The Message of Christmas
Through the years I’ve sat through and participated in dozens of plays that retell the story of Jesus’ birth. Last year, both of our boys were shepherds. Some churches even bring in real camels and donkeys! If you attend the Christmas program held at the Crystal Cathedral you will even see angels flying from the ceiling announcing to the shepherds the great good news. And, I’ve heard countless sermons that movingly tell the story of Joseph and Mary searching for a room. Everywhere you look these days there are manger scenes, angels, and shepherds. In fact, it seems that this year I’ve heard more “religious” Christmas songs played by secular radio stations than ever before. While checking out of “Target” a few days ago I listened to the words blasted out for the entire store of Christians, non-Christians and atheists alike: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing, glory to the new born King…”
Despite the arguments of some that the message of Jesus’ birth is being lost in a secular and materialistic society, it seems to me that we are bombarded with it! But yet I can’t help but wonder…for those of us who call ourselves Christians, what is the real message of Christmas?
It seems to me that the Christmas story should be the most radical, unique, and distinguishing message that Christians have to tell. I hesitate to even spell it out in just a few words here because it seems to me that most Christians would say, “Duh! Of course we understand that that is what Christmas is all about.” At the same time, however, it seems to me that we really don’t “get it.” Looking back, I know that for most of my life I had not understood the real significance of what it is we are actually celebrating.
As I see it, the Christmas message at its core is this: The all-powerful God of the universe became a baby! It was God who became an embryo and spent nine months inside the womb of Mary! It was God who spent his first night in a feeding trough (manger) surrounded by farm animals! And it was God who grew up as a humble carpenter in the lowly town of Nazareth.
While Christians may dispute many doctrinal beliefs, most generally agree as to the “divinity” of Jesus Christ. In other words, most Christians would agree that Jesus was none other than God in human form, but yet it seems to me that the radical message about God becoming a helpless infant who was for a time dependent on one of his own children for each meal and diaper change does not break through as clearly as it should. In fact, I would say that the story of God Almighty becoming a humble baby should be a stronger distinguishing statement about the God of “Christianity” than any other.
Two weeks, a young man of Islamic faith attended my Bible study for the first time. At the end of the study he shared with me a number of things that he found quite disagreeable. He said, “There is no way that God Almighty would spend 9 months in the womb. There is no way that God Almighty would spend his first night in a feeding trough. There is no way that God Almighty would grow up as a humble carpenter. There is no way that God Almighty would hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes. There is no way that God Almighty would wash the feet of Judas. There is no way that God Almighty would allow his own creatures to torture him to death. God is holy and pure. He could never do any of those things!”
It was fascinating for me to hear him repeat back the words that to me are the essence of the Good News, but yet to him was a message of nonsense.
Several years ago a man of Jewish faith told my wife essentially the same thing. In reference to Jesus’ gentleness and humility he said, “God is certainly not like that!”
Now, I’m sure that many people of Islamic and Jewish faith would not express things like this, and I am not making a point about either of these religions. In fact, I think that we do the same thing in Christian circles. For example, I’ve heard it said that “God is too holy to see us as we are. When he looks at us, he instead sees the righteousness of Jesus.” But yet, did not Jesus eat and talk to the outcasts of society virtually every day of his life? If Jesus was really God in human form, would this not say that God does see with infinite clarity the sinfulness of each one of us? And despite that fact, this stimulates him to do everything to save and heal us, rather than to stir up his anger to destroy.
There is a way of describing Jesus as our “advocate”, “substitute”, and “intercessor” in which it sounds as if he is less than fully God. I would rather say it this way: God is our advocate, God is our substitute, and God is our intercessor!
We frequently emphasize God’s sovereignty, power, and “holiness” without placing equal emphasis on his humility and kindness. But yet, when we hear Jesus say, “I am gentle and humble” (Matthew 11:29) we should immediately incorporate that into our picture of God and say, “Our God is gentle and humble!” More important than the claim in this verse, however, are the actions of God in becoming a helpless baby. This is the most convincing proof of all that the one with unlimited power is also “gentle and humble.”
As Christians, we may not all agree on the mechanism of the atonement, we may not all agree on end time events, and we may not all agree on a great many points of doctrine, but should we not all agree that the God of Christianity is a God of radical humility who made an infinite condescension by becoming a human being? Should we not proudly turn to everyone we know during this time of year and proclaim, “The one with unlimited power stooped to become a little baby. That is our God!”