It was my joy to share Y'shua with Jewish people in New York City as far back as 1946! As a missionary with the American Board of Missions to the Jews, I recall that some of our greatest times of outreach were through holiday services. I'm not talking about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and others from Leviticus 23. We taught about these holidays in our Bible classes at the mission centers, and the people celebrated them in their homes. However, we did not begin public celebrations of Passover or the Fall Feasts until the '60s. So what did we do before that? We celebrated Christmas and Easter! Christmas was the perfect time to talk about Micah 5:2, Isaiah 7:14, and 9:6. We held public meetings in the New York area —Coney Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island. It was our biggest thrust of the year and each service would be packed. Between the four services, at least 400-500 Jewish people attended, and 50 or more were Jewish people who did not yet know Jesus. People not only came, but they enjoyed—and many found Y'shua as their Messiah.
These services also made a lasting impression on the children who performed the dramatic plays. Recently, I was chatting with a woman who remembered her part in one such play. She said, It was very important when I was growing up as a Jewish child to know that Christmas was a Jewish holiday. After all, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds were all Jewish, and this was very exciting to me. I remember very well the parts that referred to messianic prophecies and how thrilled I was to know that they were fulfilled in Jesus. I loved the carols we sang, and I was especially blessed with 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel.' It was my favorite and even to this day (some 40 years later) I cannot sing it without tears in my eyes because it means so much to me. The chorus was great — 'Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.'
"I was greatly impressed with the large crowds of Jewish people who came. Many were not believers, like my Jewish neighbor, a Holocaust survivor, and her two children. It was a great blessing to me to celebrate Christmas and to know it was a Jewish holiday."
Another lady who had been present at those public meetings said, "Celebrating Messiah's birth made it a Jewish holiday. It made it feel 'right' to sing carols and recite things about the Messiah's birth. Dressing up and acting out the different parts in the plays made it more meaningful. Even today as I write it is with a lot of excitement in remembering the things we did and learned."
Perhaps, in our ministry years ago, we didn't do as much as we could to emphasize Jewish traditions. However, today I feel that we have perhaps swung the pendulum too far today in the other direction. Often we have left out what may be the most meaningful Jewish holy day—the celebration of Messiah's birth.
All of us are blessed by the Hanukkah story and I'm not suggesting we neglect it, or other more obviously Jewish holidays. But the birth of the Messiah is so crucial. It is the story of God coming to earth. It is the fulfillment of all the prayers of the Jewish people for the Messiah to come.
The angel said: "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). What a wonderful thought to proclaim that Jesus came to be our Savior.
I pray that none of you will miss this wonderful opportunity of sharing—not only in your congregations, but also in your homes—this marvelous event of the first coming of the Messiah. In your congregations, consider featuring a play in which the children can dress up as the different Jewish players. Let a person read the story of the Messiah's birth, and invite the audience to participate. Have someone share the meaning of the prophecies concerning His coming and how they were so wonderfully fulfilled in Y'shua.
When this holiday is presented to Jewish people in a Jewish setting with Jewish actors, it has a profound effect on those who attend. Pray that the Spirit of the Lord would open the eyes of your Jewish friends, family and neighbors to see that Christmas is a Jewish holiday. It is for them to enjoy, and to revel in the fact that their Messiah has come.