In 1984, I listened to a missionary describe a conversation he had with a gentleman cab driver from a country that views Christianity with great skepticism. The missionary hoped to learn what it is about the Christian faith that the man found so difficult to believe. He asked about belief in a supreme being. He asked about miracles. He asked about scripture, and more. Finally, the missionary asked outright, “What is it about Christianity that is so difficult for you to accept?” Without hesitation the man replied, “Gods do not become humans!”
This month, Christmas is celebrated around the world. According to USA Today/Gallup, the celebration of Christmas extends well beyond the Christian faith, with a full 93% of U.S. citizens, alone, saying they will celebrate the traditionally-Christian holiday, while far fewer than that identify themselves as Christian. Within the Christian faith, if asked the purpose of the celebration, a significant number (if not most) would respond, “We are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ,” and this is true to an extent, but it goes much deeper than the birth event.
For the follower of Christ, Christmas is the celebration of everything the cab driver above found so difficult to accept. It is, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) It is “O come, O come Immanuel” – God with us. It is incarnation – God in human form. It is eternity and omnipresence entering time and space.
No other faith even attempts to make such claims. Many faiths are moral. Many are disciplined. Many strive for a link with something beyond ourselves. None other sees the Creator of all that is becoming one with what he created. Men and women searching for meaning and purpose, searching for God, are not looking for “living religion.” They are looking for life! The incarnation we celebrate this month happened for that very reason. Jesus himself said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
It is astonishing that the Creator of the universe would humble himself to step into his own creation, but it boggles the mind to know that the Creator of the universe allowed himself to be tortured and killed by the very ones he created. I don’t mean to throw cold water on the warm feelings and precious sentiment we tie to the nativity scene, but there is a reality at work here with which we must come to terms.
The baby that was wrapped and lying in that straw trough came for to Earth for a reason. He was born with a purpose, and it is not a pretty one. The charm and beauty of the manger has its inevitable end in the horror of the cross. Immediately after stating his desire that we have abundant life, Jesus also stated his intent to allow himself to be murdered. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) And later, “I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” (John 10:17-18) This is a volunteer death. As human beings, we are born and we die. In stark contrast to that, Jesus was born to die.
“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Jesus was born, and lived, and died to restore relationship. The Creator of the universe so wants an intimate relationship with you that he went to these extraordinary lengths to mend the broken relationship between himself and his creation. As you celebrate Christmas this year, do so with an immeasurable level of gratitude for the depth of love that compelled God to enter our world on your behalf, seeking you, pursuing you. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Victoriously in Christ!