The Cast of Christmas
William Shakespeare penned these words in his play, As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances…”
Most of us have seen a wide variety of Christmas plays and pageants in our lifetimes and perhaps have even been in one or more of them ourselves. We enjoy seeing the tiny tots program—Mary in her blue dress and white veil; Joseph in a too-large bathrobe; both kneeling beside a manger with the “Baby Jesus”; and the little angel choir with crooked tinsel halos heartily singing “Away in the Manger” behind them. We perhaps, too, have seen or participated in elaborate Christmas pageants with huge casts and conceivably thousands of dollars spent on costumes, backdrops, live animals, and professional sound and lighting. Both of these, in its own way, characterize that first great “Casting Call of Christmas.”
For His cast, however, God the Father signed on and coordinated the innocent and the majestic, the humble and the proud, the unlearned and the scholarly, the good and the evil in widely diverse characters for roles in that first great Christmas drama. God’s choice of players includes:
MARY: A young woman, pledged to be married to Joseph, finds herself visited by the archangel Gabriel one night. Gabriel announces to her that she will become pregnant. To overcome her confusion since she is a virgin, the angel explains to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.” Though under Jewish law Mary knows she can be stoned to death for being pregnant outside of marriage and knowing that her husband-to-be will probably not understand, she bravely responds, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Traveling to Bethlehem while heavy with child, she ends up giving birth there in a stable. Since they could find no room in any boarding houses, Mary ends up laying her precious firstborn child in a feeding box for animals.
JOSEPH: A righteous man pledged to be married to Mary. When he finds Mary to be with child, he decides to divorce her quietly and not embarrass her publicly. The shock of this revelation must have been tremendous to Joseph who thought his beloved Mary was a pure and godly woman. (Under Jewish law, engagement was as binding as marriage. To break it, a legal divorce was required.) Before he could do this, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream, explains the situation, tells him to take Mary as his wife, and when the child is born “…to give him the name, Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph does as he is commanded, takes Mary as his wife but has no sexual union with her until after Jesus is born. This fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son and will call him Immanuel.”
CAESAR AUGUSTUS: A Roman emperor (a small but very important part in the “Play”), who issues a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Everyone must go to his own town to register. This requires Joseph to go up to Bethlehem, taking the very pregnant Mary with him, since he is of the house and line of David. This fulfills the words of the prophet Micah written over 700 years before, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, …from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” (Micah 5:2, NASB)
THE SHEPHERDS: Generally poor, uneducated men doing what they do every night. Nothing extra-ordinary happens to them with the exception of an occasional predator coming along to scare away or kill to protect their sheep. But the Author of the “Play” has something special planned for this night. They are about to be astonished by the brilliant shekinah glory of the Lord ripping open the quiet night skies, the angelic proclamation of a newly-born Savior and a great multitude of angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests." After recovering their senses, they hurry off to find the Savior. After seeing Mary, Joseph and the Babe in the manger “just as they had been told,” they return to their work. As they go, they glorify and praise God and testify to everyone who will listen of what they have seen and heard. These men, whom the world would deem unworthy, have been among the first to see God in the flesh!
THE MAGI: Wise men, astronomers, from the east. They have seen “His star” and have traveled a great and dangerous distance to find and worship the newborn King. Stopping in Jerusalem to speak with King Herod, they find that the new King of the Jews is to be born in Bethlehem. Going there, these obviously wealthy and prestigious men now bow in worship before this special Baby, recognizing Him as King. After seeing the Savior and presenting Him with their precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they are warned in a dream not to tell Herod where they have found the Babe so they return to their own country another way.
HEROD, THE GREAT: The “bad-guy” in this drama, the current so-called “King of the Jews.” He is greatly disturbed by the Magi’s questions, since the birth of a new king would mean his reign is nearly at an end. He is a tyrant of the worst kind. He has already had many of his own family murdered so that they cannot threaten his throne. Herod is a secular Jew that follows their strict dietary laws including never eating pork. A commentator of his time stated, “I would rather be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son!” Herod deceives and lies to the Magi, asking them to return to him after they have found the baby so that he, too, “may go and worship him.” When the Magi do not return to him, he puts his satanically inspired plan to kill the Christ child into effect. Without knowing the exact location or age of the Baby, he orders the death of all Jewish male children under age two who were being raised the Bethlehem area.
CHIEF PRIESTS AND TEACHERS OF THE LAW: the Jewish scholars, theologians and religious leaders of their day. After the Magi come asking their questions, Herod consults these Jewish scholars to find out where the Christ is to be born. They know the prophecies and teachings of Scripture that explicitly detail the time and place of the Messiah’s birth which they relay to Herod but they have become quite comfortable in their positions of power; they want no new king. There is no place in Scripture that records any of them seeking out the Christ child. Conversely, it is mostly men in these positions that call for the crucifixion of Christ a little over thirty years later—perhaps some of these very men.
SIMEON: A righteous and devout Jew to whom it has been revealed by God that he will not die before he has seen the Messiah. Moved by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple on the very day that Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to be dedicated to God, he takes Him in his arms and praises God saying, “…my eyes have seen Your Salvation... a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel.” He blessed the holy family and also prophesied of Jesus’ ministry and death.
ANNA: An elderly and devout prophetess who, having been widowed countless years ago, now spends all of her time, night and day, in the temple worshiping, fasting and praying. At the very moment that Simeon was speaking, Anna, also drawn by the Holy Spirit, recognized the Christ. She praised and gave thanks to God and testified of the Holy Babe to all around who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
JESUS CHRIST, Son of God and Son of Man: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning… The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1: 1-2, 14). Jesus willingly gave up the majesty and acclaim of heaven. He humbled Himself so far as to be born a baby in a stable surrounded by the stench of animals and among human beings, most that would neither recognize Him nor care that He had arrived. As a Man, he got hungry, cold, and tired. As he grew, he was tempted in all ways, just as we are, yet was without even one sin. Then, in the fullness of His time, at the exact moment prophesied, he gave up His life on the Roman cross. The Jews of His day intentionally and wrongfully condemned Him to death; the Romans carried out their dreadful crucifixion; but it was our sins—theirs, yours and mine—that fashioned the nails. The final curtain fell. Jesus was dead. But, the great “Play” doesn’t end there.
For three days all heaven held its breath. Then the Father cried, “ARISE, MY SON!”
Jesus is not dead! He rose again to life everlasting and lives today in heaven in the place of honor at the right hand of God the Father! And you too can you live forever with Him because Jesus says in His Word, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die...”
As the “Drama” now continues, what role will you play? At the end of it all, where will you be found?
Scripture says, “Today is the day of salvation.” Don’t delay. I urge you to receive Christ into your heart! Live for Christ every day of the year! Anticipate spending an eternity with Christ! He desires you to be with Him. After all, He died so that you could serve and live for Him. He has Spiritual Gifts for you so you can sacrificially serve others as he served and loved other.