At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the one who was truly God and truly human. Yet the birth of Jesus did not save us. Rather, his birth and his nature made possible the salvation that was yet to come, when Jesus died in our place on the cross and was raised triumphant on Easter. Christmas is, in this sense, a prelude to what comes later.
At Christmas, we are right to focus on Jesus Christ and the wonder of his birth. We rightly bow before him in worship, like the Magi. Yet, in doing so, we are not just looking back to the past. We are also anticipating the future advent of Christ, when he will be revealed in all of his power and glory. Then, we will join with all creatures in bowing before him and proclaiming that he is Lord.
We heed the summons of Christmas not only by giving gifts, participating in holiday worship services, and wishing others a “Merry Christmas.” We live the truth of Christmas also by choosing to embody the humility and self-sacrifice of Jesus. Even as he did not use his authority for personal advantage, we are called to give up our rights in service to others.
If someone were to ask you where to find the Christmas story in the Bible, you’d rightly point to the gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus as found in Matthew and Luke… Yet there are other passages in the New Testament that tell the story of Christmas from different perspectives. One of these passages appears in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in the second chapter.
Christmas has a lot to do with bodies, if you stop to think about it. The nativity narrative in Luke begins with the news that the aged body of Elizabeth will soon bear a son. Then, a virgin named Mary learns that her body will soon contain the very Son of God. When God’s Son is born, he has a real body, one that starts out life in weakness and dependency. If you take away the bodies, you really don’t have Christmas at all.
What are your names? I’m not asking only about the names given to you at birth. I’m wondering also about the names assigned to you by others, the labels used to identify you, the titles that have brought you honor or shame… Do you need to discover the new name or names God has for you? Do you need to know that you are a Saint, one of God’s holy people, set apart for God and his purposes?
Do you ever think of yourself as a priest of the Lord? If you happen to be a clergyperson in the Anglican, Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox traditions, then you can easily answer this question in the affirmative. But what if you’re a salesperson, a business owner, a medical professional, or a cabinetmaker? Do you see yourself as a priest of God? Isaiah 61:6 would urge you to do so. As would the broad sweep of the biblical narrative.
When God brings his peace and justice to the world through the Messiah, God will not miraculously and instantaneously remake the broken world. Rather, the people who have been redeemed and set free by the Messiah will do this work. Specifically, we will “rebuild” and “restore” and “renew.” God doesn’t do everything for us. Instead, God does what God alone can do, and then invites us to partner with him in his work.
In this season of Advent, we remember the announcement of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest.” May our remembrance encourage us to live for God’s glory each day, in every avenue of life, at home and at work, in our neighborhoods and in the shopping malls, in our spending and in our giving, in our speaking and in our silence.
In this season of Advent, we join the Jewish people in their longing for the fullness of peace and righteousness. We are preparing to celebrate the coming of the “Prince of Peace,” who will govern his kingdom “with justice and righteousness” (Isa 9:6-7). Jesus has come—and will come again—to fulfill the vision of Isaiah 60. Peace will be our governor and well-being our ruler.