Posted by Andreas Köstenberger
As a little boy, I was blessed to grow up in the small country of Austria, the land of “Silent Night, Holy Night” and of The Sound of Music. Christmas was truly a special time of the year, and many Christmases were in fact white. My sister and I would leave our wish list for the Christ child on our window sill the night before Christmas (we celebrated on Christmas Eve), and then, on Christmas Eve, behind closed doors, we heard our Christmas tree being set up and decorated by (we surmised) angels. Later that evening, we would enter our living room, and, lo and behold, find most of the presents we had wished for. What a joy for a child’s heart! Receiving presents! Little did it dawn on us that Christmas was not only a time to receive presents but, at least in the original instance, entailed a call to witness.
From Reliable Sources
To bear witness, in turn, we must first check our sources to make sure they’re accurate. Aren’t you glad we have the story of the incarnation on good authority? Matthew may well have heard it directly from Joseph, and Luke from Mary, and John was the closest disciple to Jesus during his earthly ministry. Each of these eyewitnesses bore testimony to Jesus’s true identity, sharing their experiences, perceptions, and perspectives on the significance of Jesus’s birth and even his preexistence. But while the apostles’ witness is primary, based on their testimony we must bear witness as well. As Jesus told his first followers, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26–27).
Called to Bear Witness
We, too, must bear witness because we have received the apostolic testimony regarding the incarnation. We recognize that, just as there was no place in the inn for God incarnate when he was born into this world, so we, like Jesus, must endure rejection as we identify with him. We believe that, even though he is now exalted with God in heaven, Jesus is God with us, and his promise is true that he will be with us until the end of the age as we bear witness to him. We behold the glory of God in his Son, whom he gave to die for us on the cross, and we long for our loved ones and others to catch a glimpse of his glory in and through us. We understand that Jesus, while born as a Jew in a tiny Judean village, came as the light to the nations to enlighten every person, regardless of culture, race, or ethnic identity. And just as Jesus must be in his Father’s house, we believe that he has gone to prepare a place for us so that we will spend eternity with him in heaven. This is our glorious hope and expectation.
This Year, Give the Gospel
Even though my wife and I now have grown children, we still celebrate Christmas similar to the way we did when I grew up in Austria many years ago (though we dropped leaving our wish list for the Christ child on the window sill!). We still enjoy giving, and receiving, Christmas presents. But we realize that Christmas is not primarily about receiving. It’s about giving, and giving back. In Jesus, joy came to the world, and now those of us who have received him, and have become children of God, like the shepherds of old, are called to pass on the joyous message to the world around us. Jesus came to give us the greatest gift of all – the gift of himself – not so we can keep it to ourselves, but so we can freely share it with others. As Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” This year, may our Christmas not be a self-centered one. May we answer God’s call to bear witness to the one who came and suffered and died so we can share his eternal glory. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!