When I was travelling to my first job 28 years ago I used to pass the journey away in the bus during the winter by counting Christmas trees. The first Christmas tree would appear at the beginning of Dec and by the 24th it was hard to keep count – each night I would start to lose count as the bus moved between Beith and Stevenston.
You cannot doubt the influence of Christmas today as the symbolism of the season seems to get earlier every year.
Amazing to think that Christmas is such a big part of the modern world when you remember how it started! Originating in a backwater town, in a very remote part of Israel. It celebrates a baby born to a woman who wasn't married. Born to a poor family with no influence or connections from a political or human perspective. At the time there would be millions of babies born across the world, many, with much more potential to impact the world to which he/she was born. Children of Kings and Queens, of Caesar’s and potentates - and yet more than 2000 years later we celebrate the birth of Jesus who was born outside in a manger as the innkeeper had no room for a very pregnant woman.
Before I write anything else just think about how amazing this fact is? It staggers logic. We sometimes get so used to things like Christmas or perhaps we just never think about it and as such the impact of the baby Jesus born in Bethlehem gets missed.
Babies grow up and this was true of the man raised in Nazareth by Joseph and Mary. You know the story – He became a very prominent individual in Palestine so much so that his amazing teaching and miracles seemed to threaten the religious leaders at the time. They seemed to get their way by influencing the Romans and after 3 and a half years of preaching Jesus was executed on a cross. As far as the Pharisees and the Teachers of the law were concerned at the time – that was the end of him. They could go on with their normal routine.
A few months after Jesus was put to death something happened. There were rumours in the city that Jesus had come back from the dead but the religious leaders had started a story that his disciples had overpowered a Roman garrison & stolen the body from the tomb.
A group of people meeting in the temple in Jerusalem lead by the disciples of Jesus started to grow at a frantic pace. Before very long there were 5000 men and women meeting in Jesus’s name.
Two of the disciples were going to the temple (Peter and John) and they came across an individual who was begging at the gate. He had never walked since birth. They spoke with the man and in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth they performed a miracle and he was able to walk. This caused a real stir as you would imagine. Most would walk past this man every day as they went to the temple. Suddenly as a result of this miracle he was walking and leaping and praising God.
Those who were responsible for the death of Jesus on the cross were once again dealing with something they thought they had quelled. This person Jesus was dead as far as they were concerned. How did this man walk again? They questioned Peter & John about how they did this. Peter’s answer was very stark. “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed”.
More people were believing in Jesus and the numbers were just getting higher and higher. In a few months since Jesus died he had probably around 10000 followers. The crowds in Jerusalem and nearby towns were following this new movement just as they were before Jesus went to the cross. They were a threat to the religious leadership in the city and they sought to put them in jail & looked to put the disciples to death, just as they had Jesus. In a highly charged situation a Pharisee named Gamaliel gave some very sound advice to the leaders as they debated what to do. He said – “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
At that point they heeded his advice and let the disciples go.
My question is this – what do you think? Was Gamaliel correct? Christianity is still the fastest growing religion across the world. More than 2000 years later we celebrate Christmas and millions follow the man born in Bethlehem called Jesus. Read what another has said about Jesus – “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Jesus said when he was here on earth – “I will build my church” and He still is.