Reginald Fessenden had been working for years to achieve wireless radio communication. Other scientists found his ideas radical and unorthodox, and doubted he would succeed. But he claims that on December 24, 1906, he became the first person to ever play music over the radio.
Fessenden held a contract with a fruit company which had installed wireless systems on roughly a dozen boats to communicate about the harvesting and marketing of bananas. That Christmas Eve, Fessenden said that he told the wireless operators on board all ships to pay attention. At 9 o'clock they heard his voice.
He reportedly played a record of an operatic aria, and then he pulled out his violin, playing “O Holy Night,” and singing the words to the last verse as he played. Finally, he offered Christmas greetings and read from Luke 2 the story of angels announcing the birth of a Savior to shepherds in Bethlehem.
Both the shepherds in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago and the sailors on board the United Fruit Company ships in 1906 heard an unexpected, surprising message of hope on a dark night. And God still speaks that same message of hope to us today. A Savior has been born for us - Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11)! We can join the choir of angels and believers through the ages who respond with “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).
“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ at my right, Christ at my left . . .” These hymn lyrics, written by the fifth-century Celtic Christian St. Patrick, echo in my mind when I read Matthew’s account of Jesus’s birth. They feel like a warm embrace, reminding me that I’m never alone.
Matthew’s account tells us that God dwelling with His people is at the heart of Christmas. Quoting Isaiah’s prophecy of a child who would be called Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Isa. 7:14), Matthew points to the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy—Jesus, the One born by the power of the Holy Spirit to be God with us. This truth is so central that Matthew begins and ends his gospel with it, concluding with Jesus’s words to His disciples: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
St. Patrick’s lyrics remind me that Christ is with believers always through His Spirit living within. When I’m nervous or afraid, I can hold fast to His promises that He will never leave me. When I can’t fall asleep, I can ask Him to give me His peace. When I’m celebrating and filled with joy, I can thank Him for His gracious work in my life.
Jesus, Immanuel—God with us.
Long before Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber created the familiar carol “Silent Night,” Angelus Silesius had written:
Lo! in the silent night a child to God is born,
And all is brought again that ere was lost or lorn.
Could but thy soul, O man, become a silent night
God would be born in thee and set all things aright.
Silesius, a Polish monk, published the poem in 1657 in The Cherubic Pilgrim. During our church’s annual Christmas Eve service, the choir sang a beautiful rendition of the song titled “Could but Thy Soul Become a Silent Night.”
The twofold mystery of Christmas is that God became one of us so that we might become one with Him. Jesus suffered everything that was wrong so that we could be made right. That’s why the apostle Paul could write, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone; the new is here! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17–18).
Whether our Christmas is filled with family and friends or empty of all we long for, we know that Jesus came to be born in us.
Ah, would thy heart but be a manger for the birth,
God would once more become a child on earth.
Christmas 1982 found me on assignment in a place many of my friends couldn’t locate on a map. Trudging from my worksite back to my room, I braced against the chill wind blowing off the bleak Black Sea. I missed home.
When I arrived at my room, I opened the door to a magical moment. My artistic roommate had completed his latest project—a nineteen-inch ceramic Christmas tree that now illuminated our darkened room with sparkling dots of color. If only for a moment, I was home again!
As Jacob fled from his brother Esau, he found himself in a strange and lonely place too. Asleep on the hard ground, he met God in a dream. And God promised Jacob a home. “I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying,” He told him. “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (Gen. 28:13–14).
From Jacob, of course, would come the promised Messiah, the One who left His home to draw us to Himself. “I will come back and take you to be with me so that you also may be where I am,” Jesus told His disciples (John 14:3).
That December night in 1982 I sat in the darkness of my room and gazed at that Christmas tree. Perhaps inevitably I thought of the Light that entered the world to show us the way home.
At the end of the Old Testament, God seems to be in hiding. For four centuries, the Jews wait and wonder. God seems passive, unconcerned, and deaf to their prayers. Only one hope remains: the ancient promise of a Messiah. On that promise the Jews stake everything. And then something momentous happens. The birth of a baby is announced.
You can catch the excitement just by reading the reactions of people in Luke. Events surrounding Jesus’s birth resemble a joy-filled musical. Characters crowd into the scene: a white-haired great uncle (Luke 1:5–25), an astonished virgin (1:26–38), the old prophetess Anna (2:36). Mary herself lets loose with a beautiful hymn (1:46–55). Even Jesus’s unborn cousin kicks for joy inside his mother’s womb (1:41).
Luke takes care to make direct connections to Old Testament promises of a Messiah. The angel Gabriel even calls John the Baptist an “Elijah” sent to prepare the way for the Lord (1:17). Clearly, something is brewing on planet Earth. Among the dreary, defeated villagers in a remote corner of the Roman Empire, something good is breaking out.
As Star Wars fans around the world eagerly await the release of Episode 8, “The Last Jedi,” people continue to analyze the remarkable success of these films dating back to 1977. Frank Pallotta, media reporter for CNNMoney, said that Star Wars connects with many who long for “a new hope and a force of good at a time when the world needs heroes.”
At the time of Jesus’s birth, the people of Israel were oppressed and longing for their long-promised Messiah. Many anticipated a hero to deliver them from Roman tyranny, but Jesus did not come as a political or military hero. Instead, He came as baby to the town of Bethlehem. As a result, many missed who He was. The apostle John wrote, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).
More than a hero, Jesus came as our Savior. He was born to bring God’s light into the darkness and to give His life so that everyone who receives Him could be forgiven and freed from the power of sin. John called Him “the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (v. 14).
“To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (v. 12). Indeed, Jesus is the one true hope the world needs.
About 230 families and individuals live at Macpherson Gardens, Block 72 in my neighborhood. Each person has his or her own life story. On the tenth floor resides an elderly woman whose children have grown up, gotten married, and moved out. She lives by herself now. Just a few doors away from her is a young couple with two kids—a boy and a girl. And a few floors below lives a young man serving in the army. He has been to church before; maybe he will visit again on Christmas Day. I met these people last Christmas when our church went caroling in the neighborhood to spread Christmas cheer.
Every Christmas—as on the first Christmas—many people do not know that God has entered into our world as a baby whose name is Jesus (Luke 1:68; 2:11). Or they do not know the significance of that event—that it is “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (2:10). Yes, all people! Regardless of our nationality, race, gender, or status, Jesus came to die for us and offer us complete forgiveness so that we can be reconciled with Him and enjoy His love, joy, peace, and hope. Indeed, all people, from the woman next door to the colleagues we have lunch with, need to hear this wonderful news!
On the first Christmas, the angels were the bearers of this joyous news. Today, God desires to work through us to take the story to others.
“How much longer until it’s Christmas?” When my children were little, they asked this question repeatedly. Although we used a daily Advent calendar to count down the days to Christmas, they still found the waiting excruciating.
We can easily recognize a child’s struggle with waiting, but we might underestimate the challenge it can involve for all of God’s people. Consider, for instance, those who received the message of the prophet Micah, who promised that out of Bethlehem would come a “ruler over Israel” (5:2) who would “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord” (v. 4). The initial fulfillment of this prophecy came when Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1) —after the people had waited some 700 years. But some of the prophecy’s fulfillment is yet to come. For we wait in hope for the return of Jesus, when all of God’s people will “live securely” and “his greatness will reach the ends of the earth” (v. 4). Then we will rejoice greatly, for our long wait will be over.
Most of us don’t find waiting easy, but we can trust that God will honor His promises to be with us as we wait (28:20). For when Jesus was born in little Bethlehem, He ushered in life in all its fullness (see John 10:10)—life without condemnation. We enjoy His presence with us today while we eagerly wait for His return.
Sometimes I joke that I'm going to write a book titled On Time. Those who know me smile because they know I am often late. I rationalize that my lateness is due to optimism, not to lack of trying. I optimistically cling to the faulty belief that “this time” I will be able to get more done in less time than ever before. But I can't, and I don't, so I end up having to apologize yet again for my failure to show up on time.
In contrast, God is always on time. We may think He's late, but He's not. Throughout Scripture we read about people becoming impatient with God’s timing. The Israelites waited and waited for the promised Messiah. Some gave up hope. But Simeon and Anna did not. They were in the temple daily praying and waiting (Luke 2:25-26, 37). And their faith was rewarded. They got to see the infant Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought Him to be dedicated (vv, 27-32, 38).
When we become discouraged because God doesn't respond according to our timetable, Christmas reminds us that “when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son . . . that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4-5). God’s timing is always perfect, and it is worth the wait.