By James Montgomery Boice
If you are not a Christian, the best way to celebrate Christmas is by becoming a Christian, that is, by believing in Jesus, asking Him to come into your heart and determining to follow Him as His disciple. But perhaps you already are a Christian. Perhaps you already have believed in Jesus. How should you celebrate Christmas then?
The story of Mary and the shepherds and the angels gives us some clues.
First, the shepherds "spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child" (Luke 2:17 NIV). This means that they became witnesses to Jesus. That God used them to spread this heavenly message must have stunned them. Shepherds were a despised class in first-century Palestine. The nature of their calling kept them from observing the ceremonial law, which meant a lot to religious people. Shepherds were also considered unreliable and were not even allowed to give testimony in the law courts.
But the angels came to shepherds with the great message that Christ the Lord - the Savior of the world - had been born in the town of David. And despite what others thought of them, the shepherds knew that lost people needed to hear that great message. It is the same today. Jesus is the world's Savior. And people are still lost without Him.
Second, the people who heard the message "were amazed at what the shepherds said to them" (verse 18). People today are hardly amazed at anything, but it is hard to see how anyone can understand what Christmas is about and not be amazed. Christmas is the story of God becoming man, like us, in order to save us from our sins. This truth was so astonishing that people believed even shepherds!
But aren't you amazed when you think about what God did for us? Yes, there is much about God becoming man that we cannot understand, but even if we could understand every bit of it, we still would be amazed.
Third, Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (verse 19 NIV). What Mary did went beyond mere amazement, though she marveled too. This wonderful woman also made an attempt to remember everything that was happening to her in those days and then to figure out what each of these things meant. That is, she took time to think about spiritual things, just as we should do. Christmas is a very busy time. But our time is badly spent if we allow the business of Christmas to keep us from reading the Christmas story again and again, thinking about it.
Fourth, the shepherds "returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen" (verse 20 NIV). This means that they spoke not just to others about the birth of Jesus. They also spoke to God, praising Him for it. They saw the birth of Jesus as something God had done, and they wanted to thank Him.
Here's a suggestion. If you are willing to try to celebrate Christmas like Mary and the shepherds did, don't begin with verse 17, which tells us to tell others about Jesus. Begin with verses 18-20, which tell us to wonder at the birth of Jesus, to ponder its meaning, and to praise God for it. Praise God for sending Jesus. Think about why Jesus came to earth on that cold night so long ago. And marvel that, because of His birth, life, death, and resurrection, you have not suffered God's just punishment for your sins but rather have been saved from them.
From The Christ of Christmas, by James Montgomery Boice, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, (c)1983. Used with permission. James Montgomery Boice holds a B.A. from Harvard University, a B.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Th.D. from University of Basel, Switzerland. He is chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.