Why Christmas is Bad News
Think about it. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her that she is about to fall miraculously pregnant, despite the fact she is a virgin and has never slept with her fiancé. That must have sounded like pretty bad news on the face of it. She would be ostracised by her community. Unless her fiancé were a man of exceptional faith, she would also be dumped before her wedding day. Even if he believed this Christmas story, their child would be permanently ridiculed as the supposed fruit of premarital sexual sin. So when the angel told Mary that all this would happen because “you have found favour with God”, she might have been forgiven for not feeling very grateful.
Or take the shepherds at watch outside Bethlehem. The angel appeared to them and promised “I bring you good news of great joy”, but what followed was an exceptionally inconvenient challenge. They must leave their sheep unprotected on the hillside and take a trip of faith into Bethlehem to worship at a manger. Naturally, they asked for a miracle to show them that it was worth risking everything to kneel before Jesus, but the only sign the angel offered was that after they had gone in faith they would find a baby in a manger, just as he had promised. Frankly, that wasn’t the kind of miracle they were looking for at all. For the shepherds, good news of great joy meant having to risk everything in faith that the baby Jesus was truly the Messiah.
How about the wise men? Leading exponents of the Zoroastrian religion, they saw a star from their homes in modern-day Iran, and knew from astrology textbooks that this heralded good news. For them, the good news would mean leaving friends and family behind to undertake a dangerous journey to faraway Palestine to look for the Saviour-King. It would mean turning their backs on their own misguided religion and marking their conversion to Christ by giving him the very best presents their money could buy. Seeing the star was good news for the wise men, but it came disguised as very bad news all the same.
Finally, King Herod. When the wise men arrived at his palace in Jerusalem and asked to see the baby who was the true King of the Jews, it didn’t sound much like good news to Herod. He summoned experts who read him the Old Testament prophecies about God’s coming Messiah, then told them to take their Bible readings away so that his soldiers could murder every baby boy in the vicinity. Christmas is the message that Jesus is King and you are not. Herod thought that this was very bad news and, frankly, so do most people today. But it isn’t. It’s actually why Christmas is such brilliant news.
In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published a book which argued that the Earth revolves around the Sun and not vice versa. His view was picked up by Galileo, who was hauled before religious and secular rulers to be condemned as a heretic in 1633. His enemies wanted the Sun to revolve around themselves, but fortunately for them Galileo’s scientific news was true. If the Sun actually revolved around the Earth, then there could be no such thing as life as we know it. In time, people would come to see why it was such good news for the Sun and not the Earth to be the centre of the solar system.
That is the message of Christmas. Ultimately, it’s not a message about us at all, but about the King of the universe coming to Earth as a human being. The prophet Malachi called him “the righteous Sun”, and the universe ultimately revolves around him. Sin, suffering, pain and destruction are all symptoms of people trying to make the world revolve around themselves, but peace, forgiveness, healing and salvation are all gifts for those who recognise Jesus as the King of the universe and who bow their knees in worship.
Christmas sounded like terrible news to King Herod because he liked to play-act as king, but if he had embraced it he would have found peace and salvation.
Christmas sounded like inconvenient news to the wise men, but because they were willing to sacrifice homeland, friends, religion and treasures for the sake of worshipping the Righteous Sun, they found the eternal life which Herod missed out on.
Christmas sounded like risky news to the shepherds, but because they placed their faith in God’s Word they found peace and salvation.
Christmas might have sounded like very bad news to Mary, but she had long since stopped trying to make the world revolve around herself. She was a worshipper of the Lord, who let her life revolve around him, so she greeted the angel’s mesage as the fantastic news that it really was. Jesus, the true King and Centre of the Universe, was coming to Earth to reconcile us to God. In a world full of little Herods who like pretending to be gods and who suffer from the damage, this truly is good news of great joy.
So don’t be trite about the meaning of Christmas this year, and don’t resist this real message like foolish King Herod. Embrace the call to bow the knee to Jesus and to confess that your life must revolve around him. Say with Mary in Luke 1:
I am the Lord’s servant … My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour … for the Mighty One has done great things for me … He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble.