Sounds I Hear At Christmas
That night in Bethlehem when Jesus Christ was born, was a night of startling contrasts in the sounds that were heard…
There were the sounds out on the hillsides and the sounds in the town; the sounds in the stable and the sounds in the inn; the sound of angels’ voices booming like a mighty pipe organ and the sound of a mother singing a soft, low lullaby. There were the shouts of glad tidings about a promised peace on the earth and there were the first weak cries of an infant who would grow up to be called the “Prince of Peace.” There were the hearty accolades of the Wise Men from the east and there were the adoring murmurs of shepherds from the nearby fields. Beautiful sounds. Wonderful sounds. Sounds of glory and light.
However, there were other sounds heard that night. They were not so beautiful and wonderful. Rather they were sounds with a sinister significance. I hear those sounds every Christmas. I hear them every time the story is told. The sounds are not specifically mentioned in Scripture, but every time I read the Scriptures I hear them. The sounds to which I refer were prophetic—that is, they spoke of what was to come. And the sounds to which I refer are symbolic—that is, they speak of what still is. Listen for the sounds and I think you will understand what I mean…
There was that first Christmas the sound of a slamming door.
You can hear it in what I regard as the saddest sentence ever written: “There was no room for them in the inn.”
No doubt the Bethlehem inn was crowded that night, but please note that there was room there for the friends of Caesar. The civil authorities who had come to supervise the census and the soldiers who had come to keep order managed to find a place to lay their heads. There was room there for those who sought entertainment and for those who provided it. Of course, the world always makes room for people like that. But for an exhausted couple, soon to become the earthly parents of our Lord Jesus Christ, there was no room. And as I read that line in Scripture, I always hear the slamming of a door in the face of the Saviour. They must have heard the sound of that slamming door in heaven—and wept. They must have heard it in hell —and rejoiced.
That slamming door was prophetic, for it spoke of what was to be. You see, this same Jesus would come to His own people and they would receive Him not. His hometown friends and acquaintances ultimately ran Him out of town. His own followers, in the end, denied Him, deserted Him—one even betrayed Him. They would not believe Him and they would not believe in Him—and at the last they left Him suspended between heaven and earth, spiked to a tree, laying down His life as a ransom for many, shedding His blood for the forgiveness of sins! He died alone on Calvary with every door slammed against Him.
But that slamming door is also symbolic for it speaks of what still is. It reflects the inhospitality of the human heart—yes, even sometimes your heart and mine. How many hearts there are which shut Jesus out by the refusal to believe, the unwillingness to seek His way, or the turning away from His commands. If we are at all honest, we will have to admit that at times we have closed Him out. Knowing the power of prayer, still we do not pray. Knowing that Christ is able to do all things, still we will not trust Him with our problems or lay our burdens at His feet. Knowing that the way of faith leads to all the glory of the kingdom of heaven, still we cling to the notion that we can go it alone in life. We worry and fret and make ourselves sick with anxiety, and all the while Jesus stands outside the door, willing to help us, but we will not let Him in.
And how many homes there are that refuse admittance to the strong and saving Son of God. They are so quick to admit the god of wine and good times, or the god of ambition and financial success, or the god of pride and social standing. But, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, that is another matter. Yes, there are so many homes and so many hearts unwilling to admit Jesus Christ. Is that true of your heart and your home? Do you understand that that is the most important question you will ever answer in your life?
There is a moving scene in The Caine Mutiny when Willie, a crewmember on board the ship, receives a letter of advice from his dying father. The father writes: “By the time you get this letter I will be dead. But before I go there are three things I want to say to you. First, Willie, remember that there is nothing more precious than time. Wasted hours destroy your life just as surely at the beginning as at the end. Second, Willie, remember religion. I’m afraid I haven’t given you much, not having much ourselves. But I am going to mail you a Bible before I go into the hospital. Get familiar with the words. You will never regret it. I came to the Bible as I came to everything in life, too late. And third, Willie, think of me as I might have been.”
Isn’t that sad? “Think of me as I might have been.” O my friends, there are many who are hearing my voice today who are not what they ought to be in life. They will not make enough room in their lives for Jesus Christ, and consequently they have never yet become all that God so earnestly wants them to be. This Christmas, remember religion. Remember the Christ who longs to gain entrance into your life. You see, I don’t want you to come to the end of your life, or the end of this Christmas, saying: “Think of me as I might have been.” Open the door of your heart and the door of your home to the Saviour. Fall on your knees before Him and, like Thomas of old, say: “My Lord and my God!”
And there was that first Christmas the sound of a laughing king.
You can hear it in what I regard as the most sinister sentence ever written: “When Herod ascertained from the Wise Men what time the star had appeared, he sent them to Bethlehem saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child and when you have found him, bring me word that I too may come and worship him.'”
So reads the record, but behind the words I hear the brutal, sarcastic laughter of a king. “That I too may come and worship him.” Herod must have burst out laughing at the trick he believed he had played upon those so-called “Wise Men.” If only they knew! Ha! The very idea of great Herod ever bowing down before anyone else. How utterly laughable!
But his laughter had hardly died away before more terrible sounds were heard—the shrieking of innocent mothers and the crying of little children as Herod proceeded to turn the pages of history and the story of Christmas blood-red with a massacre of the little ones in his mad effort to rid himself of Jesus Christ. Herod’s fear was that someone else would take his throne. He saw Jesus as a threat—and he would stop at nothing to try to stop Jesus.
Lots of people are like him. They are not quite so bloodthirsty—they are much more subtle than that—but they are like him. They won’t allow anything to interfere with their career, their position, their power, their plans, or their lifestyles. Understand, please, that these people don’t mind taking time off work to celebrate Jesus’ birth. They are quite happy to attach Him to the outer edges of their lives and call themselves “Christians.” They are even willing to embrace Him as a last resort when they get into trouble. But they will not surrender heart, mind, body, and soul to Him. They will not let Him be what He came to be—the King and ruler of their lives.
History has preserved for us a most remarkable document written by the man who served as the president of the province of Judea during the earthly ministry of Jesus. The man’s name was Publius Lentulus. He sent an official report to the Roman Senate describing what he knew about Jesus. It is fascinating to read. Mind you, he was not a believer, but listen to what he wrote:
“There lives in Judea a man of singular character whose name is Jesus Christ. He is endowed with such unparalleled virtue as to call the dead from the grave and to heal any kind of disease with a word or a touch. This person is tall. His aspect is amiable and reverent. His hair flows into those beautiful shades which no united color can match. His forehead is smooth and large. His cheeks are without spot save that of a lovely red. His beard is thick. He rebukes with majesty, commands with mildness, and invites with a most tender and persuasive language. No man has ever seen him laugh, but many have seen him weep, and so persuasive are his tears that the multitudes cannot withhold their own tears from joining in sympathy with his. Whatever this phenomenal man may turn out to be in the end, he seems at present to surpass in every way all other children of men.”
That is a wonderfully appealing description of Jesus, but it falls short of the full truth. You see, Jesus has always been called the ideal human, the supreme example of love, the highest model of religion, the foremost pattern of virtue, the greatest of all leaders, and the finest teacher who ever lived. All of those descriptions capture elements of His character, but as gloriously truthful as they are, they are still inadequate. My friends, this Christmas, see Him for what He really is—not just a splendid figure of history, but the King and Ruler of your life and mine. Please, don’t be tempted to laugh Him off like Herod tried to do. Instead, fall on your knees before Him and, like Thomas of old, say: “My Lord and my God!”
Then, thank God, there was that first Christmas the sound of a crying baby.
You can hear it in what I regard as the sweetest sentence ever written: “She gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.”
In those simple words, and in the baby’s cry you hear behind the words, can be found our greatest hope as human beings. I have always loved the sports stories written by Frank Deford in the magazine “Sports Illustrated.” Yet I think his greatest writing came in a little book that had nothing to do with sports. It is entitled Alex, The Life Of A Child. It is the story of his daughter, Alexandra—he called her “Alex”—who died at age eight of cystic fibrosis. It is the triumphant tale of a bright, contagiously joyful child who suffered much, but who delighted many. She died in her father’s arms while holding her mother’s hand. One of the most touching passages in the book came when they attended church at Christmas all together for the last time as a family. The children of the church participated in the service by coming forward to place the different figures in the manger scene which was on the altar at the front of the church. Little Alex, who had been so sick for so long, was given the assignment of placing the baby in the manger. Her father wondered how she would ever be able to stand and walk forward on her desperately weakened legs. However, he said that she beamed when her time came, hopped right up, marched smartly to the creche, took the baby and tenderly placed it in the manger. Then he broke open his heart and gave us this sentence: “Right after she placed the baby Jesus, she came back to us with such a light in her face that I knew her future would be forever!”
O my friends, this Christmas, come to know that that is what the baby crying in a manger is all about. He came at Christmastime so that our future, yours and mine, will be forever. That is why, like Thomas of old, we call Him: “My Lord and my God.” And that is why in our hearts we sing:
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.