1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. 2 This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, 5 to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough —because there was no room for them at the lodging place.
8 In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” 13 Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 14 Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!
15 When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the feeding trough. 17 After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…” —Luke 2:10
Recently, I read an article about “atheist churches.” I’d skimmed some other articles referring to this movement before, but had not taken it seriously. However, included within this article were photos of people smiling, giving high-fives, and purchasing merchandise with “God-less is more” and “Born again Humanist.”
My heart broke. Tears filled my eyes. No words—just sadness surrounded with questions like: When did this happen? How did this happen? What have we done to the idea of God that has driven people away?
Yet as I write this, I’m listening to Christmas music. (Ironic, I know.) For I can just look at Christmas today in America and find many of the answers to the questions I just asked myself.
Perhaps what strikes me the most with these atheist churches is that they love the community but hate the ritual. They love the spiritual but hate the religion. Ok, I can get that, for those can be separated. But you can’t receive the joy without the God. That’s the point of compromise we can’t concede with Christmas.
So, let me see if I can look at this passage without “ritual” or “religion.” Take a moment to read it again. This may be easier than I thought, for I can find little in this passage that’s naturally either—for this was the first time it was told.
Churches and commercialism hadn’t had time to gain opinion poll data on how things should happen or strict schedules and correctness that would chop and edit the content into more acceptable, digestible parts. Here it is—a factual account of a birth.
Duty is demonstrated. Respect resounds. Concern for the comfort of the mother. Fulfillment of a foretold prophecy. Excitement of exceeded expectations. Peace of a promise kept.
The joy of Jesus—that’s Christmas. Joy that cancels fear. Joy that leads to a purpose. Joy that sustains hearts. Joy that only comes with Jesus. No required rituals. No redundant religion.
- Can you detail a part of the Christmas story where you have allowed tradition to skew the story?
- Allow yourself to think through the passage. Where can you see duty, respect, concert, fulfillment, excitement, peace?
- Focus on an intentional area of joy today – joy that is a result of Jesus, not ritual.