This Christmas is in many ways the same as all that have gone before, all 44 of them. In other ways, it is as different as the year that has unfolded.
The same because the Christmas feeling and rhythm is familiar, and different because a lot has happened.
I have tried to be more deliberate this Christmas, less passive. I have availed myself of a significant portion of preaching and teaching from the likes of R.C. Sproul (God rest his soul) and John MacArthur. Interestingly, both are 78 years old and I appreciate the wisdom that comes from being that advanced in years and studying God’s word for longer than I’ve been alive.
I watched the late R.C. Sproul discuss the problem of pain in a lecture, along with the attempt at a Theodicy (moral defence of God on the issue of pain and evil) and at this moment, he has the answers that he sought for so many years.
Some things stand out about Christmas: the miracle of condescension, as well as the same elements of a blue Christmas and the hatred of the people of God.
The miracle of the condescension
Christmas usually encompasses shopping, gifts, food, bright decorations and occasionally a mention of the Christ child. All this is from the point of view of the lowest common denominator in society and is built around the idea of commerce, whether we like to think of it or not.
In the sermon by John MacArthur that I watched, he views it from heaven’s perspective:
Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6 – 11, NIV)
We normally see the angel’s announcement and the stable, the baby, the animals, the manger. The theological term is condescension…God becoming flesh (https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_795.cfm)
The Son gave up every right and privilege and emptied himself of many of the advantages of being God without actually ceasing to be God, as that would be impossible (https://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/kenosis.html). Being God was and is part of his nature and essence but Christ entered the world as a helpless baby and laid aside a lot of advantages that were due to Him:
- Glory; In his prayer of John 17:4 – 5, He asked the Father to restore His glory, the glory that he had before;
- Omnipotence; He opted not to use his power to escape the cross (Matthew 26:53) and he prayed for the Father to raise Lazarus (John 11:41 – 42);
- Omniscience; He didn’t know the timing of the Second Coming (Mark 13:32);
- He took on the form of a servant and lived in obedience to the Father, He trusted the Father and walked by the Holy Spirit
Merely the idea that God downgraded to humanness is a stunning move. In my humble opinion we don’t consider the implications of this when we merely think of a baby boy in a stable.
This is God coming to earth, way more cool than the large mother ships in ‘Independence Day’. That thought became more relevant to me as I consider the toll that life takes this time of year for many.
When Christmas hurts
Christmas is a time of mourning for many. A lot of people experience loss around this time of year and even if that loss is six months or six years old, the absence of a loved one is felt especially keenly at Christmas.
I was not surprised to discover that a liturgy and church service exists especially for those who are mourning at Christmas.
The first candle lit in the advent service is specifically for those who have lost a loved one, for when Christmas hurts. It’s really comforting that Christmas is not only tinsels and elves but real people going through real life.
Modern day Herods
2017 is hardly different from the time of Herod and the systemic hatred of God and his people. The Christmas season has seen many attacks and planned attacks that have – mercifully – failed to materialise:
If it wasn’t obvious before, it is obvious now: Christ is hated by many and His followers are targeted for bearing His name.
A New Hope
It is into this mess, this crime scene of humanity, with haters, with soldiers falling in the combat zone of life, that Christ enters.
He brings a New Hope. Better than any promissory note, better than a fictional Luke Skywalker, a light in the darkness, God made flesh.
This is my Christmas 2017.