Listen to this while you read – Instrumental of “What Child is This?” :
It’s Christmas, a season known for the frenetic shopping in malls and stores, of families decorating the Christmas tree, and the rich smells of melted chocolate and home cooking migrating out of the kitchen. Surely Christmas Day is the most important day around the globe, the most momentous, expensive, and memorable of days in most of the world. Sadly most people miss the point of Christmas, but even so they do celebrate it, and the message cannot be ignored, even if subtle. The world cannot now ignore the day when God became man, yet at first this was not so.
I’ve been privileged to have three Sundays to do a Christmas series, and tomorrow morning I will give the second one. The series is on Matthew 1 and 2, expounding in three parts on Christ’s humble origins, His mission, and finally His true glory.
The word “Emmanuel” is truly captivating, one we all have heard and known so well. We know that it is translated into “God with us”, as the Matthew shows, translating from Hebrew into Greek. It is a phrase that evokes meditation, imagination, and worship. Truly that day, now two-thousand years ago, has changed the very essence of today’s world more than any other event in all of history, for the Incarnation was the beginning of the road to the cross and the resurrection, and the two are forever intertwined as God’s greatest masterpiece of wisdom, love, and hope of eternal redemption.
What is so shocking to me is that while the coming of Christ is so foundational to today’s culture, economy, politics, and especially religion, the original day when Mary gave birth to Christ was largely insignificant to their world. Today we speak with awe of that great and glorious day, as children reenact the story with bright lights enlarging one’s joy and another’s fear, a multitude of choirs arrange wondrous works of praise, and preachers speak with elation of the coming of Emmanuel. The reality is that the coming of Messiah was one of pain, doubt, confusion, and the smell of a country barn.
The significance of the coming of Jesus into the world grew with time, one that only gradually began to glow with glory. Imagine with me, if you will, walking into a dimly lit room and sitting to observe a man begin to paint on a piece of bright white linen. You see the disheveled painter take an antiquated brush and dab it into some dark gray paint. He then seems to look beyond the painting, at some point in the sky beyond, visualizing his work. He can picture what he will paint, he knows of the wonder, glory, and beauty that he is attempting to portray. And then, in a moment of inspiration he brushes a curved line across the center of the white linen. There is no beauty here, no awe, just a long gray streak across a perfectly good piece of cloth. Who is he? What is his plan? Perhaps we would see him as a poor rustic painter. What if this disheveled artist was none other than Leonardo da Vinci, and his work the beginning of the Mona Lisa?
In Bethlehem, in that dark, smelly, and uninspiring cave God had begun His greatest work, the ultimate masterpiece. Whereas shepherds came timidly to watch, and Mary looked on in confused wonder at the tiny creature lying so helplessly in her arms, others understood fully. All the while angels in heaven and on earth sang with so great a joy, so as to inspire all the future song-writers, poets, and God-fearers everywhere to worship, praise, and adore the coming of Emmanuel. They knew each stroke, they knew the goal, and had seen and tasted the eternal victory of God over sin, death, and hell.
Joseph was given a dream that to him perhaps was tinged of confusion, inspiring him to fear and to have to fight against doubt, yet to us it is a message of salvation, redemption, and a new beginning.
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Mat 1:20-23, ESV)
God’s masterpiece has almost been completed, although more has yet to be added to the canvas of this world’s history, for Emmanuel is set to return as the King of Kings. Earth has yet to see her Creator in His full power, might, love, and glory. To this we say: “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel!”
May this Christmas be one that lifts our eyes to heaven with great hope in joy and praise, and one that bows our hearts to earth with repentance in humility and thankfulness. All praise and glory to the Son who came to forgive us our sins. All praise and glory to the Father who in His infinite wisdom began a work to redeem all things, restoring them to Himself. All praise and glory to the Holy Spirit for the miraculous work that gave us the birth of God in human flesh.