This special post is adapted from an article that I wrote for the Christmas 1993 <The Hunter Family Holiday Newsletter>.
As I was reading and meditating upon the Christmas story in anticipation of writing this Christmas message, I was struck by the different responses of the various characters involved in the Christmas story. Here I’ll share a few observations regarding the reactions of some of those characters or groups of characters–the innkeeper, the shepherds and those to whom they told their story including Mary, and the Magi.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4-7, ESV)
No room in the inn for the Christ child! How could this be? Obviously other guests had got there first and filled the inn up, so that when Joseph and Mary came it was crowded and they couldn’t get in. However surely if the innkeeper had recognized the importance of the baby who was to be born to Mary, he would have rearranged his guests so that she could come in. Thus a secondary reason for there being no room in the inn for the Christ child is that the innkeeper didn’t recognize his importance. Similarly our lives can be so occupied with other things that we have no room in them for Christ and don’t even recognize his importance when he comes to us.
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:15-20, ESV)
In these verses, Luke records the reactions of the shepherds to the angelic announcement of the birth of the Christ child, of those to whom the shepherds told their story, and of Mary. The shepherds’ terror at the appearance of the angel turned to joy when they heard the angel’s message, that the long-awaited Messiah or Christ had been born. They hurried to see the baby, after which they told others what they had heard about him and returned glorifying and praising God. Their reaction should be a model for the Christian as well as for the non-Christian. In his commentary on the Gospels, John Calvin asks, “If they [the shepherds] valued Christ’s nativity so highly, that they should rise from that stable and manger to the heights of heaven, should not the death and resurrection of Christ work more powerfully among us, to lift us to God?”
Those to whom the shepherds told what they had heard about the baby were amazed but, unlike the shepherds, don’t seem to have acted on what they were told. Matthew Henry comments, “They wondered, but never enquired any further about the Saviour, their duty to him, or advantages by him, but let the thing drop as a nine days’ wonder. O the amazing stupidity of the men of that generation!” And of people of all generations who are told of Jesus but don’t seek him.
Mary’s reaction–treasuring all these things and pondering over them–is, in contrast to the spreading of the news by the shepherds and to the amazement expressed by those who heard the news, something which kept to herself. In his notes Albert Barnes described Mary’s reaction as that of a mother: “A mother forgets none of those things which occur respecting her children. Everything they do or suffer–everything that is said of them–is treasured up in her mind; and often, often she thinks about those things, and anxiously seeks what they may indicate respecting the future character and welfare of her child.” It is part of the picture Scripture presents of the believing woman (see, for example, Luke 1:45 and Acts 1:14) and thus should encourage all Christians to meditate upon the works of God.
And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11, ESV)
“The great fact must be noted that the magi fell down and worshipped this child, born in this little village and not in Jerusalem; living in a house and in surroundings of the poorest kind; lying in the arms of a mother who was ranked among the lowliest of the land,” asserts R. C. H. Lenski in his commentary. He continues, “From the capital and King Herod they had come to this poor house. They treat it as the grandest of palaces and this little child as the most glorious king. How could they do this? Their hearts must have beheld what their eyes did not see.” (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943, page 70. Reproduced by permission of Augsburg Fortress.) What an example for us!
Just as the various characters involved in the first Christmas story reacted differently when they were told of or met the Christ child, so do people of today react in different ways when they encounter Jesus Christ. Their reactions may range from indifference as was shown by the innkeeper (or even by hostility as was demonstrated by King Herod when he was told of the newborn king, Matthew 2:16) to the worshipping of him as was done by the Magi. How will you respond to him this Christmas as we once again celebrate his entering our world so that we may have a share in his world?
In my next post I’ll return to the series of articles that I began last week on John Sanders’ “summary of openness theology” at Open Theism Information Site by considering the chapter “Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?” in John M. Frame’s <No Other God>.