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Christmas is what the world is for

By Matthew Roberts, 14 Dec 2015

Christmas is what the world is for

The last two Sundays have given us lots of cause to think about what happened at Christmas. The birth of Jesus is significant because of who he is: God, and man, in one person. Not a god-like man, nor a man-like God, nor a half-man, half-God hybrid. Everything that goes with being God is true of Jesus; everything goes with being a human being (except for sin, which was not originally natural to us anyway) is also true of Jesus. And yet there were, and are, not two Jesuses, one who is God and one who is a man, but one person who is both.

And the birth of Jesus is significant because of what he came to do. Will preached yesterday on Jesus’ obedience. Even his conception was an act of obedience for Jesus, for God the Son became flesh in obedience to his Father’s will. But it was also the beginning of a lifetime of human obedience, in which he submitted to his Father’s will in everything, from childhood, to the temptations of the devil in the wilderness, to the final great act of obedience in dying for the sins of his people on the cross. As Will explained, it was that great act of obedience which saved us. Because it qualified him to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins and the perfect priest to offer that sacrifice to God. And what is more, it is that obedience which earned God’s emphatic reward on Easter Sunday, when Jesus was raised from the dead and seated at God’s right hand; and now Jesus shares both his righteousness and his reward with all those who trust in him. Jesus’ obedience is counted by God as ours.

And so ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23) is not simply an encouraging thought, that God was willing to come and visit us once, a long time ago. It is far more wonderful than that. That’s partly because it was not something that came and then disappeared again with the end of Jesus’ time on earth. Jesus remains (as the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q21 says, as we read in the service yesterday) God and man forever. Jesus, still fully God and still fully man, is sitting in heaven at God’s right hand today. But also it is because God’s plan to live with us through Jesus, which became a reality in such spectacular fashion at Christmas, is the central point of history. Indeed, it would not be wrong to say that it is the whole point of history. Christmas is what the world is for.

How do we know that? We can see it clearly in a number of individual passages. Hebrews 2 quotes Psalm 8, which is about the purpose for which God made all of creation, including mankind, and then says that this is not fulfilled in the rest of the human race but is fulfilled only in Jesus. Ephesians 1:9-10 says that God’s plan ‘for the fullness of time’, i.e. his plan for all of history, is to unite all things under the reign of Christ. The apostle John, in John 1:1-18, connects God’s act of creation with the act of the incarnation; the same God did both, and in v9 specifically says that the same person who created humanity and gave them their minds and hearts (‘gives light to everyone’) was always ‘coming into the world’.

But we can see it from the whole sweep of the Bible’s history too. The way the Garden of Eden is described in Genesis 2 deliberately echoes the later descriptions of the Holy of holies in the temple; gold, precious stones, rare plants, etc. And the Holy of holies was the place where, once the tabernacle was built, God was to come and live with his people. So God designed the world from the beginning with the intention that he should live with the people, his images, whom he had created. Of course, it didn’t happen in the Garden of Eden, because of the fall. Then God’s covenant with Abraham included the promise that his descendants would know God as their God, and they would be his people. In Exodus how this would happen is given more detail: Not only does God say ‘I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God’ (6:7), but he comes to live with them, in the middle of their camp, in the Tabernacle. ‘I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.’ (29:45-46)

And this issue of God living in the middle of his people remains central to the rest of the OT. Solomon’s extraordinary prayer at the dedication of the temple makes exactly the same point. Ezekiel saw a vision of the glory of the LORD leaving the temple and told the people of God’s promise that one day he would return to live among them, in a far better sort of temple than the one he had lived in before.

And then the whole Bible ends with God coming to dwell with man forever. Revelation 21:3: ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’. This is where history will end up. And how will God live with men? Through the eternal presence in the new creation of the man who is also God, Jesus Christ.

So when John says in John 1:14 ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’, this was the moment when God’s purpose which he had planned from before the foundation of the world first became reality. God always intended from the very beginning that his images, the human race, should know him, be bound to him, in the closest way imaginable. And he always intended that that should come about by his eternal Son becoming one of us, God and man, in one person, and remaining that way forever. And that through his death and resurrection all those who will come to him will, through the Holy Spirit, come to know God as their Father as he does.

CS Lewis, author of numerous Christian books and essays in the mid-20th century, called the Incarnation ‘The Grand Miracle’. ‘If the thing happened,’ he said, ‘it was the central event in the history of the Earth – the very thing that the whole story has been about.’ He was not of course making Christmas more important than Easter – the two belong inseparably together. His point is that the incarnation did happen, and this is what the whole story – the entire story of this world - of this universe - has been about.

Christmas is what the world is for.