“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1,14, ESV)
We all have our own special way of celebrating Christmas.
For many it is just another social holiday on the calendar, a time to gather together with friends, share some eggnog and perhaps exchange gifts. For many others it’s just a yearly, much-needed day off. Then there are those who entertain that Christmas is all about a jovial obese fellow who mysteriously floods the world with gifts based upon the recipient’s behavior over the past 364 days.
Still others see Christmas as a time to gather with family they haven’t seen in a long time. Often, it is the one time of year when their thoughts reach beyond their immediate family.
And then there are those suffering from depression, seasonal mood disorder, or any other forms of mental illness. They might find themselves retreating even further inward as so many around them are filled with a happiness that has been cruelly elusive for them.
For some of us this will be the first Christmas without a precious loved one. While our hearts may be merry and grateful for those with whom we celebrate, there remains a vacancy in our heart—a hole that only Jesus can fill.
Of course, there are many others who find nothing to celebrate. Jobless. Homeless. Helpless. Hopeless. Alone.
We Christians work our way through the holiday season in much the same way as our secular friends and family. We trim the tree. We fret over finding that perfect gift to give. For many of us there’s that special meal, with recipes handed down from generations long past. A special Christmas prayer. An anticipation for the opening of the gifts below the tree.
I, for one, find myself remembering Christmases past. I remember our famous “Christmas in July”, when my father, who was a career soldier, returned from an unaccompanied tour of duty in Korea—we even made the local paper! I remember other holiday traditions that made things special, like going to church as a family. Inevitably, either my Mom or Dad forgot something that they had to go back to get after we were all in the car—time to place the presents and fill the stockings! Christmas Eve church was insufferably long as my sister and I looked forward to opening presents when we got home.
It seems that we can—all too often—become so bogged down with the busy-ness of the Christmas season that Christ becomes an afterthought. A bookend to an all-too-harried holiday.
What would happen if we took a few minutes, outside of church, to consider what Jesus’ birth means to us today. What if we would pause for just a moment to try to understand what it meant for God to put on flesh. Is Christ truly the focus of our Christmas?
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9 ESV).
For millennia people have sought God’s favor through rigid obedience to the law, offerings, and sacrifices. And for millennia people have come up short. Sure, there were people whose hearts pleased God. Yet they too failed to meet the onerous standard of Holiness. Then there were the ritual sacrifices, which provided blood to atone for the people’s sin. But there was no sacrifice that could produce in them God’s righteousness.
Then God put flesh to His love.
God in flesh come to pay the oppressive debt of our Sin, to replace the death it brings with life in Christ.
Jesus came with a purpose. The power that put skin on God’s Son also beckoned Him toward a sacrificial death (AND RESURRECTION!!!). It feels good celebrating the birth of our Savior. But it feels even better to know that His birth had a purpose.
When I think about Christmas, I think about creation.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” The eternal Word speaking into being all that is.
John begins his gospel by looking back to creation as well. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” In doing so, John affirmed the eternal existence of Jesus, the Son of God. He isn’t a good story that pastors tell the children at the front of the church on Christmas Eve. He isn’t a baby in a manger surrounded by wisemen, farm animals, and a little drummer boy. No. To John, Jesus always has been, and always will be, coexistent and Co-Creator with the Father.
Yes. The disciple whom Jesus loved makes it abundantly clear that this immutable Messiah had it all figured out long before we had a beginning. In his later years, John called Jesus, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
God didn’t delay setting the stage for the redemption of all mankind. Shortly after Adam and Eve sinned, in fact only nine verses later, God spoke to the serpent, saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This is the first Messianic prophecy in scripture. And remarkably, it addresses the incarnation of Jesus before the fruity taste of Sin had left the lips of our not-so-dynamic duo.
Do you see it? “Her offspring!” God Almighty didn’t let the sinful sediment settle before pointing to Christmas. Yes. When I think about Christmas, I think about creation.
When I think about Christmas I think about longing.
It was at least 8000 years between the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 and the day that God took on flesh. In-between the two, God laid down the law. Starting with just Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone, and ending with 613 distinct rules for following and pleasing God, and walking in relationship with Him, mankind came to the inevitable realization that it was impossible to live up to God’s standard. They had discovered the “bad news.”
God’s people longed for the day when the Promised One would come to their rescue. But just as happens so often today, the struggles and challenges of life transformed their images of what the Messiah would be like.
When we are poor, we look for a Messiah who vanquishes our material poverty. When we are sick, we look for a Messiah who gives us health. When we are oppressed, we look for a Messiah who breaks the chains that bind us.
We are all longing. The earth, itself, is longing! Romans 8 tells us, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21). The onslaught of sin effected all of creation.
We are always looking for something better. Searching for gifts; missing the Giver. There will never be enough to satisfy us. But the Giver? He is more than enough for us all. Yes. When I think about Christmas, I think about longing.
When I think about Christmas, I think about the Incarnation.
In fulfillment of a promise from Genesis 3:15, God in Christ chose to be born of a woman—a virgin—not by the seed of man, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Infinite One chose to walk the earth in a flesh-and-bone body, subject to the laws of nature. He hungered and thirsted. He felt pain. He faced temptation. The Almighty, invincible and unassailable, wrapped in fragile, mortal flesh.
Mankind had proven, time and again, a propensity for sin, and a proclivity for idolatry. The cult of self and the allure of pleasure filled their hearts and emptied their souls. For thousands of years the blood of sheep, oxen and goats bought time for true repentance—covering sin for a while, but unable to wash away its stain.
The incarnation was far more than a miraculous, immaculate conception, far more than a baby born in a stable, far more than the fulfillment of millennia of prophecy. Paul wrote of the gravity of the moment saying that Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7).
It was implausible that God in Christ would leave His throne, even to visit with mankind; but it was utterly inconceivable that He would choose to make His dwelling with us. God wrapped in flesh??? Balderdash!
Despite all of the prophetic hints God had sent to Israel, they didn’t have a clue. Yes, they were looking for a Messiah, but they were looking with eyes blinded by their physical circumstances. But God had a different endgame in mind, and He would not alter His plan.
Isaiah’s prophecy, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14), was coming true. Immanuel. God with us. Jesus sent the world a spiritual change-of-address notice. There would still be trouble on this Earth, but we would never have to face it alone again. God had come to dwell with mankind, to experience our joys and our sorrows, to walk a troubled creation side-by-side with us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3).
This tiny olive-skinned infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, born in a stable, was proof of God’s great love for us. Yes. When I think about Christmas, I think about the incarnation.
When I Think About Christmas, I think about Presence.
The concept of God’s Presence wasn’t entirely foreign to the Israelites in Moses’ time. God’s Presence with them was demonstrated in several ways. They knew God was with them when the waters of the Sea of Reeds parted before them. They saw that they were in the midst of God’s presence by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). The Tent of Meeting, and most notably the Ark of the Covenant, were, at a minimum, symbolic of God’s presence with them.
Through the periods of the kings, judges and prophets, as Israel maintained an on-again-off-again relationship with God, He made Himself known to them whenever they repented of their infidelity. Then, in the roughly four centuries between the prophets and the advent of Jesus there was nothing. This intertestamental period has been referred to as the “silent years,” as God didn’t speak through prophets, or in any other obvious way. As the years went by, Israel found itself wandering yet again. And a new wilderness lay between them and a promise.
And then came John, preaching repentance and preparing the way for Jesus, Immanuel. As in the days of old, the wilderness faded in the rear view. Then God put flesh to His love.
We began by looking at Creation. God’s relationship with Adam and Eve both pre- and post-fall.
Then we looked at how Israel longed for Messiah. The author of Hebrews pointed out, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar….” (Hebrews 11:13). And, “all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (Hebrews 11:39). They longed for the Messiah’s first coming, while we long for His second.
While a message on the Incarnation is the norm this time of year, perhaps it seems strange to hear about Creation, Longing, and Presence. It was my intention to demonstrate that we cannot look at the birth of Jesus as if it happened in isolation. The incarnation of Jesus was a huge piece of the puzzle of God’s plan for mankind, but it also happened in context. When we think of Christmas, I suggest that we zoom out, if only for a few moments, to see the big picture.
Image by wisconsinpictures from Pixabay