What was life like in Jerusalem on December 26, 4 BC, the day after Jesus was born?
Pretty much the same as it was on December 24 BC, the day before He was born.
Herod Agrippa still ruled. He still put the innocent to death, forced his unwilling subjects to labor on his great building projects, and exercised his cruel will at the cost of all around him.
Rome still exercised its ruthless rule, upsetting the lives of its citizens in order to get an accurate count of the empire’s population so they could collect the taxes they needed to fund wars, do public works, maintain the empire, and enrich the elite.
Crucifixions occurred regularly, the Pharisees and the Sadducees carried out their usual theological jousting, and the priests conducted the temple ritual without a break. Money and products changed hands in the marketplace without interruption. Life went on its ho-hum way with no awareness that the most momentous event in history until that time had occurred a mere five miles away in Bethlehem.
December 26th 4 BC Jerusalem was pretty much like December 26th in our time: the day after Christmas, just another day—unless we consider cashing in on all those bargains something special. For most of us it’s a day of recovery on the way to New Years. Christmas is over, and, even though the decorations remain, nothing is more stale than left-over Christmas.
Christmas gets a lot more attention in our time than it did in the ancient world, but it’s impact is often no different. Oh, we celebrate it, but what does it mean? The biggest shopping event of the year, the greatest moneymaker we have, a legal holiday, a wonderful family time, twenty-four hours of traditional music?
The problem is Christmas is overwhelmed by Christmas. The tinsel of Christmas overwhelms the wonder of Christmas; all the decorations mask the emptiness of the holiday for many.
Make certain you understand the full meaning of Christmas; make sure you realize how truly momentous Christmas was and never again let any day be a ho-hum day because Christ’s birth changes not only our lives, but our times. Christ’s birth is a statement from God that He is sovereign, that He rules the Roman Empire and every empire that ever has been or ever will be. There is no December 26, no ho-hum day; there is only December 25, the day of God’s glory, the day God demonstrated His place in history and called all men to bow to Him.
Think of the divine joke God played on the Roman Empire, letting them take themselves so seriously with their wars and their internecine struggles and their affairs and their great pomp—most of which mean very little now. The joke is that God let the Romans think they were in control, that they ruled the world, that they were all powerful, while the reality was they were only a crucifixion away from defeat and consignment to the pages of history, a once glorious empire overcome by a baby in a manger.
And think of yourself. Is the joke on you as well? Where in your life do you think you’re in control? Where in your life do you think that you have the power to plan your way and guarantee your future? If that is true, why are you angry? Anger comes because of frustration and loss of control when our way is blocked and we find ourselves inadequate to get what we want? What do you covet? Why do you take yourself so seriously? Don’t you realize that when you take yourself that seriously, you are not taking yourself seriously enough? You are worth Emanuel, the coming of Jesus, the humiliation of the Son of God. If you’re worth that much, don’t waste your life on positions you strive to attain, on fame you seek to gain, on power you struggle to possess. You know what happens when you get it? It turns into a cruel joke that gets you. It corrodes your health, destroys your relationships, and leaves you broken, defeated, lonely, and dead.
Don’t let the joke be on you. Turn the season of Christmas into a full cup of joy and amazement and praise and drink of it totally, not only on December 25, but for the whole of the Christmas week and the rest of the year. Continue to praise God for the coming of Jesus; lead your family in an ongoing celebration; rejoice in the promises of the prophets, put together a scrapbook of Christmas memories, rejoice in the Lord. And again I say, Rejoice!