THE SIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Hal Bowser said, "the most exciting gift I've ever received was the microscope my parents gave me for Christmas when I was eleven." The first thing he did on that Christmas day was to go out in the back yard and get some water from a rain puddle. He put a drop under his microscope and what he saw changed his whole life. He saw creatures he never knew existed, and a world filled with life beyond his wildest dreams. He realized that microscopy opened up whole new worlds of color and creativity. No longer would even slimy ditch water be contemptible to him, for everywhere, there was fascinating beauty and life.
When he grew up he joined the New York Microscopical Society and began to meet large numbers of micromaniacs. People all over the world study animal, mineral and vegetable phenomenon invisible to the naked eye, and see wonders most people never see. There are people every day who see things God has made in this world that the rest of the world does not see.
This was a major characteristic of the first Christmas as well. It was a time of seeing the invisible world. The most advanced technology in electronic microscopes could not have enabled man to see what was seen on that first Christmas. All the main characters of the Christmas story were allowed to see the world of the invisible.
Mary was permitted to see the angel Gabriel who came to announce that she was to give birth to the Messiah. Only three people in all of history saw this divine messenger who stands in the presence of God-Daniel, Mary and Zechariah.
Joseph was given a vision by which he was able to see Mary was not unfaithful, but was with child by the Holy Spirit. What he saw in that vision made him a cooperative companion with Mary in the ordeal of the Incarnation.
The wise men would never have been a part of the Christmas story had God not revealed to them the Star of Bethlehem. This was clearly a supernatural sight not visible to all the world, but only to these specialist who were gazing at the heavens for signs. Such a sight would bring people from everywhere if they could have seen it. But it was only the few who could see this star of wonder.
The shepherds had their own unique supernatural vision. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the field lit up with the glory of the Lord. The wise men never got to see these glorious beings. And the shepherds never saw the star. Mary and Joseph did not apparently see either sight. God gave each person and each group of persons the kind of vision they needed to motivate them to do what He willed.
The one vision they all had in common was the most marvelous vision of all: they all saw the Word who had become flesh. They all saw the invisible become visible. The Son who reigned with God in the invisible realm of the Spirit, where the eyes of man cannot penetrate, was now visible in that babe of Bethlehem. They were seeing the greatest miracle of all history, and the wonder of the ages that makes all other miracles pale in comparison. This was the eye-witness event of all time and it changed all of time.
The birth of the Son of God has given us the most eye appealing holiday of the year. Christmas is a seeing experience. The response of the shepherds has become the universal response at Christmas-"let's go see!" They could not wait to go see the Christ child. The wise men could not rest until they saw the Christ child. The desire to see the Gift of God is the strongest desire we see motivating the people on that first Christmas.
The eye gate is still the main gate to the Christmas experience. It is the season for seeing. Let's go see Santa; let's go see the decorations; let's go see the lights; let's go see the Christmas play; etc. the whole nation is caught up in a seeing frenzy at Christmas. Seeing is what gets us in the mood. We put up the tree and get out the decorations to change the whole atmosphere. We do it because seeing is the essence of the season.
When the word became flesh and we beheld the glory of God in visible form, that changed everything. We see God in a new light and all of life is seen from a new perspective. Changing the whole atmosphere in which we live is a valid symbol of the significance of what God did by letting his invisible nature become visible in Jesus Christ. Decorating is a visible expression of invisible values.
We need to be aware that seeing is also used by Satan to lead us astray. All the wonders and beauty we see at Christmas need to be used in a conscious way to remind us of the wonder of what God has done in Christ. If we let all the beauty of the season distract us from Jesus we are falling into the same trap Adam and Eve fell into. God gave them an environment of unmatched beauty pleasing to the eye. Gen. 2:9 says, "God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground-trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food." They had beauty beyond our comprehension. But the forbidden fruit was also beautiful, and they were led astray by it's beauty. So it is with the beauty of Christmas. It is valid to enjoy it, but it is dangerous to be so involved that we take our eyes off the best-the Gift of God.
I was impressed as I read Dale Evans Rogers book, Christmas Is Always and Pat Boone's book, The Real Christmas. Both of these well known Christian entertainers are pro-Santa Claus. That is, they saw in this jolly old St. Nick, that which led them to appreciate the Lord Jesus. They were seeing this secular symbol as a potential sacred symbol.
Many Christians feel Santa is a mere secular symbol and a myth, but these two popular Christians see more. They argue that if you know the history of Santa you will see the more that they see. Dale Rogers takes us back to Asia Minor where all the churches that Jesus spoke to in the book of Rev. were located. In the fourth century a rich merchant lived there who had no children. He and his wife prayed that if God would give them a boy they would train that child to love and serve Him. When God answered that prayer they named the boy Nicholas. He was lovingly nurtured and well educated in the Christian faith. His parents died when he was quite young and left him a lot of money. But he was generous and gave most of it away. He kept three bags of gold that would keep him nicely for the rest of his life. But he had compassion on poor girls that had no dowry to get married, and he gave the three bags to three poor girls so they could marry.
He decided to become a priest, and after he finished his studies he went back to his home town of Myra in Greece. The town was in a state of turmoil. The Bishop had just died and the clergy could not agree on who should take over. They decided the next priest to come in to the Cathedral would become the Bishop. By the providence of God, Nicholas was that man and was proclaimed the new Bishop of Myra. He became known as the patron of the children because of his untiring efforts to teach them. On his birthday, which was Dec.6th, he collected presents to give to the children of Myra. This became a tradition all over Europe and was done in the memory of St. Nicholas. After many years the gift giving was shifted to Christmas gift giving.
Santa Claus is the Dutch name of St. Nicholas and the Dutch brought the tradition to America. The Dutch were really into St. Nicholas, and by the 13th century they had 23 St. Nicholas churches. They brought him to America, to New York, and now he has become a tradition in our culture. All kinds of mythology has grown around him with his elves and reindeer etc., but the fact is he had a Christian origin, and if you see this you can see through all the myth to a symbol of a Christlike Spirit. Pat Boone writes, "Surely Santa, as he should be, as little children see him, a spirit of love, of generosity, of merriment, would have delighted the heart of the Christ child."
I share this to illustrate that people see different things even when they are looking at the same thing. Many look at Santa and see only a secular myth, and they are turned off. Others look at Santa and see a symbol of the Christlike spirit and they are turned on to praise Christ for his coming, and his impact on all of history.
What you see in the sights of Christmas all depends on what you desire to see. I have to fight the scrooge in me when I see the massive Christmas decorations in a mall, for example. I can see all the money going into them as a waste. This money could be given to feed the poor. I can see only the extravagance of it all, and not realize I am being just like the disciples who criticized Mary for wasting her perfume on anointing Jesus. They saw only waste, but Jesus saw love and honor in her act. So I need to look at the expensive decorations as a tribute to the King of Kings. That is not necessarily the motive of those paying for all the decorations. It is more likely pride and competition and greed, but the point is I have to choose what I will see. Will I see the negative and be a complainer, or will I choose to see the positive and be a praiser? All the sights of Christmas present you with a choice.
The wise men saw in the Star of Bethlehem the symbol of the coming King, and they were moved to search for Him to worship Him. Herod, when he heard of it saw that star as a threat, and he searched for the King to eliminate Him. What you see is what you get, and you choose what you see. The wise men chose to see in the star, a good thing. Herod chose to see a bad thing. The fact was, the King that star revealed was Herod's Savior too. He could have chosen to be the first to honor the Gift of God with a feast of celebration. But he choose to see the King as competition, and to seek His destruction. He had a choice but he chose to see the negative.
Norman Vincent Peale, the father of positive thinking, had to learn from his father that positive thinking is a choice. You have to chose what you see. Listen to his testimony-
"One Christmas Eve when I was twelve, I was out with
my minister father doing some late Christmas shopping.
We were both loaded down with packages and I was
getting tired of it and a bit cross. I was thinking how
good it would be to get home, when a beggar-a
bleary-eyed, unshaven, dirty old man-came up to me,
touched my arm with a hand like a claw, and asked for
money. He was so repulsive that instinctively I recoiled.
Softly my father said, "Norman, it's Christmas Eve. You
shouldn't treat a man that way."
I was unrepentant. "Dad," I complained, "he's nothing but a bum "
My father spoke strongly. "Maybe he hasn't made
much of himself, but he's still a child of God." He then
handed me a dollar-a lot of money for those days and
certainly for a preacher's income. "I want you to take
this and give it to that man," he said. "Speak to him
respectfully. Tell him you are giving it to him in Christ's
"Oh, Dad," I protested, "I can't do anything like that."
My father's voice was firm. "Go and do as I tell you."
So, reluctant and resisting, I ran after the old man
and said, "Excuse me, sir. I give you this money in the
name of Christ."
He stared at the dollar bill, then looked at me in utter
amazement. A wonderful smile came to his face, a smile
so full of life and beauty that I forgot that he was dirty
and unshaven. I forgot that he was ragged and old.
With a gesture that was almost courtly, he took off his
hat. Graciously he said, "And I thank you, young sir, in
the name of Christ."
All my irritation, all my annoyance faded away. The
street, the houses, everything around me suddenly
seemed beautiful because I had been part of a miracle
that I have seen many times since-the transformation
that comes over people when you think of them as children of God,
when you offer them love in the name of a Baby born two thousand
years ago in a stable in Bethlehem, a Person who still lives and
walks with us and makes His presence known.
That was my Christmas discovery that year-the gold
of human dignity that lies hidden in every living soul,
waiting to shine through if only we'll give it a chance.
Early in life I began to understand that the positive
principle is deeply part of loving human relationships,
and for that insight I am very grateful."
Because Peale learned you can choose how to see people, he chose to see them as children of God. He became an encourager because he chose to see in all people the potential of being channels of God love. The sight he saw that Christmas made him a wise man. The light of the world has come and what do you do with light? You see it and you see by it. Let us, like him, choose to see the positive by that light.
The challenge for all of us is to go into this Christmas season determined to see in the sights of Christmas that which makes us praise God, and want to be part of His light in this dark world. Let your prayer be, open my eyes Lord, I want to see Jesus. The gifts of God are everywhere if we will only choose to see. Someone wrote,
"There are some that don't open their eyes or their ears or
And they still say, that's not quite enough.
They wander through the stores looking for Christmas;
But others open their whole being to the Lord,
Bending their knees to praise God,
Carrying Christmas with them every day.
For these the whole world is a gift."
It does no ultimate good for man to see the far reaching galaxies or the nearly infinite microscopic creatures God has created if they fail to see in the sights of Christmas the wonder of God's love. When the lights and beautiful colors and the music make you praise God for the gift of His Son, then you are seeing with the eyes of faith.
Malcomb Muggeridge, the distinguished international journalist from England, who became a Christian, tells of being in Bethlehem to make a film. He was turned off by all the commercialism, especially in the Church of the Nativity where beggars and children were offering postcards and souvenirs for sale. He wrote, " How ridiculous these so- called 'shrines' were! I was thinking to myself. How squalid the commercialism which exploited them! Who but a credulous fool could possibly suppose that the place marked in the crypt with a silver cross was veritably the precise spot where Jesus had been born? The Holy Land, as it seemed to me, had been turned into a sort of Jesus land, on the lines of Disneyland."
But then he took his eyes off the commercialism and began to observe the faces of those visitors coming into the crypt. He saw faces transformed by being where the Word became flesh. People were not debating whether or not this was the actual spot where Jesus was born. They were not complaining about the junk being sold. They were in a state of awe because they saw beyond all that man was doing there to all that God did there. They were seeing the invisible, and Muggeridge said, once more the glory of the Lord shown around, and he too sensed the presence of the Savior.
In the very spot where Christmas began, he had to choose what he would see in that setting. Would he see the secular of man's folly and greed, or would he see the sacred of God's awesome love and presence?
We all have to choose what we see everywhere, for in this fallen world the darkness of sin and the light of salvation are always both present everywhere. We have to choose where we focus, and the challenge of Christmas is to see the love and the glory of Christ in all the sights of Christmas.