The story of Christmas is too big for us to wrap our hearts around. Yet as we reach the day we celebrate as the birthday of Jesus we should at least press our noses against the window of divine revelation and look once again at the greatest of all gifts.
Where does the story begin? In eternity past. There it was that the Father, who has always loved the Son, determined to find him a bride. And where would this bride be found? Within the creation, a newly conceived realm that was made to host both the bride and the groom. So it was that God made this, our world, to be populated with Man—the male-and-female Man—who are created in God’s own triune image as two who, by one Spirit, are united as truly one.
That a God who is pure Spirit and who existed in the unending past apart from any material composition would both create a tangible world and then enter into that world himself for our sake is a metaphysical event that dazzles us if we pause to think about it.
But I am getting ahead of the story. Before God the Son entered the world he first spoke the world into being out of nothing. In that step he created us to be both physical and immaterial: both flesh and spirit. As tangible beings in the new creation we could be both “not yet” beings, with no prior existence before our birthing; and also those who can now inhabit eternity by the life of God’s own Spirit—God’s Life forming our lives and his Spirit giving life to our spirits. In material terms we are incommensurate to God; in relational terms we have a commensurability initiated with the God who forms relations.
This was the means by which the distance between Creator and created could be bridged. In the physical realm we are finite—localized in space and time with bodies susceptible to death. Yet in the spiritual realm we are immaterial centers of relationality. I am, for instance, the son of Ernie and Hazel; the brother of Bill, Dave, and Susan; a friend of many other people, including Bill, Mark, Jeff, Rick, Steve, & Matt; and a child of God in Christ Jesus as well as a member in Christ’s Body, the church. My point is that the physical side of us—of what I weigh, where I’m located as I write this piece, and how I’m dressed—represents the lesser reality (Paul’s “jars of clay” in 2 Corinthians 4) and the relational reality is the greater aspect of my being.
And, as I noted a moment ago, our physical being is our mortal side. But why, we ask, did God come up with such an arrangement? Why not make us into purely spiritual-and-relational beings and ignore the option of a material universe?
No certain answers are available to such questions but whatever we might think ourselves we find that God refuses to disparage the material world. In fact, in his work of creation he labeled that work as “good”, “good”, and “very good”. And, even more, his Son has now entered into this realm forevermore. Yet we’re amazed at this, which is why I used the imagery of pressing our noses against the glass of revelation. We get some insights but there are plenty of mysteries that remain!
That’s not to say we can’t make some guesses—some of which are at least partially informed. One is that God allowed for us to exist as people who can be both dead and alive in the same moment: dead spiritually but alive physically. That potential for a paradoxical double status was the point God made to Adam in Genesis when he warned “you shall surely die” if they ate of the forbidden fruit; and what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 when he said “you must be born again”; and what Paul said in Ephesians 2 about our being “dead in our trespasses and sins”.
Our bodies, after all, are physical nests for our souls—whether spiritually dead or living souls—and it is in our status of spiritual death that God resurrects us by the coming of the Spirit of Life. By having, after Adam’s fall, a physical body cursed with a progression of decay that leads to physical death we discover God’s “egg timer” so that our pending mortality forces us to weigh our eternal status: one of either death or life—”it is appointed for a man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Let us return to the love story at this point. My best guess is that God arranged all this—the duality of flesh and spirit—in order for a true love to form between the Son and his Bride. God knows that love can never be imposed on us: it is a function of desire and delight—the devotion of a heart. God, then, created humanity to respond to his Son in love. But the love must be a free response, and such a free response can be tested by other competing loves.
So it was that God created Adam and Eve as lovers who were free to love or not to love him. God, we can be sure, knew with absolute certainty that Adam’s free heart would taste other loves. Not the least of these was self love. It was this new devotion that displaced God’s primacy in all our hearts, a devotion that has since unfolded into more focused forms of love: for power, glory, money, sensuality and more.
This was, for God’s tender heart, a betrayal beyond measure. He was grieved as Adam coveted the Father’s status and rejected his word. At that moment the Spirit left Adam to his own devices. Adam, no longer united to God’s life, was spiritually dead although still alive: the material world continued to sustain Adam physically, as one made from the earth.
God, however, also placed the earth—and Adam’s body with that—under the curse of a slowly progressing material decay. It was in this duality that God set up both space and time in which to woo and recapture the heart of the Son’s intended bride. This pursuit is the guiding drama that unfolds in the Bible; and it still shapes world events today.
Now let us return to the importance of Christmas. In Adam all of humanity had been consumed by death. Yet the Father and the Son, with the Spirit, determined to send the Son to share in the material, physical world of Adam, as a “new” man. That is, he was born as a new human yet as a child who did not share in Adam’s death—the Spirit had departed from Adam and the Spirit was now the seed of the new Adam, Christ.
But to woo, capture, and cleanse his immoral and disaffected Bride God conceived of an incredible rescue: to have his Son enter into death on the basis of the Bride’s sins, and to give the Bride his own righteousness. Why enter into death? In order to break its power. Adam, after all, had given himself over to Satan’s scheme of independence. This realm needed to be conquered by one who could enter into death but never be ruled by it.
And the pathway to that outcome was the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. He came to die for us, but first he needed to be born with us—to become human. This was the plan of love offered by the Father, a love for both the Son and for us. As the Father sent his Son into the lair of death he knew that it was only this that could break its power for all those who look to the Son in response to that love—a response called faith. And all who respond in faith are, collectively, his Bride.
So it is that as we celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world and press our noses against the window of divine revelation we discover that Jesus has become the greatest of all gifts by coming to “our side” of the window—by becoming a man in order that we can join him in eternity.
Have a wonderful Christmas—and be sure to embrace the Son!