In the madness of the Christmas season, we can actually miss Christmas.
You might say, “It is not possible to miss Christmas. My Sunday newspaper weighs in at about 30 pounds because it is stuffed with ads. The television reminds me. The radio reminds me. Those obnoxious pop-up ads on my electronic devices remind me.”
Even so, we can completely miss the point. We can attend endless plays and all kinds of parties. We can go to the malls and buy gifts for everyone imaginable, and we can sing countless Christmas songs. Yet we can so easily forget about the one we are celebrating.
Not unlike today, most people missed the first Christmas for the most part. There was the innkeeper, for example. When Joseph and a very pregnant Mary arrived on his doorstep, he could have found it in his heart to extend a little human kindness. Instead, he heartlessly sent them out to a barn, to a stable, and that is where the savior of the world was born. The innkeeper missed out because he was interested in the bottom line. So in the busyness of all that was going on with the census being taken, he missed Christmas. He missed Christ, just like so many people today miss him with all their shopping, parties and events.
Then there were the religious leaders. Herod had called them in and wanted to know where the Messiah was to be born. These scholars who, in effect, spent every waking hour of their lives studying the Scriptures, knew exactly where Messiah was to be born. They directed Herod to Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (NIV).
You would think these scholars could have made the relatively short journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to see for themselves. But ironically, their religion didn’t bring them closer to God; it kept them from him. Their religion made them hard and indifferent, and they missed Christmas.
Then there was Herod himself, the man who tried to stop Christmas. When the wise men said they were looking for the King of the Jews, they couldn’t have said a more provocative thing to the paranoid king, who had been decreed the king of the Jews by the Romans. So he tried to kill Christ, and of course he failed. Herod missed Christmas. And ultimately he died a miserable death.
And then there was the entire empire of Rome. They had established the census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Roman soldiers were everywhere. Yet it was here that God himself came to visit humanity. The Roman empire missed it because they worshiped other gods, including the emperor himself. So they all missed Christmas.
But not everyone missed Christmas the first time around. Some found it. And they could not have been more diverse and different from each other. I’m talking, of course, about the mysterious wise men from the east and the shepherds.
The wise men were not at all like the traditional image we have of them, as popularized in Christmas cards. The Bible doesn’t say there were three, and the Bible certainly doesn’t give us their names. So let’s peel tradition back and find out who these wise men really were. The Bible calls them the magi, the word from which our English word magician originates. These men consulted the stars and were experts in both astronomy and astrology. They would have been utilized by the pharaohs and kings to provide guidance.
In contrast to the prophets and priests, the magi would use sorcery, wizardry and witchcraft. And because of their combined knowledge of science, mathematics and the history of the occult, their religious and political influence continued to grow until they became the most prominent and powerful group of advisers in the Medo-Persian and Babylonian empires. These were men steeped in occultism and false religion. But they were very powerful, very important, and would almost be like royalty themselves.
They would have dressed in a way befitting someone of their office and wouldn’t have ridden camels. Rather, they would have ridden horses, probably Arabian stallions. They would have had an army traveling with them to provide protection. No wonder they created such a stir when they rode into Jerusalem.
Lastly, they were not there at the manger. It’s a blow to Nativity scenes, but they weren’t there. The Bible says in Matthew 2:11, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (NIV, emphasis added).
They brought him gifts befitting a king, because these wise men from the east knew something that Herod and most others would never know: This tiny boy would one day rule the world.
The shepherds, on the other hand, couldn’t have been any more different from the wise men. Where the wise men were at the top of the economic scale, the shepherds were at the bottom. You see, the shepherds were the lowest of the low in the Jewish culture. A shepherd was despised and mistrusted. They were thought of as crafty and dishonest. They couldn’t observe the ceremonial hand washings of the day. They were men of the field and would have smelled of the work they did. The testimony of a shepherd was not even allowed in a court of law at this time. The only people lower on the social ladder were those who had leprosy.
Think of all of the people to whom God could have brought his message. The announcement could have come into the court of Caesar. Certainly it could have come to Herod himself. But it seems as though the Lord said, “Who is the lowest of the low? Who are the people no one cares about? I’ll give them my message: ‘For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’” (Luke 2:11 NKJV).
Two revelations come to two groups of people, and they both came to believe. God came to the shepherds where they were and to the wise men where they were. And in the same way, God comes to us wherever we are. No one is beyond his reach.