It’s almost Christmas. People are running around trying to find just the perfect gift for friends and family. The alcohol flows from one party to another. The stress grows as each person tries vainly to fulfill their desires for the “happiest” time of the year. The goal is ever elusive.
Is this what Christmas is really all about? Why do we do this to ourselves? Is there something more? Something better? Something we’re missing?
The answer is a resounding YES! There is something more; something much better. There’s a secret about the holiday that can make every day the “happiest” time of the year.
The History of Christmas
Even though no one really knows the precise date of Christ’s birth, people have celebrated Christmas on December 25 since at least AD 336. Historians believe this particular date was fixed because of year-end celebrations of ancient pagans to honor Saturn, the harvest god, and Mithras, the god of light. It slowly became part of Christian celebrations after the Roman Empire made Christianity its official religion. The pagans prepared special foods, decorated their homes with greenery, and joined in singing and gift giving; much the same as we celebrate Christmas today. By the 12th century AD, Christmas had become the most important religious festival in Europe. Saint Nicholas, a 4th century humanitarian bishop of Asia Minor, became a symbol of gift giving in many European countries. Artists of the 1400s and 1500s painted many of the now-famous nativity pictures we enjoy today. Most of our traditional Christmas carols came from the 1700s and 1800s. The 1900s saw Christmas become big business with consumers spending millions of dollars on toys and decorations.
The Prophecy of Christmas
How sad but fascinating that most people have missed the whole point of Christmas during the 2,000 years since Christ was born. Jesus, that tiny baby in the borrowed manger, came to earth with the greatest secret of all time: a secret that has literally changed the world. It was not a secret that Christ would be born. God promised that a woman would give birth to One who would crush the head of Satan (Gen. 3:14). God repeated His promise of a Savior many times during the centuries before Jesus Christ was born. God told Isaiah to prophesy, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6)
God was so specific about the birth of Israel’s Savior that He told His chosen nation where Messiah (Hebrew word for “Christ”) would be born: “But thou Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler of Israel; whose going forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)
God told anyone who would read the Book of Isaiah that Messiah would be born to a virgin: “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (Isa. 7:14)
The Old Testament prophets also wrote about how kings would give gifts to Messiah; how Messiah would be of the family line of Jesse, the house of David, and the tribe of Judah; how Messiah would be a prophet, priest, judge, and king; how a messenger would precede Messiah crying out: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isa. 40:3) They further foretold how the Holy Spirit would anoint Messiah for ministry, how Messiah’s ministry would begin in Galilee, and how Messiah would work miracles and be a teacher of parables.
Indeed, the Virgin Birth and amazing life and ministry of the Messiah was no secret. It was a well-documented and expected future event. Everyone in Israel should have seen how clearly Jesus Christ met all Messianic prophecies, even to the smallest detail.
It was also not a secret that Messiah would die violently. God inspired Old Testament prophets to write that Messiah would be betrayed by a friend, sold for thirty pieces of silver and the money thrown in God’s house and used to buy a potter’s field. The prophets also wrote that Messiah would be forsaken by His disciples, accused by false witnesses, wounded and bruised, struck and spit upon, mocked, and crucified with thieves.
The details about the Messiah’s crucifixion are quite remarkable since the prophets wrote about something of which they had never heard. It was hundreds of years later that the Romans introduced crucifixion as a way of executing criminals. Nonetheless, the prophets wrote that Messiah’s hands and feet would be pierced, He would be given gall to eat and vinegar to drink, His bones would not be broken, and His side would be pierced. The prophets also wrote that Messiah would make intercession for His persecutors, that His own people would reject Him, hate Him without a cause, stare at Him, and shake their heads at Him. The prophets wrote that people would divide Messiah’s garments and cast lots for His clothing, that His friends would stand apart from Him, that He would cry out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” that darkness would cover the land beginning at noon, and that He would be buried in a rich man’s tomb.
The prophets also wrote about Messiah’s resurrection from the grave, His ascension into heaven, and His seating at the right hand of God. So, where’s the secret of Christmas I referred to earlier? Anyone who wants to see can see that Jesus Christ fulfilled every prophecy about the Savior of Israel. The prophets told about His coming and His death. When Jesus ministered on earth, He Himself told His disciples about His death and resurrection. They didn’t understand, but they heard. Jesus did not keep what He was going to do a secret.
In the next part of our study we will look at both the secret and ministry of Christmas.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”