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“For it was to him no lowering to put on what he himself has made.  Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own creator.”

– John Chrysostom

Timothy Keller once wrote that the message of Christmas is that God comes to us and that we cannot come to God.  The implications of Emmanuel (God with us) is profound, for we will always live in the reality that we are on a visited planet.  God came down and took on flesh for us.  The Word, as John would write, wrapped Himself in a human body to provide humanity a way to God.

The Word was the inspiration and giver of breath for the created world.  He was there at the beginning of it all.  Athanasius wrote that “there is no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it in the beginning.”  The second person of the Trinity both made and then redeemed that fallen creation.  It was not a detriment for Him to take on flesh.  Instead He humbled Himself in order to restore humanity to the possibility of a right relationship with their God.

Thanks be to God for making and redeeming us!  As Chrysostom wrote, “To Him, then, who out of confusion has wrought a clean path; to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.”

Among the oxen (like an ox I’m slow)
I see a glory in the stable grow
Which, with the ox’s dullness might at length
Give me an ox’s strength.

Among the asses (stubborn I as they)
I see my Savior where I looked for hay;
So may my beastlike folly learn at least
The patience of a beast.

Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)
I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;
Oh that my baa-ing nature would win thence
Some woolly innocence.

-C.S. Lewis

(h/t The Mockingbird Blog)

Recently my Advent devotional discussed the interesting tie between Jesus’ purpose and entrance into the world.  Hopefully I don’t ruin the story, but Jesus was birthed in a stable and was nailed to a cross.  “Jesus’ life began in a stable and ended on the cross between two criminals,” as J. Heinrich Arnold would write.  The Advent and Passion of Jesus are inextricably linked.  Edith Stein reminded me that all of the mysteries within the Christian faith are linked together.  If one takes the trip to Bethlehem, then Golgotha surely must follow.  We move from crib to cross.  From humility to utter shame.

A dark side to Christmas must be tied to the brilliance of the season.  While we can appreciate the lights and candles, we must acknowledge that it is the darkness that only adds to their glorious nature.  The lights point us towards hope and brighter days.

If candles in a window and lights hung on a tree offer beauty and hope, how much more so with the coming of the Son of God?  John states in the prologue to his gospel account that Jesus was the life of humanity, the very light of God.  “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).  Indeed the light shines forth in both the bleak midwinter and in the depravity of the human condition.  The light of the world came forth to alter our situation and to bring redemption to our sinful reality.  As the carol ‘Silent Night’ beautifully depicts,

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

God is with us.  Amen.

One of the most beloved tales in English literature is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge.  Charles Dickens’ timeless story was created as a commentary on society at that time and helped create enduring Christmas traditions.  While I never really connected it to the Christian story of Christmas, I believe that there are some unexpected parallels.  The message of a Christmas Carol was about charity, love and aiding the poor souls that filled the streets of London.  Scrooge was chastised dramatically for not being charitable towards them.  He ultimately had a rebirth of character, prompting an incredible change in Scrooge.

While the Dickens story might be nice and socially challenging, what does it have to do with the birth of God Incarnate?  The first Advent (ie, appearing) of our Lord was a way of bringing the Kingdom of God crashing into the world.  As Jesus took on His earthly ministry, He challenged the way many of His listeners thought about wealth.  He told people to sell all that they had and come after Him.  Others rectified their financially corrupt dealings and served Jesus.  He warned the wealthy that the accumulation of wealth very well could cost them their own life.

I believe that Jesus is saying this because people who have been given a lot will be required to live an amply abundant Kingdom life.  In one’s luxury, hopefully their generosity and charity has not been neglected.  The Kingdom of God is about the flipping of the world’s powers on its proverbial head.  Those that are oppressed shall indeed be empowered and liberated.   The Kingdom is not just about personal salvation, but about societal reckoning. It is about putting the world to right.  The first Advent of Jesus ushered this in and the second Advent will implement it fully.

I don’t know about you, but quite honestly these sayings of Jesus are tough and truly convict me to the core!

“That is why, behind all our fun and games at Christmastime, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost fright at what God has done.  We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago.  Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet.”

-JB Philips

Watch for the Light” Advent Reader

 

The overwhelming reality that God has visited our planet should rightly jolt a person.  It should kick them and startle their innermost being.  So often we picture Christmas as a nice holiday, something so neat and tidy with a bow on top of it.  Cute figurines represent the holy family and bright lights shine forth in the dark winter.  We say put Christ back into Christmas as we run around completing our Christmas shopping list.  The mystery of the first Advent is replaced with orderliness and busyness.

As we enter into the midst of the Christmas season, it is important to remember the scandal and drama of that first Advent centuries ago.  God became man and walked on this planet.  He came down, emptied Himself, and lived on this planet.  God, the powerful covenant keeping Lord who brought Israel out of Egypt and rescued her from her foes (see Psalm 136 as the psalmist develops this thought), sat inside the womb of Mary for nine months.  God, the one who spoke the universe into existence, then learned how to speak and walk as a toddler does.  We live on a globe that once was visited by God Himself, clothed in the flesh of humanity!

To process the reality that God became man and dwelt among us is too bizarre.  How frightfully wonderful to think that the incarnation occurred so that we might be reconciled to God.  Now as we await the second Advent of Jesus, it makes for even more interesting drama.  Christ will return and right the world.  He will finally implement His Kingdom in its totality. 

And with that thought I pray, “Lord come quickly!”

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