I welcome Mark Nicklas back as a guest contributor for this Christmas entry. His reflection on God’s gift to us in Christ plays on some of the paradoxical realities of God’s gracious entry into our realm. I hope, on Christmas day itself, to offer my own voice of celebration and reflection in a separate entry that echoes many of Mark’s themes. In the meantime, read, reflect, and rejoice!
The story of Christmas brings us to a baby in a manger: Jesus Christ, born of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem. It is a historical fact that changed the World forever—the Incarnation of our God.
Brother Linus Van Pelt appealed to the beauty of the nativity when he uttered those unforgettable words, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about..”
Mary shared the birth story with Dr. Luke and the Apostle Matthew in order provide us with an important detail of the advent of Jesus Christ—the miraculous events that surrounded His birth. It is a glorious story where God bestowed royalty on common people, in common circumstance, in common place. And in so doing, he consecrated his Creation.
Prior to the coming of Christ, God was approached tentatively and circumspectly in the Holy of Holies and through the Law. The veil separating God from man was a visible reminder of the great gulf that existed between the God of Holiness and fallen creation. The veil was as much a protection from the power of the darkness-shattering holiness of God—if exposed to its pure “volume,” our spiritual “Bose speakers” would have been blown from the wattage of God’s presence. Moses had to wear a veil to speak to people after being in God’s presence, the glow was so powerful. And yet, in the story of Jesus, God came to be with us: “and the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
This Christmas season I look with awe at how it unfolded. It helps to have an understanding of the first century anticipation of a Redeemer King in Israel. The Book of Hebrews looks back at the advent of the Lord in this way:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
The writer of Hebrews draws attention to the expectation—long ago in many times and in many ways—God had spoken of the coming Redeemer King through the prophets. As we read God’s story from Genesis to Revelation we see again and again the expectations that were set.
Even at the fall in the Garden, God told Satan that the seed of a woman would crush His head. He promised to Abraham one of his own descendants would bless the whole world. Moses promised the children of Israel that One would be raised up from among their own brothers to whom they should listen. God promised to David that a Son of his own body who would reign forever. Isaiah said a Son would be given, called Wonderful, Counselor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His light would shine out of Galilee. A righteous Branch of David would rise up and rescue His people. One was coming who Isaiah said would swallow up death forever. There would be a Light to all the nations, a Bringer of a New Covenant, who would write His law on our hearts. Daniel told of One like the Son of Man, to whom is given dominion and glory and a kingdom who all peoples, nations and tongues would worship.
And all of this all pointed to Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary in Bethlehem, to God with us.
First century Israel was alive with expectation that God would begin the emancipation of Israel from Roman rule, but they could not possibly have fathomed how God’s plan would work. The long awaited Messiah would arrive without trumpets, and would gain victory by His own death. The kings of our day, the presidents and prime ministers and premiers, always arrive with pomp and circumstance. Their arrivals are carefully planned and orchestrated and accompanied by public handshakes and banquets. They needn’t open any doors—doors are always opened for them.
By comparison this King’s arrival was a mundane event. He was born in obscurity and to humble circumstance. Perhaps God considers mundane things to be of royal proportion. Maybe that is why it is hard for some people to see God in the world in which we live—the miraculous is so often clothed in the ordinary.
Mary seemed ordinary. Still, she was uniquely qualified to be the God-bearer. She was a direct descendant of David. She was also a direct descendant of Aaron (through her mother). But even given her unique bloodline, her greatest qualification was that God chose her, to which she responded in faith, “Let it be done to me according to Your word.” And after that confession of trust, at the moment of conception, the eternal Word left His glory with the Father and the Spirit and became flesh, to be the God-man forever and ever. It was the greatest moment in Heaven and Earth since Creation!
Frankly, when I was set in motion it was initiated in the flesh. Two humans, my mom and dad, came together and the miracle of life was set in motion. There is no mystery in that. But when Jesus Christ’s humanity was set in motion, God was the initiator. The Incarnation shows that salvation can never come through human effort; it must be by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. And on Christmas day, finally, the King arrived.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)
This very thought leaves me in awe. 2000 years ago, in a manger in Bethlehem, lay the One promised long ago and in many ways… here was the King. I’ve held 5 of our own babies right after they were born. I have looked with marvel at these little creations and was in awe of the life God had given to my wife and me. No doubt, some of those same emotions were encountered at the manger by Joseph and Mary… but this Child is the One who spoke and the universe leapt unto existence, the One by whom all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
This Child is before all things and in Him all things hold together and in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
This Child is the image of the invisible God who humbled Himself in the form of a servant, the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.
This Child upholds the universe by the word of his power. He would wage a war with Satan and crush Satan’s head and swallow up death in victory.
This is the Child in whom all the world would be blessed.
This Child is the light of the nations.
This Child would reconcile to himself all things making peace by the blood of the cross.
This Child is Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary, Immanuel, God with us.
And in coming to Earth God made the irrevocable declaration that He is all in! That’s what love does. Love commits. Jesus is a part of His creation, and He’s all in. Love came down in the flesh. And His flesh became the new veil. The body of Jesus contained all the fullness of God and in His total connection with His Creation, Jesus is fully God and fully man.
The earliest witnesses of the church, at peace with His Divinity, affirmed his humanity. Some people think that the story of the virgin birth developed out of a need to claim that Jesus was the Son of God. But that was never in doubt to the church—people already knew Him to be God—they understood that in the way they had come to love and worship Him, something that is evident in the very earliest writings of the church.
Jesus Himself did not turn to His own virgin birth as a witness to His divinity when the Pharisees sought proof. It is actually the other way around, against the cries of those who said Jesus was not fully human that this part of the story of Jesus is so important for us. Ignatius of Antioch in the 2nd century declared in another creed of the early Christian church that Jesus was “truly born, truly lived, truly died.” Jesus is the God-Man—a miracle of conception. The Word became flesh—even as an embryo He was fully God and fully man. The King had arrived and was here to inaugurate His kingdom.
Getting back to
Brother Linus, it is worth remembering the story he told so beautifully,
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.‘” (Luke 2:8-14)
Taking up his blanket and walking off the stage to Charlie Brown he said, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
The Nativity remains an irenic, beautiful picture of the way the King entered His Creation. Of course, that manger rested under the shadow of the cross. This same Jesus, in who the fullness of God dwelt, would conquer sin and swallow up death forever. He would make a way so that the Holy Spirit would come and inhabit the hearts of every believer who calls upon His name. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ led to yet another Incarnation—the Holy Spirit in the midst of His Church. The King has established His kingdom, and His kingdom will have no end.
And He invites us to come.
Mark, thank you so much!