Read: Matthew 21:33-41; 45-46 The Parable of the Tenants.
What on earth has this story got to do with Christmastide? There is nothing ‘Christmassy’ about it in the popular sense. No shepherds, no angels, no wise men, no star of Bethlehem, no manger. It’s a story about a rich estate owner and his tenants, and the estate owner’s son – the son whom he loved greatly.
The owner of the estate is obviously determined to put everything in order. All the digging and the building that’s necessary is done, and all the equipment is provided. The tenants’ material needs had been met. Then the owner goes away and leaves them to make a success of running the estate fairly, honestly, and happily. He trusts their common sense, their self-respect, their integrity.
But they play the fool. They think, that because the boss isn’t there, they can do what they like and treat the place as if it were theirs. In due course, the owner sends his agents to see how things are going. So what do the tenants do? They have to admit they’ve been fools and realize they will have to give up what they’ve taken over. They harden their hearts and become reckless. They beat up the agents, one by one, and get rid of them.
But the owner, clearly a humane and long-suffering character, doesn’t want vengeance. He wants his tenants to come to their senses. So he decides to send his own son to them, believing they will respect him.
The risk was high – the life of his son, to win back the hardhearted, stupid, cruel tenants to a right relationship with him once more. It was a supreme attempt to heal the breach, which he, the owner, hadn’t made, but for which the tenants were entirely responsible. He wanted to forgive them, and to start again.
But when the tenants saw the owner’s son coming, instead of being moved to shame, they were moved to cruel delight. “And,” said Jesus, “they took him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.”
This story has a world of truth in it – the unpleasant truth about human beings and what they’re capable of, unless something happens to change them. By themselves, they are stupid, vain, cruel and greedy. And if you doubt it, look round the world we live in, and then look at yourself.
Not a pretty story, but then, neither is the Christmas story. It’s about a young wife having to give birth to her first baby in a rough stable, because the inn was full, with occupants comfortably bedded down for the night. Perhaps money talked but Joseph didn’t have any.
It’s also a story of how a shocking tyrant, Herod, in a fit of terror lest somebody should steal his throne, started a horrid massacre of little baby boys in the whole area round about, hoping to kill the baby King; and so forced the Holy Family to become refugees. At the end of His earthly life, Jesus, Son of Man was an outcast again. He came to His own and His own received Him not. Instead, they took Him out, and killed Him … on a cross.
Now do you see why this story is a Christmas story after all? God, the Father of us all, provided all that was necessary in this truly marvelous world, for happy, prosperous satisfying community life. But people are sinful, and claim God’s world as their own to do as they like with. Therefore there is strife, jealousy, deadly hatreds, and unhappiness. In the fullness of time, God sends His Son into the world to change people’s hearts, to show them the true and living way of forgiveness, of peace and reconciliation between each other and God.
When Jesus was born, it was the beginning of God’s mightiest adventure – the adventure of the Advent. And that divine adventure is still being worked out, for Jesus Christ, slain by cruel men, rose again, and lives for evermore. Still at Christmastide and throughout every day of every year, He claims our obedience and our love, our hearts and our lives. And when a single person starts life afresh with Him as Lord and Master, then God’s adventure has reached one more vital stage on its way triumphant; it is truly Christmastide, and Jesus is born into another human heart.