21 September 2017

What Does the Christmas Story Tell Us About God?

“What a contradiction, the God who created the universe, all the stars, all the galaxies, this whole earth, all the people, everything in it, this amazingly powerful God becomes a humble God.”

Rather than focusing on the tinsel and trappings of our modern day Christmas experience, or concentrating on the Christmas card depiction of that first Christmas in the stable, I want to look at the plain, simple story of Jesus’ birth that God recorded for us. I want to ask, “What does the Christmas story tell us about God?”

You can read the story in Matthew, chapter 1, beginning at verse 18.

If Jesus came to reveal God to us, what do we learn about God through this first Christmas? The Old Testament talks about a God who is sovereign and powerful and transcendent and huge. In the book of Isaiah God says, “‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the Heavens: Who created all these?” (Isaiah 40:25)

But here, at Christmas, we see this greatness of God reduced to the size of a single fertilised egg, not even visible to the human eye, born in a stable with the stench of cow dung and urine on the floor, hunted down, made a refugee, then slinking back into Nazareth to eke out an ignominious existence as a carpenter.

God certainly is great and powerful and huge and transcendent, but in this Christmas story, I discover that my God became small for me. My God is a humble God. You see, if you look at our understanding (doctrine) of the incarnation, Jesus is the Son of God and the son of man; He’s fully God and fully man.

He’s the same yet He’s different. Like Luther, I believe that if we are to begin to understand what God is saying to us through Jesus and the Christmas story, we have to understand that Jesus is God, deep graven in the flesh. A great way to understand this dichotomy is the striped candy cane Christmas decoration. The white represents Jesus’ pure and blameless nature, so He is different from us. On the other hand, the candy cane has the red stripes on it. These represent the stripes of blood, He’s like us in that He lived, He suffered, He cried, He struggled – just like you and me.

We can have the best theological doctrine of incarnation yet completely miss the point of Christmas – that in Jesus, God is humble. He showed us this in a profound way at Christmas. He chose His time, He chose His circumstances, He chose the stable and the animals, He chose to become a refugee, He chose to have His life threatened by Herod. That’s why Jesus was later able to say:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

What a contradiction, the God who created the universe, all the stars, all the galaxies, this whole earth, all the people, everything in it, this amazingly powerful God becomes a humble God.

When I look at Jesus, there’s something real, there’s something authentic about Him. He has a humility about Him that we can take on ourselves, that we can carry around in our hearts. “Come to me for I am gentle and humble of heart,” says Jesus.

What do you get out of this Christmas story when you read the reality of it? Mary and Joseph having to ride the donkey all those miles to Bethlehem and then having nowhere to stay. Then giving birth in the cold, draughty, smelly stable. We know how it ends, we’ve got the New Testament; we know that Jesus is the Son of God. We know He was crucified, He rose again, and that the Church grew out of that and for the last 2,000 years has been thriving. However, Joseph and Mary and the people at that time, didn’t know how it was going to end, they knew none of that.

Phillip Yancey summed it up, saying, “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation… He is before all things and in Him all things hold together but the few eyewitnesses on Christmas night, they saw none of that, they saw an infant struggling to work His never before used lungs.”

God becomes a man in a stable and through that He says to you and me, “I am humble of heart.” He’s saying, “I didn’t come just for the rich and the powerful and the famous and the wealthy and the ‘holier than thou’. I became low to speak this truth into your heart, I came for everyone, I came for you.”

Berni Dymet