Christmas is a strange time of the year. Christmas is the only time we sit around and enjoy looking at a dead tree and we eat out of our socks. We try to uplift Jesus to our children and yet we spend an average of $200-300 for toys for our kids; from Atom Bomb kits, to bazookas, and weird outer space monsters, and machine guns. We sing Peace on Earth, and then we go to the crowded mall to do last minute shopping when we have known for 12 full months that this Christmas would come on December 25th. For many folks Christmas means Barbie or Batman or Barney when it should mean Bethlehem, or Bible or Baby.
One time a wealthy family decided to have their newborn baby baptized at their enormous mansion. Dozens of guests were invited to the elaborate affair, and they all arrived dressed in the latest fashion. After depositing their elegant wraps on the bed in the upstairs room the guests were entertained royally. Soon the time came for the main purpose of their gathering, the infant's baptism. But where was the baby? He could not be found.
The babies governess ran upstairs, only to return with a desperate look on her face. Everyone searched frantically for the baby. Then someone recalled having seen the baby sleeping on one of the beds. The baby was found on the bed alright, BURIED underneath a PILE OF COATS, jackets, and furs. The very object of that day's celebration had been buried, neglected, and nearly smothered out!
When you go to the mall and try to find a parking place and finally shove your way inside, everywhere you look you see lights, tinsel, trimmings, trappings, shoppers loaded down with packages, shoving their way through isles that themselves have been narrowed down with the excess inventory of the season--at the very time they needed to be bigger if anything. You begin to ask yourself, is this really Christmas???
There are actually two Christmases. One smacks of Commercialism. The other is one of love, joy, peace and worship to the Christ child. The real Christmas is a vivid demonstration of the deep love of God. God wrapped the first Christmas present and laid it in a manger. It was His love gift to a lost world. Until you open God's gift which is Jesus, and until you receive Jesus you really never experience the true meaning of Christmas.
Let's read about the first Christmas present that was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.
Luke 2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. Luke 2:9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Luke 2:11-12. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
The shepherds must have been astounded. But they were willing to go see the new born Savior. But how would they know it was Him when they got there? The spokesman for the Angel Choir gave them two specific unique signs so they would positively identify the baby because there could have been several babies in the area that night. They were told that there would be two distinguishing things to look for.
#1--The Saviour would be in a MANGER. #2-- Wrapped in SWADDLING CLOTHS.
Indeed it would be unique to find a baby in a feeding trough in a barn. This was a Very good and easy sign for the shepherds to follow. What were those SWADDLING CLOTHES!??????
The Greek word means WRAPPING CLOTHS that were made of white linen. In the ancient Middle East every new born baby was wrapped in such attire. So were dead people. The only difference between the burial clothes and the sheets with which babies were wrapped is that the babies wrappings had no writing on them. The dead body was wrapped in white linen upon which favorite verses of the OT were written.
Babies in NT times were wrapped in strips of white linen. Starting with the babies toes, then around the feet, legs, abdomen, chest, hands and arms and neck. Only the head was uncovered. The baby could not kick or hardly move. He could not hurt himself. All infants were wrapped like that. So how could that be a sign to identify the true MESSIAH?
Mary and Joseph had travelled 90 miles through the dark ravines and hilly terrain that was infested with robbers. Many innocent travelers were killed. People usually travelled in groups for safety. The Rabbis advised their people to carry with them their BURIAL CLOTHES on such trips. If they were murdered, their travelling companions could bury them in harmony with the laws of Moses.
Since Joseph was a pious man, he must have carried his burial clothes on the trip to Bethlehem. They were not anticipating that their baby would be born that very night so I feel that when Jesus was born there, the only wrapping clothes that Mary probably had were the burial clothes. The Angel said: if you find a baby in a barn Who is wrapped in Burial Clothes, you have found the MESSIAH! When God's angels give us guidance, it is so clear. Any directions that come from heaven are good directions. So... now you know what the SWADDLING CLOTHES likely meant.
But there is more in this verse. Jesus was in a manger! Not a 5 star Hotel but a one star motel. Modern artists are wrong when they paint the birth of Jesus. It was not made of wood.
Archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of ancient mangers and all of them are made of stone. In the ancient Middle East, mangers were never made of wood. A slab of stone with the middle section chiseled out.
The NATIVITY scene is almost identical to the scene of Jesus' burial. Following Jesus' death on the cross, His body was wrapped in white linen sheets and was laid in a ROCK-HEWN TOMB. In the Middle east in Jesus time rich famous folk were buried in SARCOPHAGI, which is the plural form of a SARCOPHAGUS (stone coffin). Jesus manger was A MINIATURE SARCOPHAGUS. The shepherds had no problem in recognizing Jesus because they found Him wrapped in burial clothes and lying in a stone manger. These humble shepherds immediately realized that Jesus was BORN TO DIE so that we might live eternally!
Jesus was born to die. Christmas is really about a journey beginning in a stone cradle and ending in a stone tomb. It is about the true Shepherd becoming a sacrificial lamb. It is about the innocent Jesus taking the death penalty that we deserve. It is about God dying so that we can live forever!
T'was the night before Jesus came and all through the house not a creature was praying, not one in the house.
Their Bibles were lain on the shelf without care, in hopes that Jesus would not come there.
The children were dressing to crawl into bed, not once ever kneeling or bowing a head.
And Mom in her rocker with baby on her lap was watching the late show while I took a nap.
When out of the East there arose such a clatter, I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The small black cloud was now sending forth bright rays and I knew in a moment this must be THE DAY.
The light of His face made me cover my head. It was Jesus! Returning just like He said.
And though I possessed worldly wisdom and wealth, I cried when I saw Him in spite of Myself.
In the Book of Life which He held in His hand, was written the name of every saved man. He spoke not a word as He searched for my name; when He said: It's not here, my head hung in shame.
The people whose names had been written with love He gathered to take to His Father above.
With those who were ready He rose without sound, while all the rest were left scattered around.
I fell to my knees, but it was too late; I had waited too long and thus sealed my fate.
I stood and cried as they rose out of sight, Oh, if only we had been ready tonight.
In the words of this poem the meaning is clear; The coming of Jesus is drawing near.
There's only one life and when comes the last call; we'll find that the Bible was true after all.
Now is the day of salvation, and Jesus is the only way.
Acts 4:12 There is NO OTHER NAME under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
Several years ago a wealthy man sensed that one of his best friends was nearly exhausted and on the verge of a breakdown. So the rich man made arrangements for him to take a paid vacation and to attend a popular musical show while he was there. When you get to the door, give them my name and you will be shown to a seat.
The night of the program, he walked to the music hall only to find an enormous line of people. While he stood in line he saw many many were turned away. The performance was sold out. People were offering huge sums of money to get in but they could not. The man got uneasy because he did not even have a ticket. How embarrassed he would be if he were refused for trying to get in by just using his friends name. Finally he reached the door. His hands were sweaty. He said, I have no ticket, but my friend said I could attend. Then he gave his friends name. The doorkeeper looked at him and said, "Yes, you may go in. In he went! He could hardly believe it. He got in simply on a friends name.
That is exactly how we get in to Heaven. THERE IS NO OTHER NAME given to men by which we must be saved! Jesus is the only entrance to Heaven. Jesus was born to die. The real meaning of Christmas is that
I enjoy finding a package under the tree and trying to guess what is inside. One day when I was just a boy I had already gotten pretty good at guessing the contents of my presents and so my mother took to hiding them until Christmas morning. I knew there must be a present for me but where was it? It had to be somewhere. I searched the house high and low. I even looked in my mother and daddy's bedroom. It was not under the bed. Not in the closet. I stood there and looked at the old treadle sewing machine. My mother had put material all around it so the material hung from the top of the machine to the floor. I lifted up the drapery-like material, and there sitting on the foot treadle was a box with my name on it.
I lifted it up. It was heavy. I rattled it. Then I put it back down. After much puzzlement, I guessed that It was an ERECTOR SET. Now I had been wanting one of those a long time. I left the room immediately. I was so excited. For several days I imagined myself building all sorts of things. Engines, machines, jeeps, wagons, anything. I was already enjoying the pleasures of the future. It had my name on it. And I knew what it was. But only Christmas would reveal it in its fullness. That Christmas morning the special box was under our tree. It was given to me and I opened the most beautiful gift a boy could ever want. It was a GILBERT ERECTOR SET. With an electric motor! I was so happy.
God has left a present for us. We know what it is. Eternal life in Jesus Christ. Do you find yourself thinking about how you will put that gift to use in the future? I do. The glories that await us defy our comprehension. What we do understand about them however, fills us with great anticipation. I can hardly wait to get to heaven and experience heaven-hands on! To see Jesus face to face.
Jesus is our Christmas present. Christmas means that:
Hymn of Praise: #119, Angels from the Realms of Glory Scripture: Luke 2:8-12 Hymn of Response: #142, Angels We Have Heard on High
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