Christmas is only days away as this is being written. Snow has been falling slowly and steadily, piling up in sparkling mounds of soft whiteness that glitter in the frosty beams of the porch lights. Gifts are wrapped, the tree is decorated in white lights, little brown teddy bears, cranberry colored silk ribbon, clusters of berries, and pinecones– and plans for an “Old English” Christmas feast of prime rib with Yorkshire pudding, roast goose, and steamed pudding have fallen nicely into place.
At this time of year, I wake early each morning, while it’s still very dark, and quietly turn on the lights of the Christmas tree, then snuggle with a cozy blanket in front of the fire as the morning dawns outside. Reading through the Gospels, I’m amazed– again– at Jesus: Who He is, why He came, and the message that He preached.
The birth of Jesus– I am recognizing more and more– is infinitely more than the sweet and happy story of a cute little baby in a manger. The meaning of His coming is infinitely more, even, than our eternal happiness, or the promise that our lives– now and forever– will be richer or more comfortable because He came. The wonderful story of the birth of Jesus, I’m finding, can never be separated from all of His life, and the ultimate purpose that He served for the glory of His Father. It just can’t.
Frankly, the story of His coming is largely one of pain. It cannot have been an easy task for Jesus to leave the glory of His Father to come and live among men. I was recently stunned by a sermon preached from Hebrews 12:1,2 that says, “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”
Right up until that moment, I had always read this essentially as, “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith who endured the cross because he was focused on the joy that was ahead for Him…” But I was wrong.
In truth, the word “for” in this context is another word for “replaced” or “exchanged” or “instead of,” as when He replaces “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…” (Isaiah 61.) It was an exchange. He exchanged the joy that was set before him in order to come to earth– and immediately begin his infancy as a fugative, his parents’ running to save his life. He grew to be scorned and ridiculed, then ultimately to endure the humiliation and suffering of the cross. The reality is that when Jesus came to earth to live among men, it was a great cost to leave the joy He knew at His Father’s side. And He knew exactly why He had come.
He truly “humbled Himself” that He could become everything to us and thus fulfill His Father’s glory. Consequently, it’s only as we fix ourselves on Him– become truly “Theocentric” in our faith– that we honestly can celebrate His wonderful coming.
So many years ago, when our children were just adolescents, together we constructed our own Advent Calendar out of felt. I still have it. On a green felt Christmas tree background, each day we attached another felt “ornament” we constructed that represented another aspect of who Jesus is. He is “love,” of course; He is “the bread of life”; He is “the rock”; He is the “King”; He is “Mediator” (depicted by a bridge over a river); He is the Lily of the Valley; He is the bright Morning Star; He is the fountain of life; He is our “Song”; He is Lion of the tribe of Judah; He is our “Hope” (an anchor)…
Jesus honestly is our “all in all!” At Christmas, I cannot separate myself from so many friends who are just trying to make it through the merriment of the holidays as they are suffering through very difficult circumstances or grief… friends whose only son is still, after more than a year, being held as prisoner of war somewhere in Afghanistan… other friends who are grieving as their son was recently divorced…. another friend whose daughter was killed in a car accident before Christmas several years ago… a man in our church who is now paralyzed after a bike accident this summer…other friends whose son died tragically one year ago as he climbed Mt. Hood…a young mother who was recently in a car accident that claimed the life of the baby girl she was carrying, due tomorrow…
Yet the reality is this: Jesus came, and suffered, bringing hope to all of these. We can identify with Him. And only in Him can we find the comfort, the strength, the endurance to go on in the context of grief. He doesn’t promise to take away adversity… but He does promise that He will become for us everything we need in order to endure, as He Himself did.
Ted Sandquist once wrote a Christmas song that I love. It brings true comfort and joy–
The lamb wakes in the mid of the evening,
The earth shakes as the heralds proclaim:
The King of Kings is born in the twilight!
The morning breaks with the dawn of His reign.
He has come– as legs for the lame,
The widow, a mate; the orphan, a name;
He has come with love in His eyes.
Sing, all you earth, Messiah has heard our cries!
Hosanna! Hosanna! Allelulia!
Heaven’s dew has quenched our thirst;
Heaven’s King, His majesty on earth….
May your celebration bring much great joy, strength, comfort, and great hope as we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith!
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