Christmas: The Message

by Oleg Kostyuk


When an average person thinks about Jesus she or he usually thinks about Christmas or Easter; the manger or the cross of Jesus. How many times have we heard the story of Jesus' birth? Christmas nowadays seems to be more about presents than it is about Jesus. And even though Christmas is associated with long lines in the stores, I think there is still something special and simple about Christmas that can be seen through the thick layers of tradition.


I will neither try to vindicate Christmas nor blame the entire world for celebrating it. Instead, I would like us to see the simple beauty of God's action: Jesus - the Messiah - came into this world.


I remember seeing a group of painters working on a restoration of old images on the walls of an old Russian monastery. With gentleness and great care they were taking off the layers of paint which had been added throughout the years by other painters. Ancient painters thought that they were preserving the beauty by adding more and more paint on the wall. Instead, they were actually spoiling the original beauty of the painting which had been lovely in its simplicity.


I think this is what has happened with the Christmas story today.


The story of the birth of Jesus is recorded only in the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Luke; and in both cases it is just one short chapter.


In the Gospel of Matthew we read about the magi and the star. In Luke, it is the shepherds who came to visit Jesus.


The shepherds were poor and of a lowly occupation. Moreover, they were labeled as unclean by rabbinic literature. So they were a lowly, uneducated class. In Luke 2:8-14 we read that shepherds were the first people to hear the message about the birth of Jesus. They were close to the bottom of the social scale of their society but God wanted them to be the first who saw the Messiah, His Son.


After the Angel revealed to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah she praised God and said: "He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly" (Luke 1:52). The messenger of God again comes to the lowly and rejected shepherds.


When the angel of the Lord appeared to them they were afraid. First, they were fearful of the appearance of the angel and, second, they were afraid of being rejected by the parents of the Messiah. But the angel said to them: "You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12). In other words they heard that Jesus was born in a regular house, such as theirs, and He was wrapped just as any other baby. And finally, He was lying in a manger. This was really good news. Perhaps they would not be told, "Unclean shepherds – be gone!" This was their sign, a sign for lowly shepherds.


Matthew records that the wise men came to visit the Messiah as well. Matthew starts his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus and demonstrates through it that Jesus is the King. Moreover, He is also given a royal welcome by the magi who followed the star and came to worship the King. God spoke with shepherds through His messenger angel. God also spoke with wise men from the East through the star. He still speaks to us today in a language that we can understand.


The child was born for shepherds – the poor, the lowly, the rejected. He also came for the rich and the wise who later appear with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.


The simple and pure message of Christmas is clear: the rejected, the lowly, and the poor in union with the rich and the wise came to worship the Messiah who came to save all!

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