I thought I had learnt and understood everything about Christmas by now: I’ve celebrated the birth of Jesus as a follower for the last nine years; not only attended Christmas Day services and Carols by Candlelight services every year, but listened to the Bible readings and sermons multiple times at carol services each year being part of the choir; I sang the truth of “Jesus our Emmanuel”, “Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die” along to my only Christmas music CD for the whole month of December. But I have always been a keen reader of Timothy Keller’s books plus a good friend bought me this book (thanks Penny), so I decided to read it before Christmas this year to prepare for the celebration. I thoroughly recommend it, especially if you are like me, and think you know everything about this day.
In order not to spoil your read, I’ll just give a couple of examples why I recommend this book. It explains the account of Jesus’ birth from new perspectives. For example, the genealogy of Jesus at the beginning of Matthew. Have you ever read it patiently? What is the point of this long list of names? Yes, it shows that this is real traceable history we can trust and that God keeps his promises. Looking closer, did you noticed the women in the list? At a time and place that women had low social status and never appeared in family trees, equivalent to a CV to us now, what is Matthew trying to say?
There is a whole chapter on Mary’s faith. It analyses and explains the different stages of her response to the message of the angel. The chapter ends with Mary’s obedience and surrender, which I never thought about carefully before. Mary is not mentioned often in the teachings of my church, maybe to avoid overemphasising her importance as the Roman Catholic Church does. But as a teenage girl who faced scandals from a close-knitted community but surrendered her life to God, as a woman who saw her eldest son died a cruel death, and as an obedient follower of God, I feel like her life and faith deserve a little more attention.
There is also a chapter on the passage of Luke 2:33-35. It’s also a Christmas text, but it’s not one of the Bible readings in Christmas Carol services and I bet you don’t think of it very often. I certainly never noticed it. On the eighth day, baby Jesus was presented at the temple…”Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” How does Jesus bring peace to the earth? “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Keller explains that Christmas is not simply about “peace on the earth, goodwill to men”.
I learnt a lot from the book and it helped me to celebrate this Christmas more meaningfully. I recommend you to read it yourself (any time of year) and to give it to friends and family as a gift for next Christmas!