The Season to Rejoice
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” Luke 2:1-7.
The carols we sing at Christmastime, celebrate the joy that Jesus’ birth brought by coming to live among us. At a dark time in Jewish history, God was ever working to fulfill the prophecies of a Saviour sent to redeem mankind from the penalty of sin.
Have you ever noticed how often Christmas carols mention joy?
• What child is this?—“Raise, raise the song on high, the Virgin sings her lullaby; Joy, joy, for Christ is born, the Babe, the Son of Mary!”
• O Holy Night—“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for a yonder breaks and you and glorious morn!”
• Hark the Herald Angels Sing—“Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies; With angelic host proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem’.”
• Oh come, All Ye Faithful—“Joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.”
• God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen—“O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy! O tidings of comfort and joy!”
• Joy to the World—“Joy to the world, the Lord is come; let earth receive her king!”
The last carol was published in 1719 by Isaac Watts who intended it to celebrate, not Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, but His second coming. Nevertheless, the song has gained popularity among Christians particularly during the holiday season, and we love it because his words are true: Jesus Christ’s birth brought joy unspeakable to the world.
Christ’s arrival on earth at a dark time in history signified that God had not forgotten mankind; in fact, He has been orchestrating a plan to eliminate the burden of sin that separated us from God. At Christmas, perhaps like no other time, we are reminded that no matter what is going on in the world around us, and no matter what burdens we carry, there’s always joy in the presence of Jesus.
Psalm 16:11 reminds us “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Christmas is about declaring that there is joy to be found, because Jesus—whose name Immanuel means “God with us”—was sent to earth so we could eternally be with Him.
I. Joy in His Providence (Luke 2:1-3). Chapter 2 of Luke begins, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.”
“Those days” that are mentioned here were challenging days for the Jewish people. Rome, the greatest military power in the world, had conquered and was occupying Israel. And as if answering to a foreign power weren't enough, the people had to obey Caesar’s edict of taxation. It was hardly a time for joy, especially considering that Joseph and Mary were forced to walk the ninety miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to pay their taxes while Mary was in the last trimester of her pregnancy. But even in these dark days, God’s Providence and His timely preparation, is evident. Caesar may have been ruler, but God was in charge.
II. Joy in His Presence (Luke 2:6-7)
God could have given us anything, but He knew what we needed most. And so on a long-prophesied night in a stable in the town of Bethlehem, He gave us His presence.
It’s a tradition in many cultures to celebrate the birth of a baby by showering a family with food and gifts. Hospital gift shops are full of items such as balloons and stuffed animals that visitors may buy when being introduced to the new baby. But Mary had none of that. She went into labour and delivered Jesus in a stable—not a clean and sterile hospital room—and afterwards she wrapped Him in swaddling cloths. This gauzy-type substance was not something most mothers would want to wrap their newborns in. Swaddling clothes were typically used as burial wrappings. The significance here is that Jesus Christ was born to die. 1 John 4:9 reminds us, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.”
After wrapping Him, Mary laid Christ in a manger. We usually think of a manger as a wooden contraption with hay spilling out of it and of a stable as a barn-like building that was somehow cozy and inviting. The reality, however, is that stables more closely resembled cold, damp, dark caves, and mangers were hewn-out stones that served as feeding troughs for animals. What a humble scene for the birth of a King. The eternal Son of God was born in a cave and laid in manger surrounded by animals because there was no other place for them to go: “there was no room for them in the inn” (v. 7b).
Some people today still have a “no room” attitude when it comes to Christ. They don’t mind decorating their homes with bright lights, putting up Christmas trees, and spending money on Christmas gifts, but they don’t want to personally receive Jesus as their Saviour or submit to His leadership in any way that would change their homes or affect the way they live their lives.
The material man has no room for Jesus (Mark 8:36). The intellectual man has no room (1 Corinthians 1:18-19). The religious man has no room (John 1:10-12). Many material, intellectual, and religious people are filled with sadness and gloom despite their best efforts to buy or earn joy. No matter how much money they spend to make a good life for themselves, and no matter how they try to reason away the existence of God or blindly follow a church’s set of rules to be a good person, they are never sure if they’ve done enough to be able to make it into heaven. There’s only one way to heaven, and that way is Jesus.
“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:10-12).