December 19, 2013

God with Us

by Nathan Busenitz

It is only 6 days until Christmas.

Visit your local coffee shop, take a trip to the mall, or just drive through your neighborhood at night, and it’s easy to see that the so-called “Christmas spirit” is alive and well in American culture.

Some of the ironies of our culture’s fascination with Christmas are especially evident where I live in Southern California.

• It hasn’t snowed in Los Angeles in years, but snowflake decorations are everywhere.

• Reindeer don’t live anywhere near us, yet many of my neighbors have them prominently displayed in their front yards (of the plastic variety, of course).

• For that matter, we don’t exactly live in an evergreen forest. (The desert tends to be more “ever-brown.”) But, thankfully, local warehouse stores ship in Christmas trees by the truckload.

• All of this, so that for one month out of the year Southern Californians can pretend that we are walking in a winter wonderland.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is something very fun about all of the excitement and buzz that whirls around Christmas. A leisurely stroll past festive storefronts while holding a warm cup of coffee, or a nighttime car ride to go look at Christmas lights, these are some of my favorite things about Christmastime. Add in the joys of time spent with family and friends and Christmas becomes one of my favorite seasons of the year.

But there is also a danger in all of this: distraction. It is the danger of being so caught up in the celebration that we forget why we are celebrating . . . or more importantly, whom we are celebrating.

Secular society, of course, is especially adept at making Christmas into something that it is not. From a non-Christian perspective, the “winter holiday season” is not about Christ at all. It’s about commercialism.

It’s about shopping, gifts, traditions, food, and seasonal music. It’s about a jolly, overweight, bearded man from the north pole who dons faux red fur and sets off, with a big bag of toys, into the cold December night, seated in a flying sleigh pulled by magic caribou.

But for us, as believers, Christmas is something infinitely more wonderful than any store discount or fairy tale.

Christmas is the celebration of something priceless, something historical, something miraculous, something salvific. It is the day when we remember the birth of our Savior — the fact that the eternal second Member of the Trinity took on flesh and dwelt among us.

This is the season when we remember that the Son of God became a man — which is why He is called Immanuel, which means “God with Us.”

As Isaiah prophesied seven hundred years before His birth:

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us . . . And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Two millennia ago, the angel Gabriel appeared to a young virgin named Mary and announced that a child had been conceived in her womb through the power of the Holy Spirit. Nine months later, baby Jesus was born. And though we might consider any birth to be something of a miracle, this birth was far different. It was not the surroundings that made it spectacular, for this birth took place in a stable where common livestock were present, and where the only crib was an empty feeding trough.

Even the amazing events that surrounded Jesus’ birth — the declaration of the angels, the worship of the shepherds, the presence of the star, the arrival of the wise men several months later, all of those incredible things that Mary treasured in her heart — they are not the essence of what makes His birth so wondrous.

No, His birth is glorious because it involves a great and incomprehensible theological truth: the mysterious and miraculous reality that God became Man! As the apostle John explained:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. . . . And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1–3, 14)

Stop for a moment and consider what the Apostle John has declared to be true:

• The Word is co-eternal and co-equal with God the Father (vv. 1–2).

• The Word is the Creator through whom all things came into being (v. 3).

• Yet, the Word took on flesh. He became a Man and He lived on this earth so that He could die to save sinners. That is the mystery and miracle of Christmas.

What a thought! The Second Member of the Trinity, God very God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, the One by whom all things were created and the One in whom all things hold together, left the glories of heaven to become a man, being born in a dirty, dark, primitive stable, so that He could grow up to die a criminal’s death in order to save hopeless sinners from the eternal consequences of their own foolish rebellion.

If He had not come, our salvation would not have been possible.

As Charles Spurgeon wrote regarding the incarnation: “Man became royal when Christ became human. Man was exalted when Christ was humiliated. Man may go up to God now that God has come down to man.”

The miracle of Christmas, then, is the incarnation of Christ: the reality that the Son of God took on flesh and became the Son of Man — so that as a perfect Mediator He might reconcile us to God.

Commenting on the glorious reality of Christmas, the church father Augustine left us with these eloquent words:

The Word of the Father, by whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born in time for us. He, without whose divine permission no day completes its course, [selected] one day for His human birth. . . .

The Maker of man became man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be [weaned as an infant]; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; . . . that [He, the] Life might die.

To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, He who existed as the Son of God before all ages, without a beginning, [chose] to become the Son of Man in these recent years. He did this although He who [was subjected] to such great evils for our sake had done no evil and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at His hands, had done nothing to merit these benefits.

Therein lies the heart of the gospel. It is the reason why we celebrate Christmas; and the reason we will celebrate Christ’s incarnation for all of eternity.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.