosty the snowman, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer—the truth beyond the tinsel and trees, the feasting and buying. Merchants tell us they sell more at Christmas than at any other time of the year. Anyone who has tried to find a parking space at a mall during December will have to agree. Christmas means crowds of often grumpy people thronging the shops.
Was the first Christmas green? Does it snow in Bethlehem? Rarely. We do know that there were no crowds around the manger. God chose only about twelve or so people to participate in the original pageant. Most of the relatives and neighbours of Mary and Joseph had no idea what was happening. The religious leaders took no note of the birth of this child until foreign visitors arrived. King Herod and the political establishment missed the event that would separate history into AD and BC time. The innkeepers of Bethlehem were too busy counting their coins to notice another arrival, even if the woman was heavy with child.
Very few had a clue that history would never be the same. Fifteen months before the birth of Christ, an angel informed Elizabeth and Zechariah that their son John would prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. That makes two who had an inkling. Nine months before Jesus’ birth Mary, and then Joseph, became participants. On the night of his birth an angel gave the news to two or three shepherds. That makes six or seven. Eight days after his birth God moved Simeon and Anna to celebrate the arrival of a Savior when his parents brought him to the temple. That makes eight or nine included in the drama. Almost a year later the Magi arrived. Although the text does not specify that there were three wise men, we know there must have been at least two. If we add up all the participants we find that God specifically chose eleven or twelve people to take part in the most astounding event in history—the incarnation of the Son of God.
Why so few? The record indicates that all shared something in common. As a young woman, Mary could say, “my soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46,47). Joseph “was a righteous man” (Matt. 1:19) who did not want to expose Mary “to public disgrace.” Elizabeth and Zechariah “were upright in the sight of God observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (Luke 1:6). Simeon “was righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25,26). Anna “worshipped night and day” (Luke 2:37). The text reveals nothing about the character or habits of the shepherds, however, the speed with which they went to find the baby and the way they left “glorifying and praising God” leads me to believe they were very sensitive to God. The Magi undertook a lengthy and dangerous journey with the express purpose of worshipping Christ. (Matt. 2:2)
Spiritual sensitivity links these twelve participants. They were conscientious worshippers—devout seekers after God.
In his Sermon on the Mount Christ taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8) Martyn Lloyd Jones points out that the purity mentioned here denotes singleness of vision and freedom from defilement. By singleness of vision, he means a focus on God—a God-centredness. This clear vision of God, in turn, leads the pure in heart to embrace what is good and true and holy—to flee defilement of any kind. In the grubby world in which we live such purity is rare. Those who treasure such purity see beyond the tinsel and trappings of Christmas—they see God. May that be true of us this Christmas!