A Man was born and lived in the Middle East many centuries ago who has vastly influenced my life. I cannot look at a sunset, watch hummingbirds hover at my kitchen window, observe the intricacies of a rose, or hear the lisping of a child singing, “Jesus Loves me this I know,” without thinking of that Man and His lasting impact upon the world.
When Christ was born in Bethlehem, God came to visit the earth with His plan for every person’s personal redemption.
However, Christ did not accomplish what is normally considered greatness during His more than three-year ministry. He did not raise or lead an army yet has more followers than any military leader; he never wrote a book, yet more books have been written about Him than any other person who has lived. He did not pass any laws yet his command to love those who hate you and love your neighbor turned a violent, vicious, and vile culture into a thriving civilization.
He was hated by Rome, the world’s mightiest power, but it now stands in ruins as revealed by a few destroyed buildings and a few ancient roads. His words have been used as the foundation for the founding of nations and famous historian Will Durant declared, “The triumph of Christ was the beginning of democracy.”
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Christ’s command for sexual fidelity in the husband-wife relationship raised women from being without any rights as nonpersons to incredible love, respect, and almost worship status. His disciples built hospitals, schools, rest homes, etc., all over the world. The major universities in Europe and America were founded by His dedicated disciples. His Sermon on the Mount set a new standard for man’s treatment of his fellow men, the epitome of personal morality.
Slavery had always been an accepted and approved fact of life, yet His followers abolished it in England and America since He told His followers we should treat others the way we want to be treated. That forbids all slavery. When the famous agnostic and critic H. G. Wells was asked who had left the greatest legacy in history, he replied, “By this test Jesus stands first.”
Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan wrote of him, “Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries…It is from his birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by his name that millions curse and in his name that millions pray.”
Christ was the motivation for the world’s famous paintings, sculptures, and architecture yet He was a simple carpenter.
His followers taught that men must work hard to provide for the family; build a business, pay good wages to employees; etc. This was the foundation for free enterprise that provided strong nations and much personal happiness. It is responsible for the modern free enterprise system that has brought security, freedom, independence, happiness, etc., to millions of people for two thousand years.
Christianity played a significant role in shaping Western civilization where each person had personal worth and could expect, even demand, justice from kings, parliaments, and courts.
Inspired and influenced by Christ’s message, Christian churches and missionaries have been at the forefront of providing relief to communities around the world affected by natural disasters or violent conflict.
At this time of the year, the world’s attention is on that Man’s birth, but the account is usually tainted by many mistakes, misconceptions, and misuse of Christmas. The season has been hijacked by the greedy to make a buck and by the profligate to provide an excuse for excess—even obscene parties and orgies.
We assume that Mary rode a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem but there’s no mention of a donkey. Nor is there a mention of an innkeeper only that there was no room in the inn. There’s no mention of a stable filled with oxen, donkeys, etc., and there’s no mention of animals at His birth. In that day and place, mangers were common feeding boxes kept in the main room of village houses because the animals were often housed just a few feet away in an adjacent room.
There is no indication the star hovered over the manger on the night Jesus was born. After all, the star was to guide the wise men not others. When the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds watching their flocks by night (Luke 2:8–11), they weren’t told to look for a star. The star was given not to the shepherds but to the Magi. The shepherds were told “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).
According to Matthew, Magi (meaning magic-practicing priests) visited King Herod, seeking the location of this new King of the Jews. The wise men from “the East” (India, Persia, and Arabia) came hundreds of miles with hundreds in their entourage to celebrate His birth. Their journey probably lasted a year or more and involved hundreds of soldiers, animal wranglers, cooks, advisors, etc. People did not travel for months through the difficult and dangerous territory without the protection of soldiers, abundant supplies, etc.
Many have questioned the reality of pagan wise men making such a trip because of a strange star and an obscure Scripture passage. However, such critics overlook that Jews were a major portion of the population in Persia and Babylon, with roots going back hundreds of years. It is only reasonable that when exiled Jews heard of the birth of a new king, they were stirred to know more. Moreover, they were motivated to find Him asking, “Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”
The origin of Jews in Persia (Iran), possibly 20% of the population, is connected to the transportation of Jews of the Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. from Samaria (capital of Israel) to Media and Persia following a three-year siege by Assyria. This is called, the ten lost tribes of Israel. The people of Samaria were removed to Persia and replaced with non-Jews from other conquered territories with the expectation of them disappearing as separate entities.
The remaining two Jewish tribes known as Judea in the south were taken into captivity in 587 B.C. and the city of Jerusalem including Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. Jews settled down in Babylon and lived in peace, although in captivity, for 70 years. Then the famous “Cyrus Declaration” allowed the Jews, living in exile beside the Euphrates River to choose to return to their homeland of Judea to start life anew and to reestablish their religious practices by rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.
Those Jews who remained had a continuous presence in Babylon (Iraq) from Jerusalem’s fall to the time of Cyrus (whom God called anointed) who invaded Babylon in 539 B.C. and freed the Jews from Babylonian captivity. Many Jews chose not to return to Jerusalem since they had settled down for two generations in Babylon. The Persian or Babylonian descendants were, in my opinion, ancestors of the “wise men.”
When the Magi asked Herod about the child’s birth, he knew nothing and was perplexed that a rival had been born. Hearing of this new King of the Jews disturbed him, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where Christ was to be born. Matthew 2:5 says, “And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet.”
The wise men found Christ in a home, not a stable, with his mother, where they give Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There’s no mention of three wise men or kings, just three gifts. Far from being kings, they were probably astrologers, either Jews or those greatly influenced by Jewish colleagues.
While many of the above mistakes surrounding Christ’s birth are minor, bigger mistakes are being made by professing Christians with a deleterious impact on their children.
Parents must not fall into the quicksand of modern celebration by succumbing to the Santa Claus myth which distorts the truth of Christ’s birth by subtly blending truth with the myth of Santa Claus. Parents must never lie to their children about Santa Claus, making him similar to Christ who knows when you’ve been good or bad. Santa now is a big man in a red suit with God-like qualities. All of this teaches the child to believe that, just like Santa, God can be pleased with “good works,” done in order to earn His favor. Also, they teach that no matter how bad the child has been, he will still be rewarded by God just as Santa never failed to bring gifts.
Each nation comprises all kinds of people: atheists, humanists, secularists, do-gooders, good-doers, traditionalists, religious people of hundreds of religions, church members, nominal Christians, and dedicated Christians. Most of these people celebrate Christmas, at least a secular Christmas. But then, a secular Christmas, while entirely legal, is not celebrating Christmas.
Some people have an affinity toward snowmen, Rudolph, a jolly old man, gifts, wild parties, elves, and reindeer. That may be your thing, but it isn’t Christmas. Neither are toys, tinsel, and trees.
A significant criticism of Christmas is that it is so commercial, and the message of a baby being born (incarnate God) who would bear the sins of mankind is lost in all the buying and selling, drinking and carousing, giving and getting. However, that does not negate the true meaning of Christmas; after all, man has corrupted everything from sex, the family, the church, etc. What’s wrong with families making an untainted Christ-honoring celebration of His birth?
Colossians 2:16 declares, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.” It is each person’s decision as to what they will celebrate. But it must be sincere and not contrary to Scripture.
It must be remembered that there are precedents for making much of His birth. After all, the shepherds caused a big stir about it. The angels made a big deal out of His birthday. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
The early churches met each Sunday to commemorate His death and resurrection. And there is no scriptural command to go to church on Sunday. The early Christians met daily and later changed it to Sunday. As circumstances changed, they adjusted as long as no Scripture was violated.
The ultimate reason for the season is to recognize, repent, and receive the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ as the gift of personal salvation—the most important, inspiring, and illustrious events in history. Moreover, it would seem unusual if those events were not recognized as such by His followers.
Whatever you do about Christmas, what will you do about the Santa thing? What will you tell your children? A big mistake is made if you confuse Santa and the Savior. It is already being done because “Santa knows when you’ve been sleeping; he knows when you’re awake; he knows if you’ve been bad or good.” Sounds like the omniscient God to me.
Furthermore, if you support receiving gifts because you’ve been good, you promote the heretical teaching that one must earn his or her salvation. Another horrific result is the children may not believe their parents when they tell the truth about Christ after deceiving them about Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy.
Christmas should be a time of fun for children; however, parents must not instill a lifetime heresy in them. Mary Ann and I never spoke about Santa or discussed it with our children since they were bright enough to know a big fat man could not ride around the world in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and get it done in one night. Furthermore, they knew he could not get down the chimney and eat cookies and milk in every home. Besides, we didn’t have a chimney.
When children ask about Christmas, they must get the right story, not some mindless myth. Go on, if you must, with the Santa stuff but be sure they know it is a myth. You might suggest that they not discuss Santa with their friends. My four-year-old (at the time) daughter was told by her older sister that Santa was a myth, and she told her pre-kindergarten class, causing a sobbing brouhaha with fellow students. I was the school administrator, and the teacher had to calm her whole class. I suggest you require your children not to share with Santa believers that he is a myth. It is the job of parents.
My wife Ellen’s three-year-old Jennifer asked her, “Is there a real live Santa Claus man in this whole world of ours?” Her mother told her the true meaning of Christmas and that people made up Santa for fun. When asked by her pastor’s grown son, what Santa brought her, she replied, “Philip, you know there is no real live Santa Clause man in this whole world of ours.”
For sure, Santa is a myth, but Christ is the reality who was born of a virgin—becoming human so He could die for us providing eternal salvation for those who trust Him by faith.
Wise men still seek Jesus.