I confess I can’t wait for Christmas Day. We have the whole gang coming to our house. My 92 year old mother and twin brother are coming up from Kerrville, Texas. Our son Nathan and daughter-in-law Abigail are flying in from Boston with our middle grandchild 1½ year old Simon (alias Super Simon!). Our daughter Sarah and son-in-law Steve are flying in from the Washington, D.C. area with two precious grandchildren, 3½ year old Grace (alias the Amazing Grace!) and 1 year old (plus a month) Sam (alias Yosemite Sam!). It will be fabulous! My ever perceptive wife says that I have built expectations in my head well beyond the best dreams of expectant reality. In my excitement, Christmas is about the Grandkids coming!
And yet a cluster of things give me pause to remember that it is about the baby; not the grandbabies, as precious as Grace, Simon, and Sam are to us, but it is about a baby named Jesus. Last Sunday we read the lectionary lesson from Matthew and Isaiah. “Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). And Matthew, “Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel (Emmanuel means “God with us.”)” (Matthew 1:22-23). A baby named Jesus is the ultimate demonstration of the very character and nature of God.
1. God’s very nature is love. What is more loving than a baby? Numerous theologians and Christian writers over the 20 centuries of time have pointed out that God came as a baby not to overwhelm us (for God could have come as a conquering giant or an terrible power) but to woo us. We instinctively approach a baby in tender love.
2. God comes as one vulnerable. The defining characteristic of the Lord is not overwhelming might or coercion but rather one in the most vulnerable of forms.
3. God enters our world in humility. The Lord’s place of entry is not a castle or a palace but a cave made into a stable. Egotistic ambition is counter the very nature and character of the divine presence.
4. God comes to all of us, not just the mighty but lowly. Shepherds were consider the lowest of the low, but it is “certain poor shepherds” who are accorded the honor of greeting the newborn King and Savior.
The list could go on but now let us simply pause here. There is enough to power and instruct us. The baby shows by way of demonstration the way to life and light eternal. God in Christ through the baby Jesus unfolds the divine nature for all to see.
The great joy of His birth is not a pause in the march of days. It is not a temporary state of caroling good will. It is a change of relationship. It is good news of great joy because from henceforth our relationship with God is one of love and not fear, of compassion and not judgment. We experience great joy because our sins are forgiven by this one whose birth we celebrate. “To you is born a Savior” (Luke 2:11, paraphrased).
Do you remember the story of Beauty and the Beast? It is “a classic tale of radical transformation. It’s the story of an angry beast whose only hope of being transformed into a genuine human being is to be loved in his unlovable condition by a beautiful woman. At first, Beauty is frightened by the Beast’s large stature, his meanness, his power. But over time, the unearned love of Beauty transforms the Beast into a man” (James Harnish, Come Home for Christmas: An Advent Study for Adults, p. 34).
That transformation process launched at Christmas is done so by none other than God. It is a renewal of life that is offered to the shepherds terrified in the field. It is the same new life offered to us in our fields of our modern day fear. Do you remember that line from Robert Frost’s poem “The Death of a Hire Man” in which a person named Warren says, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in” (Frost taken from Harnish, IBID, p. 35).
This is the great joy we are offered at Christmas but with one twist, one great reversal. We don’t have to go to God. God in Christ comes to us. God reveals, makes known, God’s very nature! This, my friends, is what is meant by salvation. All the talk of saving has to do with the restoration of a relationship with God; who in divine beauty comes to us as a baby to woo us and love us.
Christmas really is about the baby (even more than our family no less!)! It is revelation into the very nature of God.