Christmas

A Great Joy For All The People

A Great Joy For All The People

“The angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:10–11

Jesus’ arrival brings joy and hope for all people. The shepherds felt that joy when they received the announcement of Jesus’ birth from the angels. We feel that joy when we celebrate the Incarnation at Christmas and when we look forward to Jesus’ second coming—when everything will be made right.

A joyful future

In Isaiah 35:1–10, the prophet looks forward to the future promised for the people of God—a future inaugurated at the first coming of Christ and consummated at his second coming. When Jesus returns, the effects of sin’s curse will be removed: the wildernesses and dry land will blossom, and streams will come forth from the desert. The miracles Jesus did illustrate what life will be like in his kingdom: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isa. 35:5–6).

When God brings restoration, tears will be turned into shouts of joy.

God cares about those on the fringes of society, those who have no voice of their own and cannot speak for themselves. The Messiah has been anointed by God to bring good news to the poor and liberty to the captives, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of God’s vengeance on evil and oppression. God is one who loves justice and mercy, and in his kingdom those who suffer from injustice will be restored. Jesus “will save the lame and gather the outcast, and [he] will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth” (Zeph. 3:19).

Tears into shouts of joy

Our joy at how God has saved us—and our hope for the complete salvation that is coming—leads Christians to want to share that joy and hope with others. Psalm 146:4–10 says that the one “who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry” is blessed. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up the downcast, keeps watch over sojourners, and upholds widows and orphans (vv. 8–9). When God brings restoration to his people, there will be laughter and joy, and tears shall be turned into shouts of joy (Ps. 126:5).

What God has done for us motivates us to spread that joy.

In Matthew 11:2–11, John hears rumors about what Jesus was doing and asks him (through his disciples), “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus responds to John’s followers: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matt. 11:4–5). Jesus’ answer is incredibly fitting—“Look at what I’m doing,” he says. “You know that the Messiah will bring healing to those in need, and that’s exactly what I bring.”

As Christians, our joy at what God has done for us motivates us to spread that joy to others through both words and actions. We get to participate in God’s mission and help share the joy that is for all people: the Savior is here.

A Savior Is Born

A Savior Is Born

“And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” Matthew 2:6

“Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” John 7:42

As God’s people waited for the coming of the Savior God had promised, they had many detailed prophecies, which indicated how and where he would arrive. It had long been known from prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the city where David, Israel’s greatest king, had been born and anointed king. God promised that the anointed one would be a descendant of King David and would come from Bethlehem.

The Humble King

Even though Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, lived in Nazareth, far from Bethlehem, they had to travel to Bethlehem to be registered in the census:

“All went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them at the inn.” Luke 2:3–7

So, in an unexpected way, God fulfilled his promise that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, a fitting birthplace for the one who would succeed David as the greatest King of Israel.

Though he was the King, Jesus was born in the humblest of circumstances—into an animal’s feed trough—because his parents could not afford lodging. This reminds us of the humility of the Son of God revealed in his Incarnation.

The Word Became Flesh

“Incarnation” means “becoming flesh.” It explains how the Son, the second person of the Trinity, entered into human history in the flesh as the God-man, Jesus Christ. This central belief of the Christian faith is taught clearly in Scripture: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

One of the church’s best theologians, John Calvin, says that the Incarnation is God’s supreme act of divine accommodation to us. According to Calvin, God accommodated to human weakness through humbling himself in the Incarnation:  “God would remain absolutely hidden if we were not illuminated by the brightness of Christ.” We would never be able to know God if not for Christ serving as our mediator: “For he assumed the character of Mediator in order to approach to us by descending from the bosom and incomprehensible glory of his Father.”

God Is With Us

In the Old Testament, God repeatedly promised: “I will be their God, and they will be my people. I will live among them and walk among them.” Christ is the fulfillment of God’s desire to dwell among his people. This is why Jesus was called “Immanuel,” meaning “God is with us.”

God With Us & For Us

God With Us & For Us

When we talk about the Incarnation, we are claiming two things to be true: 1) Jesus is truly God, and 2) Jesus is fully human.

Around Christmas, we say some amazing things about infant Jesus. Scriptures call baby Jesus Immanuel (God with us) and the Savior.

Christmas is all about God becoming human—the Incarnation. When we talk about the Incarnation, we are claiming two things to be true: 1) Jesus is truly God, and 2) Jesus is fully human. These two truths are absolutely essential to salvation, because only God can save, and as the early church theologian Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, “That which he has not assumed he has not healed.” In other words, for Christianity to work, Christians need to be able to talk about Jesus as human and Jesus as divine. As fully human and fully divine, Jesus is God with us and for us.

God With Us

Immanuel, God with us, shows us that Jesus came to show his loves for us and to comfort us. A major theme of the Bible is God coming to live among his people: “I will live among them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people” (Lev. 26:12; Jer. 32:38; Ezek. 37:27; Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:21).

Jesus is the fulfillment of this hope, because he is both fully human and fully God. As John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:1–5). And we see in Colossians that, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9, NIV).

But what is happening in the Incarnation is more than metaphysics—it is love.

God For Us

Jesus is the Savior who saves us from our sins. The name “Jesus” is the Greek version of “Joshua,” which means “the Lord saves” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus saves us by becoming our substitute. In his teaching, his ministry, his perfect sinless life, his death, and his resurrection, he showed that God is not only with us, but he is for us.

The greatest act Jesus did for us was his sacrificial death on our behalf. As Robert Capon writes, “Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works.” John calls him “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. . . . No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:14–15, 18; NIV).

Colossians 2:13–14 tells us that when we were dead in our sins, God made us alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

The Incarnation reveals God’s love, comforts us in this life, and redeems us from our sins. One historic prayer blends all these together:

You gave Jesus Christ, your only Son, to be born for us; who, by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, was made perfect Man of the flesh of the Virgin Mary his mother; so that we might be delivered from the bondage of sin, and receive power to become your children.

God Is Keeping His Promises

God Is Keeping His Promises

“He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord. . . . And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.” Micah 5:4–5

At Advent, we celebrate God’s faithfulness to his promises in sending Jesus, and we trust that he remains faithful as we look forward to Christ’s second coming.

God Promises Salvation

Throughout the Old Testament, God makes promises to his people of a future deliverer he will send. Often, his people try to develop their own plans to get deliverance from enemies or to win God’s favor and love. But God continually points ahead to another Savior who will come.

Isaiah 7:10–16 recounts the story of King Ahaz, king of Judah at a time when Judah was facing a foreign invasion. Ahaz hoped for help from the king of Assyria. The prophet Isaiah, however, downplays human-oriented deliverance and instead points to God’s ultimate divine intervention to bring about his kingdom—an intervention through a baby born in Bethlehem. Isaiah says, “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).

Something similar happens in 2 Samuel 7:1–16, when God corrects King David’s human plans by revealing his divine plan. When David starts to make plans to build a temple for God to dwell in, God counters that he himself will build his own “house” through the dynasty of David, ultimately dwelling among his people as God with us—Immanuel—in Jesus Christ. God promises that he will make for David a great name, give his people eternal rest from enemies, and give him an everlasting kingdom (Isa. 7:9–16). These promises are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus.

God Delivers

With the coming of Jesus, we see God’s faithfulness to his promises. As Paul writes, the gospel message was “promised beforehand through [God’s] prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:2–4). The good news of salvation is that God has been faithful to his promise in sending Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

At his second coming, Jesus will complete what he started.

Jesus’ coming obliterates the system of sacrifices for sin, and with them all our human attempts to save ourselves and win favor with God through our own effort or willpower. Because of Jesus’ sinless life, sacrificial death on our behalf, and resurrection from death, “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:9–10). When we think about Jesus’ birth and rejoice in the salvation that he has brought, we can take courage in knowing God is faithful to his promises.

God is Faithful

The Advent season is a journey through the biblical story that shows us how “all the promises of God find their Yes” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). Advent points us to Jesus, just like all Scripture. At his first coming, which we celebrate at Christmas, Jesus showed us his humility, his love for us, and his heart of grace toward sinners and sufferers. At his second coming, which we look forward to in Advent, he will complete what he started, bringing a final end to suffering, sin, and death, restoring his creation, and setting up a new kingdom of righteousness and peace. God keeps his promises.