So, it’s that time of year again: The time when people are either obsessed with the presents, decorations, and baked goods, or obsessed with accusing everyone else of being obsessed with the presents, decorations, and baked goods. It’s the time of year when people wait in line for hours on end to grab that “perfect” gift that’ll make someone special happy, yet they fight, shove, and argue their way through the store in order to snag that gift. It’s supposed to be the time of year that promotes “peace on earth,” yet people engage in heated debates about how “evil” “Happy Holidays” is, how “religious” “Merry Christmas” is, and vice-versa (By the way, have you noticed how Christmas songs such as “Silent Night” are played over the intercom in some stores, yet it’s totally taboo for employees to wish you a Merry Christmas?). It’s the time of year when kids anticipate the arrival of an old, chubby guy who brings gifts, yet neglect the excitement over a baby Who came as the Ultimate Gift.
Wait. Stop. Pause.
Is it just me, or does something seem really wrong with this picture? I think–no, I know–something is wrong with this picture. Somehow, in the chaos of the mistletoe, inflatable lawn ornaments, and free holiday shipping, we’ve lost touch with Christmas. We keep the story of the nativity in the back of our minds throughout the season, and we sing the occasional carol about the Baby in a manger and the angels’ tidings of great joy, but that’s the thing: the thought stays in the back of our minds. I’ll admit I’ve struggled with this in years past, but over the past couple of Christmases, I’ve come to realize something: it’s reality.
I guess it started two Christmases ago, which was mere weeks before my youngest sister was born. I’ve always loved the story of Christmas, but for some reason, that year I started thinking about how Jesus actually came as an actual baby. Which leads me to some things I want to share with you: my two favorite Christmas words.
Incarnate. It means in the flesh, in human form. That’s what Jesus came as: God incarnate. God in the flesh. God in human form. People needed a way to be freed from sin and it’s ultimate result: death and eternal punishment. Instead of just exercising some supernatural power to eliminate the sin issue, the Father took another approach. He chose a young virgin girl, barely older than a child herself, and sent an angel to announce that she would bear the Son of God. I can’t help but picture what it would be like to be in Mary’s position. How would I react if an angel came to me and said I’d carry the Savior of the world? Would I behave as she did and instantly begin to praise God for the honor He’d bestowed on me? What would it be like to, in one single moment, have my entire life’s plans altered? What would it be like to know that few would believe my child was the Child of God, not the result of a broken vow or the forsaking of a pledge? What would it be like to know I could face death when other’s thought I wasn’t being truthful in my explanations? What would it be like to travel miles on end to a faraway town, to give birth in a stable, to place my child (the promised Savior, no less) in a feeding trough because it was the only warm place available? What would it be like to hold Him for the first time, to look into His eyes, to rub His soft head, and know that I was holding God incarnate, the world’s only hope?
Sometimes, when I sit in the quiet of my room late at night and think about all of these questions, I’m overwhelmed. Mary wasn’t perfect, but she lived for God and believed with her whole heart in His promises. She trusted God would protect her (which He did), she trusted God would meet her needs (which He did), and she trusted God would fulfill His promise of redemption (which He did). Wow!
I’ve also got another favorite Christmas word: Emmanuel (also written as Immanuel). This one means “God with us,” and it’s one of the names of Jesus. When God became incarnate, He also became Emmanuel. No longer was mankind separated from the Father: Jesus provided a bridge. Just as Mary held the long-awaited Messiah in her arms, we have the opportunity to hold Him in our hearts. The Father is not a God who set the world in motion, and now sits up in Heaven and watching mayhem unfold. No, He’s a part of the everyday lives of those who believe in Him and the salvation He offers through Jesus Christ. He is Emmanuel. He is God with us. The Christmas hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a song of begging God to send the Messiah, to free Israel from captivity. Today, the same song can be sung by people who desperately want God to free them from the captivity created by their sins.
One of my very favorite (and I have a lot of favorites) Christmas songs is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” My very favorite verse (verse 2) of this song deals with my two favorite Christmas words. It proclaims:
“Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
‘Glory to the newborn King!’”
Whenever I hear those lyrics sung, I’m moved to tears. Just thinking about God Himself becoming human so He could truly be God with us. So He could experience the things we deal with on a daily basis. So we can be assured He knows what struggles we have. He went through trials too, yet He didn’t sin. There’s a verse that says,
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” –Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV)
This Christmas, focus on the reality, the realness, of the baby Jesus. Picture yourself in the place of Mary or Joseph, experience the questions they undoubtedly had, focus on the awesome miracle they were given a role in. Remember they were humans just like us, and they had fears and doubts and questions. But they also had an unshakable faith in a God who loves us so much He was willing to send His Son to earth as a baby born in the humblest of conditions, so the humblest of people could receive life through Him if they only believe. He came for young girls, poor carpenters, rugged shepherds, and wise kings. He came for those who struggle with finding a little peace on earth, and He came for those looking for peace in their hearts.
The story didn’t end at Christ’s birth. It’s still playing out in our lives today. We’ve just got to decide how it’ll impact each of us individually. Will we get so caught up in the commerciality of Christmas and the worldly presents we crave, or will we let the story touch us in such a way that we’re shaken to the core, in awe of the Lord’s great love for us, moved to tears at the realization of God’s presence, God incarnate, God with us?
“’She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” –Matthew 1:22-23 (NIV).
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” –2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV)