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What would Jesus change about Christmas?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A depiction of the Nativity with a Christmas tree backdrop (Credit: Jeff Weese via Flickr)

I hope you and your family had a blessed and holy Christmas day.  There is no season like the one now ending.  It reunites families and friends who might not be together otherwise.  Businesses and stores close for Christmas if for no other day of the year.  No birthday in human history has been as celebrated as the birth of our Lord.

At the same time, it seems that the Christmas season becomes more secularized with each passing year.  “Happy Holidays” is replacing “Merry Christmas”; long-standing traditions such as outdoor nativity scenes are being challenged in courts across the land.  I sometimes wonder how Jesus feels about the way our society observes his birth.  If he could change one aspect of Christmas, what do you think he would choose?

Here’s my guess: the fact that our celebration ended yesterday.  His birth, while indescribably miraculous, was only one part of the first Christmas.  Jesus was the only baby to choose every circumstance of his birth.  Every dimension of that holy night was intended to communicate the significance of Christmas for every day of the year.

Consider the place of his birth.  He could have chosen Jerusalem, the Holy City and capital of the land, or any of the other significant cities of his day.  Instead he chose to be born in Bethlehem, a tiny hamlet with no cultural status.  He could have been birthed in a palace, but he chose a feed trough in a cow stall.  Why there?

Consider his ancestors.  He could have selected kings, rulers, rabbis, priests.  Instead, he chose some of the most nefarious characters in all the Bible: Tamar, who seduced her father-in-law and bore twins to him (Matthew 1:3); Rahab the prostitute (v. 5); Ruth, from the hated Gentile land of Moab (v. 5); Bathsheba, party to one of the most notorious acts of adultery in literature (v. 6); Manasseh, the king who sacrificed his own children in the fires of idolatrous worship (v. 10).  Why them?

Consider his first attendants.  The “shepherds living out in the fields nearby” (Luke 2:8) were anything but the idyllic figures we imagine.  Shepherds in the first century were so infamous for stealing and lying that respectable citizens would not buy from them and courts would not allow them to testify.  They could not keep the ritual purity laws of the day and thus were barred from the temple and synagogue.  Why them?

If Jesus would be born in Bethlehem’s feed trough, would he be born again in your heart?  If he would choose infamous characters for his ancestors, would he receive you into his family?  If he would welcome the worship of grimy field hands, would he welcome yours?

The Christmas gifts that matter most are offered to us every day of the year: “His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).  Have you opened his presents of grace yet today?