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Christmas is just around the corner, sometimes more literally than just on the calendar.  As I drove home for Christmas vacation yesterday, nativity scenes were everywhere.  Shepherds wearing their cloaks surround Mary and Joseph and the manger inside a wood and straw hut.  And more often than not, the Magi are depicted (although historically inaccurate) bringing their gifts to baby Jesus.  Still, what a well-known and powerful scene of Christmas.

But what if Jesus had been born in 2013?  Would things have been different?  What does it matter that angels appeared to lowly shepherds instead of the wealthy business owners?  What does it matter that Jesus was born in a stable rather than a palace?

Believe it or not, the setting matters greatly.

First of all, if Jesus had been born in the United States in 2013, not too many people would have been interested.  Let's put it in perspective: Let's say the year is 1611, hundreds of years before Jesus is to be born.  Shakespeare is writing plays, while others are writing things down saying that a Savior will be coming into the world someday so be on the lookout.  As time quickly progresses to the 21st century, some more radicals record some YouTube videos and post them on the internet, anxiously spreading the word about a baby to be born.  Sure, some people are reposting it, but many are dismissing it as a hoax or a bunch of crazy people and completely miss it.  At least, the people who "have" everything would dismiss it as such.  But imagine if the news spread to the homeless - news of a Savior to give you bread and water, shelter in storms, and a brand new life - that would sound pretty good, wouldn't it?  Of course, Hollywood couldn't care less about it, since they already have what they "need."  But to those who have nothing, the message would be full of hope!

Appearing to homeless people sure does seem a lot less grand and deserving than appearing to the rich and powerful.

And that's just the beauty and wonder of this Christmas season.  Jesus came to the humble first.  Angels appeared to shepherds - dirty, smelly, poor layman on a hillside, living outside of society's formal rules.  And you know what?  Those shepherds listened!  They got up immediately and knelt by the manger of the world's Savior.

The priests missed it.  Isn't that ironic?  The very people who should have been seeking the Messiah day and night - not sleeping until they saw the words prophesied in their holy scrolls centuries earlier come to pass - never believed Jesus was actually the Messiah, not even after He died on the cross.

Don't you see?  Jesus came in the most humble way possible.  He came as a helpless baby.  He was adored by farmers, not kings and business professionals.  And that is because Jesus only comes to those who know they need Him.  The sad fact is, we all need Him; only, some will never realize it.

The humility of my Savior is so overwhelming.  I am struck with great guilt and repentance in my soul that I often reject Him because "I already have everything I need."  I am sorely mistaken when I think that.  But isn't that why so many people miss Jesus not only during Christmas, but the rest of their lives?  They think they have everything they need.  They have a nice warm bed, food on the table, a nice car, a good job.  We are deceived that we have everything we need.  Satan is the great deceiver; Jesus is the great revealer.  He reveals to us that all we truly need is Him.

If you will, please look finally at the people Jesus called to follow Him in the book of Matthew.  A few decades after the birth of Jesus, God's message is still the same as it was in Bethlehem on that first Christmas morning.  In Matthew 8:18-22, Jesus calls a couple people to follow Him.  Both, however, refuse to follow.  Why?  Because they are deceived into thinking that their comforts of this life are more important than following Jesus.

Or take, for instance, the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30.  This rich man could not follow Jesus because he was completely convinced that the things he had in this life - his nice house, his servants, his riches, his popularity, his social events - were worth more than new life with Jesus.  This is the very reason why so many do not come to Jesus; pride's deception has forbidden them from abandoning all and following Jesus.

But then there is the contradiction: The story of Matthew (or Levi) the tax collector.  In Matthew 9:9-13, Jesus calls Matthew from the tax collector's booth to follow Him.  We know from history that tax collectors were not often well-liked.  They were cheaters, swindlers, and liars.  They were also greedy.  The wee little man named Zacchaeus was also a tax collector, and he had great wealth.  Matthew, we can assume, was wealthy and may have seemed like he had everything together on the outside.  But Matthew still felt an ache in his heart, a void in his soul, calling out, "There's gotta be something else to this life!"  So at Jesus' bidding, Matthew dropped everything and followed Jesus.

Jesus calls everyone to repentance.  But many will deny Him and refuse to follow.  They are deceived that the things of this life are worth more than their soul.  That is precisely why Jesus did not reveal Himself on Christmas morning to the wealthy and well-off; they would have undoubtedly rejected Him (except perhaps Matthew).  Instead, He revealed Himself to the meek and the humble, those who had nothing to lose, offering them the first chance to come to the King.  (On a brief side note, isn't it then completely logical that most Christians come to salvation between the ages of four and fourteen?  It is because children have not yet grasped the full deception of this world.  Read Matthew 18:3 for more.)

The question remaining, then, is this: Will you abandon yourself, drop the deception, and follow Jesus?  This Christmas season, with the Lord's help and grace, I will abandon my comforts and wealth.  I have been given freely the greatest gift in the universe - God's Son.  Now I must freely give it away to others, in both my time and my money.

When you abandon yourself to God's plan and catch the real meaning behind the Christmas story, you will find gift giving much grander than gift receiving.

Lord, please bring me to a place where I have nothing left to lose for the sake of the Gospel!