In the midst of the busyness and commercialism of the season, the reminder from church signs comes: Jesus is the reason for the season. The yard decorations declare: “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” It’s baby Jesus’s birthday, and we don’t want the consumerism and shininess of the season to overshadow this in our hearts. All of this is right and good, and it is all true, as far as it goes. Indeed, there’s something beautiful and romantic about the simplicity of the manger scene–of a baby being born to a poor mother and wrapped in swaddling clothes, while his father looks on in joy and the shepherds come to celebrate. But I wonder whether we sometimes allow the sentimentality of the season to stunt our appreciation of the magnitude of what Christmas means. I wonder whether we have, in an attempt to convince the world to “keep Christ in Christmas,” unconsciously minimized the scandal and the glory of the manger into a neatly packaged nativity scene that is far easier to swallow than the full reality of its meaning. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, yes. But what we celebrate, really, is not something as mundane as a birthday.
We celebrate that God is here: that the long promised and long awaited Emmanuel (“God with us”) figure foretold by Isaiah has come at last. After decades and centuries of exile and seeming hopeless abandonment, God fulfills his promise to Israel. The baby in the manger is the culmination of the history of the nation of Israel, and the focal point of God’s redemptive activity in all of world history. We celebrate that through this child the eternal has invaded the temporal, the holy has entered the sinful, and the Creator has entered into his creation. In the form of a helpless infant who is born into poverty and utter rejection, Perfection enters into the corruptible. God has become man.
It is not expected, it is not predictable. No one anticipated this. It is not cliché or sentimental—this is God the creator lowering himself to become one of us. This–and only this–is what gives meaning and hope to our very existence. Have we understood this? Do we truly celebrate it? Or do we allow ourselves to sink quietly into a yearly winter routine, insisting on the holiness of the day but forgetting the reason for, and the absolute weight of, holiness?
The birth of Jesus is not incidental to the rest of the gospel story. It is not merely preamble to important stuff that will come later. At Christmas, the eternal and almighty Creator of all that exists comes to us in the midst of our broken, sinful and hopeless world in order to begin setting things right. I fear that we too often disassociate the baby Jesus from his identity as Creator and as YHWH, the God of Israel. But as John’s gospel reminds us, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” In Acts 17, Paul proclaims to the Greek philosophers that “In him we live and move and have our being.”
In the baby whose birth we celebrate, God has come. God has become one of us.
At Christmas we celebrate more than a birthday, more than a nice story about a baby being born in a manger. We celebrate that through this baby we are reconciled to our Creator. We celebrate that he has come for us, to make us whole again and to restore his creation. We celebrate because it is grace that he has come. We celebrate that the baby brings with him the kingdom of God, invading and overcoming the broken kingdoms of this world. We celebrate his death and resurrection, and the life that begins at Christmas.
You can also check out this post at the FWCM website.