The longer I live, the less I understand Christmas

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The longer I live, the less I understand Christmas

December 25, 2023 -

Light falls upon a manger. By andrewaustinpaul/stock.adobe.com

Light falls upon a manger. By andrewaustinpaul/stock.adobe.com

Light falls upon a manger. By andrewaustinpaul/stock.adobe.com

Scientists still don’t know why cats purr, why bicycles stay upright when ridden, how animals migrate, or why we sleep. And they speculate as to whether the universe is finite or infinite.

The omniscient Christ of Christmas has no such questions today (cf. John 2:24; 16:30; 21:17).

Speaking of the universe: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope recently captured stunning images of Uranus along with its numerous rings and fourteen of its twenty-seven moons. The space agency also recently captured images of a solar flare that disrupted radio signals on Earth.

Max Lucado noted that every square yard of the sun is “constantly emitting 130,000 horse power, the equivalent of 450 eight-cylinder car engines.” He added, “Our globe’s weight is estimated at six sextillion tons—that’s a six with twenty-one zeroes!”

The omnipotent Christ of Christmas made all of that (Colossians 1:16).

Then, in a miracle-defying comprehension, he reduced all of his grandeur and glory to become a fetus in the womb of a peasant teenage girl. Then, on the first Christmas day, he was born as a helpless baby into the world he created.

Twenty-one centuries later, we still celebrate that first Christmas. But the longer I live, the less I understand it.

Why did Jesus come the way he did?

We know that Jesus came into the world to die for the world: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This was always God’s plan: Jesus was “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8 NIV).

However, it would seem that the divine Son of God could have entered our world at any age in any way he wished.

Scripture records that “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23). Why not come to our planet then? We know little about his birth and nothing about his adolescence apart from a single episode when he was twelve years of age (Luke 2:41–51). Why enter the world as a baby?

I understand that his birth fulfilled numerous biblical prophecies. We are told that he would come into the world as an infant: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). We are told that his birth would be miraculous: “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). We are even told the place where the miracle would occur: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel” (Micah 5:2).

But the Spirit who inspired these prophecies could have inspired different predictions describing the Messiah’s entrance into the world as an adult. Why these?

And why, if he chose to come into the world as a baby, did he choose to come in the way he did? Jesus was the only baby to choose his parents, and he chose not royalty but peasants. He was the only child to choose his attendants, and he chose not priests and rabbis but dirty field hands. He was the only baby to choose the place of his birth, and he chose not a palace but a cave, not a lovely wooden crib but a rough stone feed trough.

It’s hard to imagine how Jesus could have come in a more humble and lowly way than he did.

The one gift Jesus wants

I grew up in a family that never attended church. As a result, my childhood Christmas memories are all about Santa Claus and receiving presents. After I became a Christian at the age of fifteen, I learned the biblical story we celebrate today. When I became a pastor, I told that story each year in sermons and Bible studies. But only in recent years have I begun to reflect on the questions I’ve asked today.

Here’s what I now think: Jesus entered our world in the lowest, most humble manner possible to identify with humanity at our lowest and most humble (cf. Philippians 2:5–8). He experienced the full gamut of our finitude—he knew hunger, thirst, and exhaustion, and “in every respect has been tempted as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). He then died in the cruelest, most agonizing manner ever devised.

Consequently, we can know that Jesus knows all we are going through today. He is praying for us right now (Romans 8:34) with complete understanding of our every issue, problem, and pain. Counselors warn us not to tell suffering people “I know how you feel” since every person’s suffering is unique to them. But Jesus can say this to every one of us, right now.

Because he is holding us in his hand this moment (John 10:28), nothing can come to us without coming first through him. No matter what we go through, we go through it with him (Matthew 28:20). Because he was born in a manger in Bethlehem, he will be born again in any human heart—including yours. Because he walked our fallen planet in a fallen human body, he walks now in yours (1 Corinthians 12:27).

The more I reflect upon such miraculous grace, the less I understand it. But I don’t have to understand God’s love to experience it. I only need to return to Bethlehem. I only need to join the shepherds in their wonder and the angels in their worship. I only need to make the infant king my “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).

I only need to give him the one gift he wants this Christmas: our hearts.

Will you join me today?

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