As the prophet looks upon the mess Israel made of its life, his thoughts turn to the mystery of God’s inaction, or even God’s participation in the rebellion of Israel: “Why, LORD, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?” (63:17). If you’ve walked with the Lord for a while, I expect you’ve had questions like these.
As you reflect on the Magi in the Christmas story, as you are impressed by their boldness, don’t just admire them. Imitate them. Approach God’s throne boldly. Know that, because of Jesus Christ, God is ready to shower you with mercy and grace in your time of need.
Jesus understands. He gets it. He gets us. So, when we’re hurting physically, or when our hearts are heavy, or when we feel abandoned, or when people disappoint us, or when those we love reject us, or when we experience the reality of being human in a fallen world, Jesus knows how we feel.
The pain and trauma of this world are not unfamiliar to the Christmas story… Baby Jesus was entering a battle zone full of oppression, sickness, and death—not a world filled with mistletoe, gingerbread houses, and holiday parties. Jesus came, in the midst of all this, to eradicate death, free the oppressed, and fill us with unspeakable joy. This is the fullness of what it means to “save his people from their sins.”
The Christmas story we know from popular culture can be so sanitized that perhaps the ideas of sickness, isolation, and hopelessness sound foreign to you—perhaps even sacrilegious for the Advent season. But Jesus chose to be born into a broken world and to take on our pain in order to make us whole. Leaders who come near to the pain of those they lead will find they are emulating Jesus.
At Christmas, we focus on the wonder of the birth of Jesus. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Christmas sermon on dealing with temptation. But, from the perspective of Hebrews 2, one of the life-changing implications of Christmas—the celebration of the incarnation of God in human flesh—is that Jesus will help us when we’re tempted. This is such good news.
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.