One of my early Christmas memories as a child is our family Nativity Set. The Stable was a hand-made, wooden stable with a built-in manger. It had a single, mounted Christmas light for a Star. The nativity set included an Angel, Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Three Magi with gifts, and Shepherds with a collection of farm animals. The family set it up every Christmas through Ephiphany, the Twelve Days of Christmas. Very inspiring.
About that time, I was 7 or 8 years old. I still believed there was a Santa Claus. But I also told my parents I wanted a gift that was advertised on TV. We had a Philco TV model black and white television set. We got an absolutely incredible three channels when using “rabbit ears” antenna. At the time it was amazing technology.
Since I had my first hearing aid, I was able to watch and understand Saturday morning cartoons and commercials. Including about Christmas toys. It was during the “Cold War” years with the Soviet Union, and a popular toy was a “Mobile Rocket Launcher with Searchlight”. The searchlight could light up a target display on a wall and you tried hitting it with the rubber-tipped dart launcher. It was a lot of fun until it broke within a week of play. It was a toy I wanted that year, but now I remember it mostly because it broke so soon. As a toy and thing it was very temporary.
Years later, after having grown up and married, I and my wife took vacations. We would look for and buy a souvenir coffee mug. Our collection of such coffee mugs grew and grew until we had over 200! Each mug is a reminder of memories from a vacation so we kept them. But, buying mugs or any “thing” won’t give you happiness. Like drinking good coffee, it has a short life-span for pleasure. At our age, we have too many things, and our greatest desire other than a closer relationship with God and doing good works, is having good health. We can do a lot to encourage good health by eating right, exercising and making use of modern medical science whenever needed. If one is blessed with “good genes”, one may have fewer health issues and live a longer life. But life on earth is short, no matter what happens, and compared to eternity with God, it is meaningless to live for yourself. Meaning comes from living for God and serving Him while we have breath.
Over 2,000 years ago, Mary and Joseph stayed in a small town called Bethlehem. Modern Biblical archeologists estimate it may have had a population of 500 people. Joseph and Mary were there because a Roman census required everyone to register at their place of birth. Joseph was of the royal line of King David and Bethlehem was King David’s birthplace. Joseph traveled with pregnant Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Because of the census, there were many people visiting Bethlehem so there was “no room at the inn”. Mary and Joseph ended up staying in a stable and Jesus was born and put in a manger, a feeding box for cattle.
Luke 2:4-7 ‘4 So Joseph left Nazareth, a town in Galilee, and went to the town of Bethlehem in Judea. It was known as the town of David. Joseph went there because he was from the family of David. 5 Joseph registered with Mary because she was engaged to marry him. (She was now pregnant.) 6 While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have the baby. 7 She gave birth to her first son. She wrapped him up well and laid him in a box where cattle are fed. She put him there because the guest room was full.‘ (ERV)
It wasn’t long before a host of angels were proclaiming to shepherds in fields near Bethlehem of the good news about Jesus’ birth.
Luke 2:8-13 ‘8There were shepherds in the same country staying in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. 9 Behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people. 11 For there is born to you today, in David’s city, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This is the sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough.” 13 Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army praising God, and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men.”‘ (WEB)
Two of my favorite Christmas carols put to music and words that very special night: “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night”. My wife and I have several Nativity sets which represent that glorious night. They typically show Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus in a manger, watched over by a Shepherd, three Magi with gifts, and sometimes also an Angel and/or Star hovering over the stable. But, we need to remember that these nativity sets are not an accurate representation of the story of Jesus’ birth. These Nativity sets merged Luke’s and Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus while adding some animals which may, or may not, have been there.
The early part of the story comes from Luke 2, with a later part involving the Magi, also known as Wise Men, coming from Matthew 2. After Jesus was born and Mary and Joseph were done with the census, logic suggests they returned home to Nazareth. But, in Matthew, the story continues from Bethlehem so the understanding is that they remained in Bethlehem. And that is where the Magi find Jesus, almost two years later.
Jesus was less than two years old when the Magi, following a star, arrived at nearby Jerusalem. They asked people where was Jesus born. Jewish leaders said Scripture clearly pointed to Bethlehem and so the Magi went back to following the star. The star led them to Bethlehem where Jesus was living in a house. There the Magi found Jesus in Bethlehem as a very small child, not a baby. They gave Jesus three treasures as gifts worthy of a King: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Note that though three gifts were given, the Bible does not say how many wise men were there, only that gifts numbered three.
Matthew 2:9-11 ‘9 After listening to the king they left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star they shouted joyfully. 11 As they came into the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasure boxes and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.‘ (NET)
Jesus was given not one, not two, but three treasures. Each has a special meaning which I won’t dive into, but the question we could ask is, “What happened to these three treasures?” Joseph and Mary became wealthy parents of the Messiah child, Jesus. Did they spend it all? Did they tithe 10%? Was it invested? Did Joseph start a carpentry business with funds from these treasures? The Bible doesn’t say.
Though these special gifts from the Magi honored Jesus as the newborn King of Israel, these gifts were only “things”. They were temporary things in a temporary world which will one day come to an end after Jesus returns from Heaven. Things in life are unimportant. What we do with things given to us does matter, but our goal in life is not to collect coffee mugs, or any thing that might please our earthly selves, but to honor God with our lives, to worship Jesus and spread the Good News. My Christmas gift as a child was expensive for a toy, but it did not have any lasting value for me nor for God’s Kingdom.
On a day more than 2,000 years ago, Jesus was born in a manger in a stable, in a very humble setting. Certainly it was not fit for an earthly King, but was perfect for a King who was the Son of God. The Son of God who lived a human life. Who then led His Disciples in changing the world. Who, as the Son of God, gave up his life on a Roman cross. Who, through death became our Savior, freely giving eternal life to all who believed. It was what God wanted all along. Things don’t ever matter, only faith in His Son as Savior matters.
Take the time to worship Jesus your Lord and Savior. Put away your temporary, earthly things and focus on serving your true King. Said the angel to the shepherds, “Today your Savior was born in David’s town. He is the Messiah, the Lord.”
May God richly bless you and your families throughout the coming New Year.