What does the incarnation of God in Christ mean to you? It’s so easy to get distracted. It’s so easy to get discouraged. And we so often forget the real meaning of Christ’s coming, the secret of Christmas. So let’s remember.
The Bondage Before Christmas
My hand trembles with my attempts to escape reality. My mind gropes for answers. My eyes rove from one person to another, looking for something, somewhere. And then I die. There is only a comma between my birth and my death. I stand poised on a comma. I walk an empty road between two hospitals—I’m born in one and I die in another. Somewhere down the road, I look up into the sky and ask, “Who am I? What am I doing here?” All I can hear is the cold, dead, hollow, empty silence.
The historians tell me about my past. The statisticians tell me about my future. The psychologists liken me to a rat running through a maze. The philosophers try to give me reason for my running. The scientists tell me I’m a blob of protoplasm. I listen to their little speeches. When they finish, again all I can hear is the silence.
The German philosopher Schopenhauer sat on a park bench one day, his head in his hands, contemplating, I suppose, his own existence. He was approached by a curious policeman who asked, “Who are you?” Schopenhauer looked up and mirroring the dilemma of mankind without Christ, said, “I wish to God I knew.”
That is a world without Christmas. It is a world that laughs with derision. If they stop laughing, they will be forced to face the meaninglessness, emptiness and guilt of their existence. It’s frightening when you think about it—the bondage before Christmas.
Christmas didn’t start in the year 1. It started at the foundation of the world.
And the laughter of God himself spilled over into the world. “In the beginning was the Word…The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
The Beginning of Christmas
Christmas didn’t start in the year 1. It started at the foundation of the world. God, who lives outside of time, began a time continuum.
I want to give you a mini-lesson in history.
Some 1,800 years before the birth of Christ, the first Christmas, a group of nobodies in the middle of the desert, Bedouins (Hebrew for “wanderer”) got a weird idea. The idea was that there was one God and that God had called them to be his people. They began to develop the highest form of monotheism and ethics the world had ever known, and no historical anthropologist can explain where in the world they got it. They began to move down a corridor of time.
In the year 700 BC, there was another corridor of time, the Greco-Roman. You’ll remember Alexander, the great military conquests, the Greeks with their philosophy of Aristotle and Plato, their tremendous art and architecture, the magnificence and beauty of their culture. The Romans with their military machine, the Pox Romana, the Roman Peace. Throughout all of Western Civilization for the first time in all of history, there was peace.
The Greek “word” is logos. The Jews began to develop a concept of the logos, the creative word of God. When God speaks, the world comes into existence and that word becomes personified in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament. If you read the book of Proverbs, you read about Wisdom personified. In the intertestamental period, that became named as the Word.
The philosophers of Greece and Rome began to develop a philosophical system. They understood that the world was in flux. They understood molecules before they could name them. Their minds postulated a world which was loose and something held it together. The Stoic philosophers named it and they called it the Word, logos. And then Jesus came and the Word became flesh. The Greeks, Romans and Jews understood. God had prepared even the thought forms of the world to receive the Messiah on the first Christmas.
These two lines passed, traveling in parallel corridors. At one time in human history, they crossed. At that very moment, Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem. If he had been born 70 years later or 70 years earlier, you would have never heard his name. There was a road system, a common language, and a common coinage. For the first time in all of mankind’s history, an idea could be planted, spread and sweep the world in three centuries. An accident? If you believe that, you’ll believe anything.
The Betrayal of Christmas
When I first became a Christian, I thought that all I had to do was to tell my friends. It was so good to be forgiven, to live forever, to be free and to not have to please anyone anymore. It was so good to be a part of a family 2,000 years old, it was so good to hear the Good News. So I told them. And they laughed. In their darkness, they could not see the light.
We can sing the carols. They can’t. We can have the parties. They can’t. We can laugh with freedom. They can’t. There is a betrayal at Christmas. They don’t understand.
Unbelievers get so close at Christmas. There is a softening of the heart, a quieting of the mind, a reaching out in compassion. And every year, I close my eyes and see a woman in a living room taking down the decorations. She stops for a moment and thinks, There was something there and I missed it. Christmas is for us, but it is also for them. We are here for us, but we are also here for them. Christ came.
The Benefits of Christmas
You are free—no ifs, ands or buts. That was truth revealed in the incarnation. The doctrines of grace draw Christians to the throne. No matter how much sin or how deep the rebellion, the God of the universe reaches out and holds us with his love. If you go to God, he won’t be angry.
The principle is this: It is easier to hug a dirty kid than it is to hug a stiff kid. Grace says, “Don’t be stiff. I can deal with your dirt.” That is what the cross was all about—God’s enduring love. He declared his love, and then he stretched out his arms and died. All has been paid in full.
The Battle Cry of Christmas
God has declared his love and his power. Christmas is a time when Christians remember the First Advent and look forward to the Second Advent. Jesus is coming back. The trumpets will blow. The thunder will sound. The legions will shout. And his people will greet him. No more cradles. No more babies. No more crosses. Jesus Christ is coming. That is the real secret of Christmas.