This morning I quoted the Christmas story from Luke 2 as I lay awake waiting for sunrise. It is the appearance of angels, the wonder of the shepherds, and the announcement of peace on earth. How different Luke’s view is from Matthew. Matthew’s Christmas story describes the shame and fear of a young couple, the violence and hatred of a king, the butchering of babies, and pagan Magi who read the stars. Then in Matthew chapter 3, John the Baptist appears suddenly on the scene to rebuke a generation of vipers, and to cry out a message of repentance before the great destruction of Jerusalem and all of its tradition. God will soon open the floodgates of His love for us, so that even stones could become the sons of Abraham. Though we hold on to the feel-good Luke account, Matthew adds reality and urgency to the season, and it seems to me in these days, we are in great need of his Christmas message.
Above the carols and endless plays that have enshrined the ten words of Luke regarding Jesus’ birth in a stable, listen also in this season for the voice crying in the wilderness. We must give that voice equal ground if we would celebrate the birth of Christ. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Bring forth fruits meet for repentance. The One who comes after me will baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire. He will purge His floor, He will gather His wheat, and He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
The Christmas story of Matthew is so full of violence. It demands uprooted lives. Mary and Joseph must flee to Egypt. The Pharisees and Sadducees must forsake all of their security and tradition and embrace the Messiah, or be destroyed. The message is urgent. The time is now. Can we talk about the birth of Christ in sincerity and keep our vision tunneled in Luke? Can we only talk about angels and shepherds and all of the tinsel and fiction we have invented to create an undescribed stable? Can we just deck our trees with silver and gold and pretend Matthew never told a Christmas story?
Of course we can. The whole world does so this time of year, and mall madness and the white bearded fat man with flying reindeer dominates our world, and the courts fight to put an imaginary nativity on their city square. There is another Christmas message. Can you feel the darkness, the evil, the wail of Bethlehem women holding dead babies, and the fears of Joseph as he realizes kings and authorities are trying to kill a mere child? Do you think about the wild man dressed in camel’s hair screaming desperately into the desert winds to repent because time is running out?
These too are Christmas messages, and today they are words of mercy. God wants us to forsake our dead works, leave the empty traditions that would keep the world out of the kingdom, and to hear the prophet’s words to bring forth fruits—the evidence of a life laid down for the sake of the gospel. The sweet story of Luke is accepted by all, but it is Matthew’s story– the heavenly war of repentance and embracing the kingdom that will change my life and my nation and my world. Repent and believe, uproot your life, abandon your comforts, and seek the Messiah who was born to die. This is the true Christmas celebration.