That, friends, is what happens to us during the Christmas season: God turns us inside out!
We have again come to that season of the year which is known among us as Christmas. However, that is a fact of which none of us has need of being reminded, for where-ever we turn, everywhere, we find the hustle and bustle which is common to this season of the year. In our cities and towns, streets and windows are gaily decorated in the festive colors of yuletide, children and adults are tense with excitement and the minds of old and young alike are occupied with the problems and joys of the coming holiday. All of which reminds us that we have again come to the most joyful of all the festive seasons and that this season is indeed one of joy and gladness, of rejoicing and jubilation.
And well may it be such, for Christmas has a very comforting message and Bethlehem is indeed a beautiful place. For there in Bethlehem, many centuries ago, God supplied us with a Saviour. And that, friends, namely a Saviour, is exactly our greatest need. For at the root of all our troubles, and those of the weary world in which we dwell, lies our sin. And sin, as we all know, means that we are enemies of God. It means that we have broken God’s law. It implies that we stand guilty before Him, and that we are the objects of His hot displeasure and righteous judgments.
And to be delivered from that awful condition and state, one who is an example, or merely extends kind invitations and throws out well-meant life-lines, is of no avail. What we need is one who saves, truly saves, entirely and completely, for we are not merely drowning but drowned, not only dying but dead. What we need, even more than food and clothing and life itself, is someone who saves not only from the effects of sin, but who saves first of all from the guilt and power of sin. What we need above all else, is one who first atones for our sin and then makes of the dead sinner a living saint.
And that is what God gives us in Bethlehem. There in Bethlehem He provides us exactly with such a Savior, for Bethlehem’s Babe is none other than Christ, the Lord. And that means that He has been appointed and ordained by God unto the very purpose that He might redeem and save all those given Him by the Father. But it means also that this purpose will surely be realized, for He is no one less than the Lord Himself, Who even at the time of His humble birth has all things in His hand and rules supreme over all the inhabitants of the earth.
In Bethlehem, therefore, heaven and earth meet, God and man are forever united. In Bethlehem, a holy and righteous God breaks forth into a world of sin and darkness, to give beauty for ashes, life for death, peace instead of war, and hope where there was nothing but despair. In Bethlehem, God condescends to our low estate, He comes to live with the poor and the lowly, and He opens the way that poor, lost sinners may again dwell with Him. That friends, is the meaning of Christmas and the beauty of Bethlehem.
Small wonder, then, that the shepherds of old in the fields of Ephrata, said to one another: “Come, let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass.” For there in Bethlehem, in that lowly manger, in that Babe so humbly wrapped in swaddling clothes lies our salvation. There in the city of David, is the Wonder of God, the mystery of godliness, Immanuel, God with us.
And well may we today, admonish one another likewise, for in this war-torn world, there, and there only, do we find peace. True it is, the nations are again at war, and our young men are called to arms and must bear the sword. But even so, in Bethlehem there is peace, peace with God and our entire way, for Bethlehem’s Babe, and He alone, is the Prince of peace. To be sure, Bethlehem is beautiful, also, yes, especially today in a world at war, in which all things proclaim to us that we never rest until we rest in Him.
And yet, we so easily forget that Bethlehem is also terrible. So often we seem to think that the joy of Christmas is universal and that the Christ-child came to bring peace and happiness to all. No doubt, that was also the hope and expectation of His mother, and that she should cherish such thoughts and expectations can easily be understood. For as soon as the child is born, angels sang of His glory, shepherds and Magi came to worship Him, and old gray-haired Simeon in the temple, taking the child in his arms exclaimed: “Lord, now let Thy servant die in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” In view of this, it is not strange that Mary’s hopes were high and that concerning her child she had the greatest expectations.
But the same Simeon who caused her hopes to rise, also warned her not to become overly optimistic, for having made his beautiful confession, he turned to her and said: ‘’This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against. . .an order that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
No doubt, these words must have come to Mary as a great disappointment and as a tremendous shock, for they made it plain to her in no uncertain terms, that her child would not be popular, that many would contradict him, and that they would be offended in him unto their own ruin and hurt. They foretold in very plain language, that through this child, though some would be exalted and lifted up to the very heights of heaven, yet others would fall and stumble over him into eternal perdition.
And so God would have it, for, notice, Simeon emphasizes that Christ has been set unto this very thing, which means that God has ordained him for the very purpose, that he might bring separation between the children of men, that he might separate the sheep from the goats and the good from the bad, that the one might be exalted by him and the other brought low, that for the one he might be a savor of life unto life but for the other a savor of death unto death.
And this separation which God brings about through the Christ-child, begins at Bethlehem, for there, though wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, the Babe We behold, is none other than the Christ of God, the Prince of Peace, who in one person is not only a real righteous man, but at the same time is also very God. Hence, in that Babe, God places us before the question: What think ye of the Son of God?
And in the answer we give and in the attitude which we assume toward him, we reveal whether we are children of darkness or whether by grace we are children of God.
Therefore, friends, Christmas is a grave situation and Bethlehem is a serious place, for there in Bethlehem we stand before the tribunal of God, God judges us, He turns us inside out, and He lays bare the thoughts of our heart. And, therefore, if it should be true of us, that during this Christmas season we ignore and crowd-out the Christ- child, and if we think more of gifts, tinsel and tree than of him, then we stand condemned already, for thus we prove that the glittering things of this world mean more to us than the salvation and righteousness of Christ.
But on the other hand, if it be true of us, that as the shepherds of old, we seek cur all in Bethlehem, in the Christ of God and that all our rejoicing is in him, then it is well with us, for then the word of the angel comes to us: “Fear not, for unto you is born in the city of David, the Saviour, who is Christ, the Lord.”
Indeed, therefore, Bethlehem is a beautiful place. But it is also terrible. It is beautiful for the righteous, but it is terrible for the wicked. During this Christmas season, therefore, and in our rush and pursuit of gifts, let us be warned, friends, not to trample underfoot the greatest of all gifts, for remember: This child has been set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, in order that the thoughts of many hearts might, be revealed!