Written by Pastor Job Lee before Christmas 2020
Entering December means the coming of the Christmas season and also a moment of universal jubilation. Because of the pandemic there is no doubt that Christmas this year will be very different from previous years. Although the next door neighbors will follow their usual tradition and hang Christmas lights and wreaths in their courtyards (in non-attached homes, perhaps this is one of the few more cheerful and happy things left to do). TV and media announced that the governor has said that this Christmas everybody is not allowed to visit friends or other family members who do not live together. Since many people live alone at home, they will have a very different Christmas. A few weeks ago I thought the church could re-open. I specifically spoke to the choir leader Pat Huang if she would consider preparing the choir to sing a cantata on Christmas Sunday. Although it is big challenge to present a cantata, the choir leader said that she would try her best and the choir members received their music scores. But I think my yearning and expectation may have been in vain.
It is not just the pandemic that has affected us all this Christmas. Although the 2020 US presidential election process is over, we still cannot determine who the real winner is and who will be President for the next four years. According to certain reports, cases of election fraud have been found in many states. In particular, some voting machines were suspected of changing the design of the voting record. In another case all the election officials were required to leave the venue under the pretext of a broken water pipe. However, on-site video showed several people staying at the scene and removing hidden boxes filled with ballots during the middle of the night without supervision and verification but these were counted in the voting record. At the time of writing, the election has not yet ended. Many legal proceedings are underway, making the US Supreme Court and state assemblies and Congress very busy and on edge. This also causing extreme anxiety for the American people. I do not know what will happen to the country. This will be difficult situation to reverse and clean up.
I believe that we will all be more or less disappointed on how we spend Christmas this year. But I also think that this will allow us to see the meaning of Christmas from a different angle this year. This reminds me that more than two thousand years ago on which we today commonly call “the Eve of Peace”, was it really that peaceful and safe? Unexpectedly, no.
From a chronological perspective, the Christmas record of Luke’s Gospel should be before Matthew’s Gospel, starting when an old priest named Zacharias was on duty and serving in the temple when an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, causing Zacharias to “panic” and be afraid. The angel then prophesied that his old wife Elisabeth would give birth to a son who would be named John. This child would be set apart for God and in the future he would lead the Israelites to repent and turn to God. Sure enough six months later it happened. Elisabeth gave birth to a son for Zacharias with the familiar name of John the Baptist. (Please refer to Luke 1:8-25)
Just six months later, another angel appeared to another woman. This time it was a young girl who had just been engaged but had not yet married. The woman’s name was Mary. The sudden appearance of the angel also made the young woman “panic” because the angel spoke to her, but what surprised her even more was that the angel went on to say, “Mary, don’t be afraid! You have found favor before God. You will conceive and have a son; you will call him Jesus.” Your cousin Elisabeth has also conceived a son in her old age. Now did the angel actually say that an unmarried virgin would conceive and have a child? It’s no wonder that Mary would say “I’m not married yet, how could this happen?” (Luke 2:34) If you tried to change any woman’s body, you would also produce panic and such words, right?
But the angel told her very clearly that the fetus she was pregnant with was extraordinary. “The Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore that holy thing to be born shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 2:35). Thanks to the Lord that after much thought Mary accepted this mission from heaven and responded to the Lord by saying: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 2:38).
Yes, she was willing. She obeyed. But what about her fiancé? How would she tell him? We can imagine how embarrassing this would be for an unmarried woman who is still a virgin and how uneasy for her. The Bible does not tell us how Mary let her fiancé Joseph know that she was pregnant. But obviously, after knowing that his fiancée was pregnant, although I believe that innocent Mary would never do anything to embarrass him, but how Joseph can explain this to the villagers is not only very difficult and near impossible. Do not just think that others will not understand his explanation, even he himself cannot figure out what is going on! This whole matter is too difficult but an idea pops up in his head. Instead of publicly humiliating the unfaithful women in accordance to Jewish tradition, maybe it would better to dissolve the marriage privately before the matter becomes public and is still unknown (Matthew 1:19). We can only imagine the depths of his mood during this time as he is in total panic and at a complete loss.
Fortunately, God is compassionate and understanding. He sends an angel to Joseph in a dream, telling him, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet” (Matthew 1:20-21). This encounter with God made Joseph understand that God wanted to accomplish a plan with the Israelites and even the nations and all peoples through them. Joseph accepted and obeyed. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25).
The Bible does not tell us how the young unmarried couple spent the next few months of pregnancy and the days waiting to give birth. But we can only imagine how hard it must have been to be inevitably pointed out by neighbors. What’s worse is not the criticism of an ordinary carpenter family who wants to give birth to a son but how they could somehow attract the attention of government officials and even threats on their lives? According to Matthew’s Gospel, Magi or wise men following biblical prophecies were instructed by God to come from far away to explore and worship this imminent birth which would affect kings and the whole world. The news spread like wildfire even to the ears of Herod, the king of Judah at that time, because there were rumors that the soon to be born baby was to be “King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). How could this be? If this is true, isn’t Herod’s throne in jeopardy? No wonder the Bible says that “when King Herod heard this he was disturbed” (Matthew 2:3). Although he consulted the court civil and military officials, Herod learned from the priests and scribes that the Bible indeed foretold that in Bethlehem in the land of Judah, a king will come to shepherd the people of Israel (Matthew 2:6). This made him lose sleep. How to face political competition? How to eliminate a political threat? Herod comes up with a brilliant plan to “cut the grass and eliminate the roots.” He wants to find out from the visiting Eastern wise men where the baby was born but he was fooled by them and does not find out. How could this be good? But a new strategy has been laid down: it is better to kill ten thousand by mistake instead of letting one person live. So Herod gave orders to kill all the babies born in the past two years (Matthew 1:16). Of course, this massacre brought terrible pain to the common people. Everywhere people are crying because of the loss of their children. No one knew how to comfort these suffering people because they were extremely distraught, refusing comfort (Matthew 2 :18).
Fortunately, the baby king who was prophesied to be born in a shabby stable in the wilds of Bethlehem was born. There were no high officials and nobles, no congratulations from envoys from various countries. Only a few shepherds heard the good news announced by angels, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord”, came to celebrate this new born king. After that a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (see Luke 2:8-14 for details ) For thousands of years, this song sung by angels at the birth of Christ has been composed on different instruments and used by people to express their praise and adoration for the birth of the human savior king because in turbulent and troubled times, people can in him find the peace that God gives to the world through his only beloved Son!
This year’s Christmas is particularly troubled and the entire United States is caught in an uneasy situation that has never been seen before in recent years. I have been in the United States for 30 years, and after several US elections, there has never been a situation full of treacherous chaos like this time. But no matter how the situation changes in the future, let us firmly believe that the true king is not Herod, but Jesus Christ, the Son born in the wild. He is the real hope of mankind, and only in Him can people find true light. The current election disputes and suspicion of fraud have made the future of the United States even more confusing, but as long as we firmly believe that God is still in power, Christians will sincerely pray before God. I believe that one day God will let us know whom He has chosen to lead the America to repent before God and to listen to the gospel just like “John the Baptist” shouting in the wilderness. Who is the “Herod” who caused America to accelerate their deception and to compromise with evil and rush toward destruction. Let us pray and wait and see!
At this point, the words of the second Psalm rush to my heart, written below, to encourage the brothers and sisters. Let us stand firmly on the eternal rock of the anointed Jesus Christ. During this troubling time, let the Christ who was born in Bethlehem live in our hearts and bring us real peace!
Psalm 2 (NIV)
1 Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the LORD and against his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”
4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
5 He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6 “I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”
7 I will proclaim the LORD’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
8 Ask me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You will break them with a rod of iron[b];
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
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