Are you like me? Can we be completely honest here? I get burned out on Christmas pretty early on. Hearing the same songs over and over and over and over. Seeing more attention being paid to some fat guy in a red suit than to the Person whose birthday we’re supposed to be celebrating.
And there’s a legitimate case to be made that we put way too much stock in it from a theological sense. I mean, the Bible never tells us to celebrate Christmas, right? The message of Paul is that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, all according to what God’s word had predicted. He never mentions the details of the birth or attaches much significance to it. What most people don't know is that up until a few centuries ago, the decision to pay any attention to Christ's birth was very controversial. The Puritans in America, for example, most emphatically did not celebrate it.
And sometimes I think that there’s a temptation to focus on his birth to the neglect of aspects of our faith which are less comforting. For example, why he came in the first place. I’m reminded of what some critics said of the movie The Passion of the Christ a few years ago: “Why spend so much time on the gruesome details of his death? Why not give more attention to his teachings on love?” Because that's not why he came. He didn’t come primarily to teach. He came primarily to die a horrible death in our place and take the wrath of the Father upon himself so that we'd never have to experience it. Yes, he was a little baby when he came. But he didn’t stay that way—he became a man. And as long as we can visualize him as a little baby in a manger, we don’t have to face some things about who he is and who we are.
And yet. . .
And yet. . .
The Bible does tell us the story, and there’s a reason why it’s in there. Here are my thoughts on it:
• We always have to maintain a balance in our minds concerning who Jesus is. He’s God in the flesh. He also was--and is--totally human. He’s as just as much human as you are I. And Luke wanted to hammer that point home to us.
• That means he willingly associates with us. In all our sinfulness and rebellion and faults, he completely and permanently links himself with our plight.
• I’ve made this point before, so please forgive me if this is old hat to you. The Bible is history. To Buddhism, it really doesn’t matter whether or not Buddha said and did the things he did—or even existed. But the Bible claims to be set in real-life history. It claims that this stuff literally happened, like the battle at Gettysburg. C.S. Lewis was an expert on pagan myths, and he said that anyone who says that the Gospels are myths is only demonstrating their own ignorance about what myths look like. Luke tells us about a real governor in a real land that we can really date. He gives us times and dates and places.
That means that the Bible is a book for real people with real problems. That means it’s for you. It addresses you, right here and right now. That’s why Luke took the trouble to do his homework and make sure he was presenting an accurate account of what happened.
• Even in these short verses we see a wonderful tension between the world we live in and God intervening, the ultimate humility seamlessly blending with grand and glorious mysteries. What am I talking about? On one hand, you have the invisible hand of sovereign God Almighty manipulating events in order to carry out his eternal plan. A Caesar on the other side of the Empire decides to declare a universal census. Joseph and Mary are then forced to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to register, and just at the right moment the time to deliver comes. This all happened at just the right time and in just the right circumstances in order that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem just as Micah predicted. Otherwise he would have been born in Nazareth, which was Joseph’s hometown.
So we see all this glorious outworking of God’s program, and when our Savior comes, he’s laid in a feeding trough. A feeding trough!? That’s the tension we see throughout the Gospels: Grand and awe-inspiring and bottomless mystery wrapped up in dirt-poor humility.
That’s our Savior. And keep in mind, the whole reason for this humiliation. . . is for you.
Lord Jesus, just like Job I think it's best if I just put a hand over my mouth and sit in silence for a little bit.