Born In Us, Christmas Day (I) – 2000
December 25, 2000
Think about it. A pregnant unwed teenage girl is going with her boyfriend to a strange town. The baby is born while they are there. They couldn’t find a proper place to stay, so they made do with a space in a stable. The girl believed that the baby was conceived through the action of the Holy Spirit. Even more remarkably, the young man believed the same thing. Furthermore, he promised to marry her after the baby was born and he also promised to help raise the baby.
But the story gets even more improbable. An angel visited some shepherds who were watching their sheep at night. The angel told them “to not be afraid”; this is the first thing angels usually seem to say. Then the angel told them that the baby born in the stable was to be the Savior of the whole world. Next, the sky was filled with singing angels.
The shepherds then went to the small town nearby to see if there really was a baby in a stable. They found that there was.
Think about it. In this improbable story, millions have found salvation. It is always complicated to try to figure out why God does what God does in the way that God does it. We can only speculate. It may be that God planned to use our hopefulness. We human creatures are almost always hopeful when a baby is born. We hope that the infant will have a good life. We hope that they will not make the mistakes that we have made. As it turns out, they aren’t any better than we are. They need a Savior the same way we do. It may be that the helplessness of a baby communicates to us that there is nothing in God’s love that can hurt us. Babies do not threaten us.
It may be that God came as a baby in order to fully share our experience. We can know that God knows and understands us.
One of the early church teachers said, “God became man so that man can become God.”
The reasons for God’s decision to become a human baby are always veiled to us in this world. But the consequence is the Incarnation. Literally the enfleshment of God as a real human baby.
Christmas is our celebration of the Incarnation.
Historically we have had trouble celebrating Christmas and the miracle of the Incarnation. In the past, those puritan and Protestant sensibilities have gone so far as to prohibit the celebration of Christmas. For them the doctrine and gift of the Incarnation is so important that any celebration or revelry demeans and pollutes the gift from God.
The ancient Catholic tradition was to celebrate Christmas for twelve days. For them the doctrine and gift of the Incarnation was so important that it required twelve days of celebration to properly appreciate it.
In our own time, we have discovered the commercial potential of this celebration. Now, the celebration starts the day after Thanksgiving and lasts through the time of exchanges, refunds, and special sales after Christmas day. In our age, Christmas might be more appropriately called, “The Feast of the Retail Merchants.”
At best, the lavish gift of God sets us in mind to be lavish in gift giving. But back to that baby born in a stable.
In the hymn by H. W. Farrington (number 330 in the Hymnal 1940), the first verse is:
I know not how that Bethlehem’s babe
Could in the Godhead be:
I only know the manger child
Has brought God’s life to me.
All Christian people say some version of this brief verse to a hymn. There is in all of us curiosity about how and why God did what God did in Jesus. There is also some degree of holy hope in us that comes as a consequence of God’s intervention in human life.
Christmas is a time to rejoice in the faith that is in us. It may not be much. But that little bit of faith can grow into joy. It may be substantial and that leads to works of faith that glorify God and bring healing to the brokeness of the world. Or the gift of faith can be everything. In that case, the Bethlehem baby can be uplifted as the Savior of the whole world.
And that is the point.
Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The baby grew up. We don’t know much about him prior to the beginning of his ministry. It begins with Baptism. Once again in Baptism, Jesus is named as God’s son. This naming happened again on the mountain of the Transfiguration. It finally happened in the most glorious way in the resurrection and Ascension. In all of these events, the announcement of the angel to the shepherds is fulfilled.
The question for us is, will we allow the baby of Bethlehem to be born in us? Will we surrender to hope and joy? Will we claim him as Savior? Will we allow his love to fill us and flow out of us to bring healing to the broken world we live in?
To quote an angel, “Don’t be afraid, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. To you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
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