Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lessons from the Nativity Story

The nativity narrative is in the Bible mainly to provide some proofs that Jesus is the Messiah. This is done in two ways.

We see fulfilled prophecies. The story provides proof that Jesus is the Messiah by showing how he fulfilled certain prophecies from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). He was born in Bethlehem of a virgin, and he was of the house of David, for example.

The second way we see proofs that Jesus is the Messiah is by the special occurrences surrounding his birth. We see angels announcing the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds and even Gentile Magi coming from the East to worship the Christ Child.

What We Learn

In addition to providing proofs of Jesus’ messiahship, the nativity story teaches us with some important lessons as well.

I think a major lesson for us is the obedience we see exhibited by Mary, Joseph, and the Magi.

a. Mary’s Obedience. Mary yielded to the will of God when she replied to the angel (Luke 1:38): “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” NRSV

She must have known that her rather “unusual” pregnancy would cause her, Joseph, and their families grief and heartache. There were some unanswered questions as well. Nevertheless, Mary trusted in God and submitted her will to God’s.

b. Joseph’s Obedience. We read in the Gospel of Matthew about his obedience to the angel who appeared to him in a dream (Matthew 1:24): When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife. NRSV

Like Mary, he must have known that this ride wasn’t going to be easy. Given all that had happened up to then, Joseph could have very well said “Forget about it. I don’t need this drama.” Yet he stepped out in faith and took Mary as his wife.

c. Lastly we see the obedience of the Magi to God’s calling of them through the special star to come and worship the King of the Jews. Travel wasn’t easy in those days, but they knew the long and difficult trip would be worth it. They were obedient and were rewarded by being the first Gentiles to see the Jewish Messiah, as far as we know.

At the very beginning of his life these Gentile Magi considered Jesus to be the “King of the Jews”. At the end of his life, another Gentile referred to Jesus as “King of the Jews,” the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. He ordered a sign to be written and put above the cross saying: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in three languages: Aramaic, Greek, and Latin. That’s what the INRI on a crucifix stands for – in Latin it is “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum.” While Pilate’s inscription was more sarcastic than sincere, Jesus the “King of the Jews” did come for all, both Jews and Gentiles.

There Is Often a Cost to Obedience

The last lesson we learn from the nativity story is that often there is a cost to obedience. Mary and Joseph didn’t have it easy. Joseph had been humiliated by Mary’s unexpected pregnancy, Mary was looked down upon as being of questionable virtue, and their families were embarrassed by the whole thing. Then to make matters worse, Mary and Joseph had to take a long trip on foot, thanks to the Romans. She ended up giving birth in a barn in a strange town, surrounded by unfamiliar people. Then they were uprooted once again, and had to flee to Egypt to save the baby’s life.

33 years later, Mary suffered unimaginable heartbreak – just as Simeon had prophesied when he said to her: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35, NIV). She had to watch her son suffer and die a cruel death on a Roman cross. Even when we are in God’s will, we aren’t guaranteed an easy time of it.

But God was with them, as we see in the nativity story. God guided Joseph through visits by angels, and God provided a private place for Mary to give birth, and the gifts of the Magi most likely financed their unplanned trip to Egypt.

I hope this explains why Christmas and the Nativity Story should be important to Christians, and why the holiday goes well beyond gift-giving, Santa Claus, and good cheer.

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