As I write this, I sit by our living room window and look out on a small field covered with snow. Beyond that field, the sun is beginning to rise over the Denver metro area, causing the snow to look a deep blue color against the purple-orange sky. One of the things about Colorado that I noticed during my first visit is that you can easily see 30 or more miles into the distance even if the landscape around you appears flat. It’s hard to explain . . . but it’s one of my favorite things. It always moves me to look out and see the twinkling of a hundred, maybe a thousand little lights from headlights and streetlights in whole other towns, maybe even two or more towns away. It sounds cliche, but it looks like a fine layer of glitter rests on the horizon, contrasted by the stronger, sharper lights in the streets and windows of our nearer neighbors, who are perhaps waking up and preparing to start their weekend . . . or head to work, as my husband has done.
I like to look at the lights and think about all the individual lives they represent. Being human, I don’t have the capacity to know all of these people – the problems they’re facing, the fears they have, the joys they savor, or the pasts they’ve lived through – and it astounds me to remind myself that God knows each one of them even more intimately and accurately than they know themselves.
He knows if they have struggled financially this year, or if they suffered from depression and anxiety over the many changes in their life. He knows if they are lonely. He knows whether or not they depend on certain political outcomes to feel secure. He knows their prejudices and their secret patterns of failure.
He knows better than anyone that the world we live in is horribly broken by sin.
For all the beauty it still sometimes displays, the world is headed toward destruction and the evidences of this are all around us. I sit right now and marvel at the beauty of the sunrise over a snowy landscape, but another hour or two will scarcely pass before I am troubled by some painful reality: a sour look from a passerby on the sidewalk, a mess created by my curious child, or a surprise charge on our bank account that I didn’t account for in the budget.
However, life’s painful realities – resulting from the curse of sin that has fractured this world and its inhabitants since the fall in Eden – are not the end of the story. Though it often feels like they overshadow the moments of beauty and joy we experience, or perhaps even invalidate them, the greater reality is that God is sovereign over the whole course of human existence and is working all things together for His glory and His people’s good (Rom. 8:28). He will one day exact judgment and justice more completely than any human court system. He will one day bring all the base and wicked things of the world to nothing, and then establish a new universe without the presence of sin (see the final chapters of Revelation for more on this). And He will accomplish this through the hand of Jesus Christ when He comes again.
But first, He had to come in human flesh as Emmanuel, “God with us.”
My limited human brain cannot fully comprehend what the incarnation of Christ encompassed; but as I go about my life and encounter various physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual problems, the Christmas season becomes even sweeter to me than when I was a child. It offers something deeper than the thrill of gifts and treats . . . deeper than the joys of family time, generosity, and all the other intangible blessings that even the world can celebrate. It offers every follower of Christ the hope and promise that their ultimate need has been, is being, and will continue to be met – that being our need for reconciliation with God.
There is a wonderful portion of Ephesians 2 that explains this well:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (English Standard Version)
He Himself is our peace. He doesn’t merely bring us peace through the blessings He grants us by making us better people, bringing us into heaven, and so on. He Himself, the person of Jesus, is our peace. We have peace in the reality that when God looks at those who trust in Jesus, He sees Jesus! He took our sin on Himself, and His righteousness is accounted to us. Jesus is our mediator, our adopted brother, our ultimate sacrificial lamb. He is the very presence of God and the visible image of His glory and character (Col. 1:15).
Why does it matter to us so much that Jesus was real? That God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14)? It should matter to us, should move us, because it means that our faith is not just a good idea, a cultural tradition, or a legend that offers us a vague sense of security. It means that the One who offers the salvation we all need and long for is not distanced from the earthly realities that burden us, like the rest of the world’s false gods. He knew poverty, loneliness, physical pain, injustice, and betrayal. He knew corrupt government. He is our great high priest – the intermediary between us and the Father – and He is perfect in this office because He is intimately familiar with both sides, divinity and humanity.
And though He was and is the true King of all creation, He came in the form of a helpless baby whose birth in a barn in the middle of nowhere was scarcely realized by a handful of people. There was none of the pomp or prestige that everyone expected of Him. He would constantly be overlooked and outright rejected by the people who had been told of His coming for centuries, all because they were only looking forward to worldly salvation rather than personal redemption. I just read the whole Bible in chronological order this year, and this misunderstanding was painfully present from the time of Job’s suffering to the murderous persecution of the early Christian church by the Jews (descendants of the Old Testament Israelites). They either didn’t know they needed soul-level salvation or they didn’t want it. They wanted worldly victory. They wanted to be liberated from oppressive political regimes, not from their own slavery to sin and death.
So while Christ will one day crush earthly kingdoms and reign in glory, He has first come to deal with our sin and reconcile us to the God who created us – the holy God whose perfection is so great that we cannot please Him by our own pitiful, self-motivated attempts at doing good.
This is what we celebrate at Christmas. This is why we sing of the weary world rejoicing. Creation and its inhabitants groan under the weight of sin’s burden (Rom. 8:19-23), and we will do so until Christ comes again in power and splendor. But first, He came in humility and squalor, to show that His salvation is for any who acknowledge their own lowliness and desperation before Him.