This is the Christmas Season and the most familiar scene in any Christian gathering or Christian celebrations is the Nativity Scene.
Those of us who have seen many Christmas seasons will well remember the nativity players very well.
Today, let us take a look at some of the nativity players and see how they approached Christ and Christmas. May be this will help us to evaluate our approach to Christmas and our approach to Christ.
The nativity scene is much described in the first and second chapters of Luke , and also in the first and second chapters of Matthew.
Let us look at some of the characters and their responses to the news about the Christ.
- 1. Zechariah (Luke 1:5), was no ordinary man. He was a priest. He gets the message about John the Baptist when he is in the temple performing his priestly duties. This is the first time that Angel Gabriel (the much celebrated bearer of the Good News… the much loved character in the nativity plays) appears in a sequence of messages about the Christ. Zachariah’s first reaction was that of fear. This is not new. Many of the “Heroes” have expressed fear at the confrontation with God or His angels . Abraham (Genesis 15:1) Moses (Numbers 21:34, Deuteronomy 3:2), Joshua (Joshua 8:1), Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:57), Daniel (Daniel 10: 12-19) have all gone through that stage first, and many more will do that in the new testament too. However God’s reaction to the fear has been beautifully constant. “Do not be afraid” . After the first reaction of fear the second response is that of doubt. Zachariah had doubts about whether it can be true. Again the old testament heroes have had doubts too. Abraham (Genesis 17:17), Sarah (Genesis 18:12), Moses (Exodus 3:10-15), Gideon (Judges 6:14-23), have all gone through the same situation before. Now, Zechariah was a priest and one would expect that he knew the prophesies, and he knew the miracles very well. Nevertheless, Zechariah asks the angel, “How can I be sure of this?”. Our God of course has a great sense of humor. He gives Zachariah a great proof. He , through Gabriel, strikes Zachariah dumb… till the miracle comes through…
- 2. Joseph (Matthew 1:18), was again a righteous man. We do not know how exactly he came to know that Mary was pregnant, may be Mary told him, may be Elizabeth told him… in any case he comes to know about Mary’s pregnancy through human words, and naturally is troubled about it. And he sets to do what best is possible under human wisdom, not disgracing Mary publicly, but at the same time not letting her get stoned ( the punishment under Hebrew laws for pregnancy not in wedlock). There were only two options available with Joseph. However God had a third option. God always has many options than we human beings have, isn’t it? And that is where the angel comes in again and advises Joseph what to do. And Joseph accepts the divine plan, and discards his own plan.
- 3. The Magi (Matthew 2:1): We really do not know where exactly they came from or who they were. There are various scholarly views about them. One of the possibilities is that they might have been eastern astrologers who studied ancient manuscripts from around the world, and any new astronomical events raise their curiosity and they decided to seek the new star out. They could have come to know that the new star is supposed to represent the messiah. They traveled thousands of miles to reach Bethlehem and visit Jesus. They worshipped the King, and gave Him gifts. After this event they quietly disappear from the scene.
- 4. Herod the Great (Matthew 2:3): Herod came to know about the birth of the Christ through the Magi and was disturbed. He was the Rome appointed “King of Jews” and was insecure at the thought of another King of Jews being born. He was very keen to know where exactly the new King is born. However we know if his real motives of seeking the new born baby.
- 5. Mary (Luke 1:27) : Everything was moving very satisfactorily for this young lady. She was engaged to a Carpenter, and was soon to be married. Gabriel’s visit to her changed the entire scenario and changed her life forever. When Mary heard that she is the chosen one for the Messiah’s birth, her doubt was not on God’s plan, but on the possibility of her bearing a child without “knowing a man”. However, once Gabriel assures her on God’s plan, she very joyfully surrenders to God’s plan , and offers herself as a “Servant of God”
Let us pause here and take a look at the implications of these responses. Here is a bunch of people who got the Good news from God’s messengers, through angels, or through a dream or through the divine signs. What implications do their actions have?
Zachariah’s question, “How can I be sure about this” is often asked even today? Many of us , even the faithful church goers, ask this in one way or another. How can I be sure that this is God’s plan for me? How can I be sure that my prayers will be answered? How can I be sure? Some of us still keep endlessly looking for miracles. There is a preacher who once said, “ Ask me anything about the Bible and I will be able to answer, but please do not ask me who is Cain’s wife”. The preacher was very correct. There are Christians who still say.. “God one more evidence, one more miracle, one more gift. .. etc etc.. and I will fully believe”. What these people fail to acknowledge is that the greatest miracle has already happened, the Word became flesh and dwelled amongst us . Are we like Zachariah? Are we waiting to be dumbstruck before we choose to fully believe in the Christ, and the message of Christmas?
Or are we like Herod , seeking Jesus for all the wrong reasons? Herod sought Jesus, because he saw a threat in Jesus. And his real objectives were hidden when he asked the Magi to How about us? Are we seeking Jesus for our own selfish reasons? None of us may be as crooked as Herod was… however, is there a selfish streak in us in seeking Jesus? If course, all of us want to inherit the eternal life that only Jesus can offer. I am not referring to that objective. Is there any other selfish objective that we have? Do we choose Christianity because it is (arguably) the largest religion in the world? Do we follow Christ for what the faith can bring us?
The visit of the Magi is an important part in the nativity play, and the gifts that the magi gave also have significance. Magi came and worshipped the King, they traveled many miles to come and visit the King. How about us? Do we wait for God to come to us? Or are we willing to shake a leg and go after God? There is another interesting twist to the Magi’s tale. Magi were scholarly people and they wanted to “confirm” the origin of the star, as predicted by astrology, and the prophets. Do we fall into that category of people who seek Christ, to satisfy our academic interests? Do we follow Christianity for the research value it holds? Do we celebrate Christmas just because Christ’s birth and life are historically proven? Do we believe in the bible just because it is the best seller ever in the history of books?
Or are we like Joseph, who had to sacrifice his ego, his own plans, to accept and surrender to God’s plans? When Joseph came to know about Mary’s pregnancy, he surely knew that he was not the father of the child. We can imagine how that feeling is. God acted swiftly to help him understand the reality and accept God’s plans. The strength of what we believe is measured by how much we are willing to suffer for it. How many of us are willing to let go of our egos and our plans to accept God’s plans even when that plan is very disturbing for us personally?
Let us look at Mary.. She had everything to lose. The plan of God , to use her as the vessel to bring the messiah to the earth, meant a lot of trouble for her. Hebrew laws prescribed death by stoning for adultery. She did not know how Joseph would take the news. Her response however is one of the best examples of surrendering to the will of God. “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be unto me according to His will”. How many of us can really echo those words and really mean it?
My dear Brothers and Sisters, even as we go through another season of nativity plays, let us know that we have a choice. We can choose to continue to question God and ask him for more evidences and miracles, we can choose to follow Him , for our own selfish reasons, or we can trust in our God’s plan for our salvation and surrender ourselves to Him.
Let us close by stating this. The spread of Christianity did not come along through the “beneficiaries” of Jesus’ life or miracles. It is not the leper who was healed, nor the lame man who walked, nor the blind man who got sight, nor the bleeding woman who was healed, nor the man who was freed of the demons and not even Lazarus, the man who walked out of the tomb , who went and preached the Gospel to many, and brought souls to the Kingdom. The disciples were the people who were willing to let go of whatever they had and follow Him, and it is the disciples who were willing to lose everything , who went and preached the Gospel to the world.
Can I encourage all of us to think about ourselves. Are we part of the Church, because of the “benefits” that the church membership brings to us? Or are we willing to sacrifice (like Joseph and Mary) to proclaim the good news?
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