How many times have you heard the Christmas story? Probably dozens of times, if you’ve been in church for any length of time. People hear it year after year and everyone seems fairly familiar with it, so there’s always a little bit of pressure to make it fresh/interesting with either new details that may have been previously unknown or new angles that may give a previously unconsidered perspective.
Thinking of the “new details”, I remember when I was in my first or second year of Bible College and an upperclassman told me that the names of the three wise men were Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar (I’d always thought one of them was named “Frank”). I looked at the upperclassman with shock and awe and immediately started flipping through my bible, wondering where in the Bible he found that amazing gem of insight!
In the following years, I’ve heard probably a dozen different versions of how many wise men there actually were and where they really came from…all of which were essentially guesses. (Roman philosophers? Indian Mystics? Chinese Astrologers? Ancient scientists following a UFO? Yes, that’s a real theory that I’ve encountered…) Most of the “new details” that I’ve encountered have been, well, questionable (to say the least).
Thinking of the “new angles”, I can remember back all the different perspectives I’ve heard over the years as well. I’ve heard the Christmas story told from the perspective of Mary. I’ve heard the Christmas story told from the perspective of Joseph. I’ve heard the Christmas story told from the perspective of the Shepherds. I’ve seen the Christmas story told from the perspective of social media. I’ve heard the Christmas story told from the perspective of the angels (as if anyone would have any clue what they were thinking). I once even heard a the Christmas story told from the perspective of Mary’s donkey. No kidding.
Very few actually tell the story from God’s perspective: it seems that I’ve rarely heard anyone simply unpack the narratives of Matthew 1:18-2:12 (or 1:18-2:23) or Luke 2:1-21 (or 1:5-2:21) and actually explain the stories beyond some sort of surface reading (i.e. census, journey, inn, birth, shepherds, wise men bring bling…then the soft music starts and whoever is speaking tries some forced “what does this mean for us today” monologue that suggests that they’re trying to convince themselves as to why the birth narratives are even in scripture in the first place). Years ago, I heard a Christmas Eve message that was so terrible that it sparked a great conversation and a little study project. From the results of that conversation, here’s my hyper-brief overview of the narrative of Matthew 1:18-2:23:
When you look specifically at the text in Matthew (the larger narrative, not the smaller specific components), you have to remember that the narrative is driven by the direct discourse (stories are driven along by what people say and the reactions to what is said), and in the biblical narratives, there is also divine discourse (I know, it’s inspired and it’s all divine discourse and whatnot…I’m talking about divine discourse in the sense of “what is said by God himself” here). The divine discourse is delivered by angels who explain the coming pregnancy, the child who will be born & his divine parentage, the fact that the child will be the Messiah, and the fact that this all is happening in the fulfillment of prophecy. Also, there is inferred divine discourse in the instruction given to the wise men as part of their dream (Matthew 2:12).
Now in response to what is made known about Christ’s birth in Matthew 1:18-2:23, there are only two reactions:
1. Worship (everyone but Herod & the Jewish leaders)
2. Warfare (Herod & the Jewish leaders)
Matthew’s recording of the Christmas story recalls the initial coming of Christ and the fact that people either came to worship him or people come to wage warfare against him (and those two reactions to Christ continued throughout his earthly ministry). That has certainly not changed in the past 2,000+ years, and the whole worship/warfare idea is highly related to the gospel: Christ calls those who wage war against him to turn from their warfare and wage worship.
I’m currently not pastoring a church or regularly preaching anywhere but the next Christmas Eve that I’m in front of a pulpit, I’m going to preach the Christmas story from Matthew and implore all those who came in for their yearly church service to turn from attack to affection, from hostility to harmony, from contempt to contrition, from opposition to obedience, from warfare to worship.
Not only am I going to call warriors to be worshipers, and I’ll also remind those who already worship Christ to take out some time in the holiday season to thank God for his grace in their lives. The fact that one does not spend the holidays mocking Christianity is a divine regenerating work that God did in a rebellious heart that should never be taken for granted, especially in a season marked out for remembering the birth of the one “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Worship the Lord tomorrow for what he’s done in your life and feel free to rip me off if you’re around family or friends who don’t worship the Lord.
Explain the Matthew’s story of the birth of the Messiah to them and call warriors to be worshipers.