Today is Christmas Eve. Today around the world, billions of people are preparing to worship the Savior in remembrance of His incarnation 2,000 years ago. As I have been reading and thinking about the Christmas story from the Gospel accounts this year, I have been struck by how the past two millenia have impacted our understanding of the Christmas story. As I mentioned, a large portion of the world’s population is (at the very least) aware that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. Christians also believe that this birthday is significant because Jesus was not just a good man, He was the Son of God who would eventually die on the cross to save mankind from the dire consequences of sin.
Though billions celebrate Christmas today, the night Christ was born, very few people actually took notice. Throughout the Roman Empire, people were busy traveling to their ancestral homes to comply with Caesar Augustus’s census. They were so busy with their own life, they did not see the star in the sky. The vast majority of Jewish people were carrying on “life as normal” in Palestine on the night Christ was born. Think about the nativity set you have at your house. How many pieces are there? Five? Ten? If it is a big set, maybe 15 pieces . . . but at least half of those are probably animals or angels. Think of the implications of that. On the night Christ was born . . . the first Christmas night . . . only a handful of people were aware. Joseph knew. Mary knew. The shepherds knew. The Magi began to travel. Possibly an inn keeper knew . . . maybe a few family members, etc. The bottom line is that the first Christmas was a far more intimate affair than today. If large attendance makes an event (and of course it does not) then Christmas today is a big success, and the first Christmas was lacking. The contrast is that stark.
Of course the first Christmas was perfect . . . just as God designed. When God shows up, how could it be anything else? However, it is important for us to remember just how humble His beginnings were. I think sometimes we scratch our heads when we read the Gospels, wondering how the Jewish people of Jesus day could have missed recognizing Him as the Messiah. The truth is that Jesus’ contemporaries got to know Him as He grew up as a normal guy . . . seeing only three years of public ministry. Most people missed the heavenly celebration at His birth, and those who did see Him born, would not have connected the dots to the manger throne. Certainly Jesus life and ministry identified Him as the Messiah, but the first coming of Christ was actually in quite a bit of “normal” looking things, somewhat camouflaging Jesus true identity from those who lacked faith. These were the circumstances of His first Advent.
The Bible is quite clear, however, that Jesus will make a second Advent (or appearance) on the earth. The second coming of Christ will be just as real and historical as His first Advent. Though there are similarities between Christ’s first and second advent, there are also some marked differences. One major difference deals with people seeing Him at His coming.
As we noticed, the first advent was an intimate affair, however His second advent will be something that captures every eye on the planet. Jesus says of His second coming, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30).” At His first coming, Jesus came in humble garb (as a baby), however His second advent will see Him coming in great power and glory! Though all of us look back on the first advent of Christ with wonder, we ought to equally look forward to His second coming with awe. When He returns He will establish His Kingdom fully on earth forevermore.
This Christmas, as we look back on His first coming and look forward to His next coming, we will most likely do it around candlelight (at some point). As you see the candles of Christmas, think about a parable Christ taught about His second coming in Matthew 25:1-13:
“Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bride-groom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying ‘Lord, lord open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
This parable reminds us that we must prepare today so that we can celebrate with Christ when He returns again. The story of Christ’s first advent should inspire us to prepare our hearts for Christ’s return. We know from other places in Scripture that what God desires from each of us is that we place our faith in Jesus Christ and His saving work on the cross. If we have done that, then we have His oil in the lamps of our lives, and we are ready to greet Him whenever He returns.
The annual celebration of Christ’s birth is also an annual reminder that He will one day return again. Will you be ready when He does?