How did December get here already? I know many of us are ready for 2020 to be over, but before that happens, we might want to contemplate the deeper meaning of Christmas. Everyone knows it’s not just about giving and receiving gifts, not about getting together with family (if we even can this year) and not even about going to church. It’s about who God is and why he came to earth as a human.
The passage in Philippians 2 might not come to mind when you think of Christmas. Verses 5-8 talk about having the mind of Christ, followed by how God emptied himself to become a slave. The word for this is kenosis, or self-emptying. He set aside the privileges of deity, not counting equality with God as something he needed to cling to or hold tightly or use to his advantage. When Jesus became one of us, he put kenosis into action on earth – he gave up all the “trappings” of being God to become a helpless baby, be an obedient son to human parents, learn what it means to be human and then die as a criminal, with criminals.
Why did he do this? Because that’s who he is. Father, Son and Spirit, as three in one, exist as a self-emptying being. Each empties self or pours out for the other in love. Because of this way of being, God naturally did the same for us in the incarnation. He became Emmanuel, God with us, in the greatest act of kenosis in history. Perhaps we should say “Merry Kenosis”!
“The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:11, NLT).
Hope is one of the three things Paul said would last forever (1 Corinthians 13:13). People have survived many horrible situations by clinging to hope, however small or weak. For thousands of years, the hope of a Savior kept the Hebrews and then the Israelites going. They never gave up on that hope, no matter how many generations passed or what hardships they had to endure.
Jesus was the long anticipated hope come to life, not only for the Jews, but for all of humanity. The birth of a tiny baby wrapped in swaddling cloths gave hope a face, with flesh that could be touched, eyes to look into and a smile to light up the darkness. Today we celebrate the arrival of the Deliverer, Redeemer, Savior, Anointed One and King, God with us, everyone’s hope and the bright, shining star of our hearts. Merry Christmas and God bless you with his love and peace.
“And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12, NLT).
Many things have changed in the business world, including management, strategies and marketing, but one thing hasn’t changed: dressing for success. Being casual and comfortable is great, but if you want to stand out, nice clothes will do it every time. Giving attention to one’s appearance shows an attitude of caring. Unfortunately we sometimes tend to put more weight on appearance than what’s inside.
The beginning of Jesus’ life was obscure and inauspicious. Rather than coming into the world with much fanfare and hoopla, his birth took place in a barn and his first bed was a feed trough. His first outfit was simple cloth, cut into strips. This king wasn’t about fine clothes, rich surroundings and all the usual trappings of royalty. Jesus was definitely a power dresser, but he was clothed with love, grace and mercy instead of fancy robes and crowns. Jesus was dressed for success as a king who would all his life live and die for us.
“I am the one who made the earth and created people to live on it. With my hands I stretched out the heavens. All the stars are at my command” (Isaiah 45:12, NLT).
For thousands of years, the stars have been a source of fascination. To the naked eye they are little pinpricks of light in the night sky, tantalizing to our sense of wonder, curiosity and imagination. The Hubble telescope has returned some beautiful pictures and from them, scientists have learned a lot, but they are still a mystery only God understands. He is the one who created them and even named them (Isaiah 40:26).
The star that led the wise men to Jesus is also a mystery. Was it a figment of Matthew’s imagination, an astronomical anomaly or a real star put in place by God? We don’t know for sure, but we do know those wise men were able to find him (probably a few months after his birth) and worship this newborn king of the Jews. The star could be called God’s formal birth announcement, letting not just the Jews but the whole world know a new king had made his entrance into a world in desperate need of his grace and mercy: Jesus, the eternal Star and bringer of light.
“Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught” (Luke 1:1-4, NLT).
I served as an alternate juror a few years ago. Having only seen trials on television and movies, it was fascinating to experience it in real life. It wasn’t as glamorous or dramatic as fictionalized trials, but I learned a lot, particularly about the importance of witnesses. No one had actually seen the murder, but the testimonies all painted the picture of the events surrounding it.
Many events in our long ago history have been forgotten as they were either never recorded, lost or garbled. God provided many witnesses to the events leading up the birth of Jesus and made sure their stories were recorded and preserved. He knew those of us living 2,000 years later would need an accurate account. Most people today believe Jesus was a real man but many doubt the more spectacular parts. Luke was a physician who carefully investigated everything about Jesus’ birth and just as carefully recorded it. His testimony is one that would hold up in any court. We can rely on its veracity and accuracy and be certain, as Luke promised, that everything happened just as he said.
“‘Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations'” (Isaiah 42:1, NLT).
Even before babies are born, they are loved by their parents. It’s hard to imagine just how much more you can love them as soon as they take their first breath, but the bonding and surge of love is huge and instantaneous. God of course, knew and loved his son from eternity. He inspired Isaiah to let everyone know ahead of time just how pleased he was and to give them a sneak preview of what he would be like.
Jesus the servant: sent to do the will of his Father. Jesus, the one he strengthens: a human being who would need to depend on his Father. The chosen one: carefully and lovingly hand-picked to bring salvation to earth. Jesus, the one who pleased: everything he did would give the Father pleasure. Full of the Spirit: Jesus would do nothing on his own, but in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit. The justice-bringer: the one who will right all the wrongs and bring his light to a dark world. Jesus: the perfect Son and the apple of his Father’s eye.
“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1, NLT).
Having children is one of life’s most amazing experiences. Little girls prepare for it almost from birth, playing with dolls and imagining being mommies. Boys more often play with trucks and building blocks and don’t admit wanting to be daddies until adulthood, but they also have a built-in, God-given desire to procreate.
God could have brought about our salvation and redemption in other ways, but he chose to do it by having a son. Jesus was the twinkle in God’s eye long before he was born. This child was wanted, planned for, conceived in love by the Holy Spirit and cherished in every way. God experienced the whole range of emotions and physical changes of pregnancy with Mary, as he helped and cared for her from start to finish. You could say God became a proud papa when Jesus was born but instead of cigars, he began handing out grace.
“He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him” (John 1:10, NLT).
The Christmas holiday is celebrated in most countries around the world. Each has its own traditions but some things are the same everywhere: gift-giving, family time and the hope of peace. One thing that should be the same but is often lost amid the decorating, baking and shopping is the true reason for the celebration.
If I had created a world of ants and wanted to communicate with them, I would need to become an ant. Our Creator entered our world and became one of us to show who he is. As a human being in every respect, Jesus showed us the Father and his love, which is so great he was willing to put himself at our mercy to communicate that love. He condescended, without the ego, pride and vanity that go along with human condescension, to come down to our level to eventually bring us up to his. He isn’t recognized today just as he wasn’t when he first came, but he is present everywhere in the name “Christmas” and in the Spirit of Christmas, which is his Spirit of love and peace.
“The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone” (John 1:4, NLT).
Everyone loves Christmas lights, even those who don’t celebrate the birth of Christ. The lights draw us in, with an almost magical and magnetic attraction. Lights and even trees as part of the Christmas celebration originated only a few hundred years ago, but Jesus has been the light of the world since his birth.
Matthew, Mark and Luke began their narratives with the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, but John went back beyond the beginning to talk about him as Creator. John tied the two together to show that in the beginning Jesus the Word gave life to everything and in his new beginning as a human, he brought light to a dark world and new life in himself. He shines brighter than all the Christmas lights of the world put together—he is our light and has been shining brightly since before time began.
“‘For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever'” (Luke 1:55, NLT).
The Bible is full of promises, including God’s protection, supplying our needs and his love, mercy and grace. Songs, books and blogs talk of his promises and how we won’t be disappointed because God always keeps his word. But none of them would mean anything and none would come true if it weren’t for God keeping the biggest promise he ever made: to send his Son as a human being.
The promise of a Savior is woven through every book of the Old Testament. Every Hebrew child grew up knowing about him and all of Israel waited, hoped and yearned for his appearing. When Jesus was born, all the promises of God were fulfilled. In Jesus, every hope and dream of humanity was realized. Mary, Zechariah, Simeon and Anna all understood this and praised God for his promise made and his promise kept—Emmanuel, God with us.