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She looks into the face of the baby. Her son. Her Lord. His Majesty. At this point in history, the human being who best understands who God is and what he is doing is a teenage girl in a smelly stable. She can’t take her eyes off him.
Somehow Mary knows she is holding God. So this is he. She remembers the words of the angel. “His kingdom will never end.” He looks like anything but a king. His face is prunish and red. His cry, though strong and healthy, is still the helpless and piercing cry of a baby. And he is absolutely dependent upon Mary for his well-being.
Majesty in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of sheep manure and sweat. God entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager, and in the presence of a carpenter. A birth that couldn’t be more humble. A birth that changed the world—including mine and yours. Can we ever thank him enough?
An ordinary night with ordinary sheep and ordinary shepherds. You might have called it boring. If not for a God who loves to hook an “extra” on the front of the ordinary, the night would have gone unnoticed. The sheep would have been forgotten, and the shepherds would have slept the night away.
But God dances amid the common. And that night he showed some of his best moves. The black sky exploded with brightness. Trees that had been shadows jumped into clarity. Sheep that had been silent became a chorus of curiosity. One minute the shepherd was dead asleep, the next he was rubbing his eyes and staring into the face of an alien. The night was ordinary no more.
The angel came in the night because that is when lights are best seen and that is when they are most needed. God comes into the common for the same reason. His most powerful tools are the simplest.
Are we still stunned by God’s coming? Still staggered by the event? Does Christmas still spawn the same speechless wonder it did two thousand years ago?—Max Lucado1
Our powerful yet gentle Savior
Did you know that thousands of years before you were born, God knew just what you needed? God knew you’d need extra strength so you wouldn’t give up. God knew you needed a Savior so big that the entire universe couldn’t hold him. God knew you needed a Savior so tender and caring that you’d turn to him during times of pain and suffering.
Centuries before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah announced that God would send his Son to Earth. This was 700 years before the very first Christmas. He told us the Savior would be both powerful and personal—and he’d be strong enough to save us, but also tender and loving.
Most impressively, God tells us that Jesus would have a personal relationship with us. It’s an amazing prediction.
God tells us this in Isaiah 40: “Shout louder—don’t be afraid—tell the cities of Judah, ‘Your God is coming!’ Yes, the Lord God is coming with mighty power; he will rule with awesome strength. ... He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will carry the lambs in his arms and gently lead the ewes with young.”2
Again, Isaiah didn’t predict just Jesus’ gentleness but also his enormous power. “Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are considered as a speck of dust in the scales; He lifts up the islands like fine dust.”3
Then Isaiah got personal, and he applied the coming of Jesus to our lives today. “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. … Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”4
I don’t know what problems you’re facing this Christmas. I don’t know what burdens you’re bearing. I don’t know what grief, fear, anxiety, or confusion you may be feeling right now, but I do know this: Your Creator is there for you—with the power of a hurricane and the gentleness of a baby, born in a manger 2,000 years ago.—Rick Warren5
Why Christmas matters
There are now, and long have been, two variations on the Christmas theme. There is the version in which Christmas is a largely commercial enterprise. At its best, this version of Christmas is an exercise in generosity and an opportunity to turn away from professional pursuits and remember the fundamental importance of family. At its worst, it is an unseemly weeks-long binge of expenditure and acquisition, an exercise in rank consumerist materialism, where we do not celebrate the power of God so much as we observe and demonstrate our faith in the power of advertising and credit cards.
The other version of Christmas commemorates the entrance of an eternal God into the whirl of time and history, a God who is Spirit and Love into a world of flesh and violence, a God who became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who came to provide the Way and the Truth and the Life for all humankind. It is this latter version of Christmas on which I wish to reflect. What does it mean? ...
Like the creation and restoration of all things, the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ are expressions of a most extravagant divine love. A love that never fails. A love that seeks beyond every river and mountain until the lost sheep is found. A love that will suffer and sacrifice all things on behalf of the beloved, that lays down its life for its friend. The same love that brought us into being in the first place enters, in the village of Bethlehem in the person of Jesus Christ, into a new and more intimate relationship with us. God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son, so that every person who puts his faith in Him will be reconciled to God and brought to live with Him forever. …
We celebrate in Christmas that God delights in accomplishing the impossible and exceeding the hopes of men, in using the small, the weak, and the foolish things of the world to humble the great, the mighty, and the wise.
Christmas is, among other things, a story of the impossible. God becomes human. The timeless, changeless God enters into history with all its change and variation. The mighty God who created all things humbles Himself and becomes a helpless infant. The “reason for the season” is thoroughly unreasonable. This is not what reason would expect. Reason would tell us that these things are impossible. Yet God loves to explode human conceptions of what is possible. God loves to show us that He is greater—and nearer to us in love—than we had imagined.—Timothy Dalrymple6
The work of Christmas begins
When the carols have been stilled,
When the star-topped tree is taken down,
When family and friends are gone home,
When we are back to our schedules
The work of Christmas begins:
To welcome the refugee,
To heal a broken planet,
To feed the hungry,
To build bridges of trust, not walls of fear,
To share our gifts,
To seek justice and peace for all people,
To bring Christ’s light to the world.
Published on Anchor December 2021. Read by Jon Marc.
Music from the Christmas Moments album. Used by permission.
1 Max Lucado, God Came Near (Doubleday Religious Publishing Group, 1993).
2 Isaiah 40:9–11 TLB.
3 Isaiah 40:15 CSB.
4 Isaiah 40:26, 28–29 NIV.
7 Michael Dougherty, a variation on Howard Thurman’s “When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled.”