Our Savior is Born
I love Christmas music, Christmas decorations, family gatherings, the aroma of simmering wassail, and snow. While Christmas music and decorations occurring earlier each year cause some to cringe; it brings a holiday cheer to my senses and a smile to my face. I generally put up Christmas decorations the weekend following Thanksgiving and don’t take them down until well after Christmas. I’m perplexed at those who no longer turn on their Christmas lights on December 26th. Christmas season doesn’t end like the slamming of a door.
Christmas is the time of year when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Granted, the actual date of Christ’s birth likely occurred sometime earlier in the year but what matters most is the celebration of Christ’s birth and the saving grace He makes available for all.
Traditionally, gifts are exchanged largely because Christ received gifts from the three wise men. It’s interesting to note that while we celebrate Christ’s birth and exchange gifts on the same day, Christ didn’t receive his gifts until several months or possibly years after his birth. The wise men had a long walk in order to reach Christ once they saw the prophesied star and realized He, the king of kings, had come unto the world. Imagine waiting weeks, months, or years for your Christmas gift.
At least one of the first Christmas gifts, gold, was exciting and would please just about anyone. But incense, used primarily for prayer, probably wasn’t all that exciting, but at least it didn’t need assembly or batteries. Myrrh, an embalming fragrance, wouldn’t have been on anyone’s gift list. The first Christmas gifts had meaning.
A few weeks prior to Christmas is Thanksgiving, a time designated by President Washington and made official by President Lincoln, a time when we reflect on all for which we’re thankful–family, friends, health, liberty, and more. The grateful list for most is long.
When we bask in things that matter, we have much for which to be thankful. When we dwell on our worldly possessions relative to others, it’s easy to slouch toward a sense of want. America is largely blessed with an abundance. We hear the term haves and have nots but until told, the so-called have nots typically don’t realize they’re missing something. Too much of how we feel is based on our culturally shaped perceptions, which is dependent on information and communication. We only know what we’ve learned. How do we learn?
The three who first gifted Christ with gifts were called wise men for good reason. They’d studied the scriptures and when the star appeared, they knew what it meant. It’s thought that in those days less than five percent of the population could read. Since the written word was difficult and rare, only the most important events were recorded and handed down. Written documents were treasured.
Until the Gutenberg press, the Holy Scriptures were not widely distributed and read. Scripture reading, and study was confined to a very few. It’s not that the scriptures were withheld from the general public, it was simply the case that very little reading material of any kind was easily obtained. Consequently, 1500 years after the birth of Christ, few had the opportunity or reason to learn to read.
Few inventions had the enduring impact on the world as did the Gutenberg press. Once the presses were running the widespread dissemination of information was possible and the literacy rate increased exponentially. With literacy came learning, with learning came wisdom, with wisdom came countless innovations making life easier and easier.
One would think that all of this learning and innovation would lead to a better life for all. Well, it didn’t. When people began to think for themselves, they began to form different opinions. Differences led to conflict and conflict to schisms in the church. One of the church’s most prominent priests led a protest that eventually resulted in the development of a group of believers now called protestants. Arguably the biggest catastrophic result was the 30 Years war, caused by a disagreement over how one should worship Christ.
The introduction of the world wide web is frequently compared to the Gutenberg press as one of the greatest inventions of all time. And it likely is. While the WWW has completely changed the communication landscape, it didn’t result in a sharp increase in the literacy rate, which by that time was estimated to be over ninety percent. And it’s not likely that the result was in increase in wisdom or the reading of scripture either. Unlike the Gutenberg Press, the initial consequence of the WWW hasn’t been the widespread printing of God’s word, the good news, but too often the widespread dissemination of harmful half-truths, destructive innuendo and countless conversations void of thought.
While the Gutenberg press resulted in a sharp increase in the enthusiasm and ability for people to learn and eventually a calamity of thought surrounding the worship of God, the WWW seems to have decreased the perceived need to learn while increasing the ability to share what we don’t know, while simultaneously making it easier for evil to be disseminated. As with the Gutenberg press, the result is an increase in information but unlike the consequence of the press, the WWW has resulted in a decrease in real learning and a virtual vacuum of wisdom.
The Gutenberg press and the WWW are manmade complex tools. In some ways they’re no different than a simple tool, the hammer, which can be used to build something beautiful or destroy something of value. The value of any tool truly depends on the intention of the person holding it.
Both were gifts, one enhanced man’s ability to learn and worship the gift of gifts, Christ, the other, when used improperly, diminishes man’s worship of Christ.
Like a tool, the meaning of Christmas depends on the person. It can be a holiday season when friends and family gather to be thankful and exchange gifts, or it can include all of that plus the celebration of Christ’s birth. Both are good, but one is enduring.
Isaiah 40:8 – The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.
Light up the tree, put some wassail on the stove, and celebrate with friends and family what matters most—the birth of the Christ-child.