Merry Christmas, dear fellow recipients of the grace of God in Christ Jesus!
On this Christmas Day in the year of our Lord 2018, let us read the Christmas Story form Luke 2:1-20 and as we do may we find ourselves in humble adoration before our Lord, asking Him to open up in a greater way of that significance of His Holy and natural birth. First a few introductory notes…..
Families and churches often represent the Incarnation visually on Christmas by lighting the “Christ candle” in the center of the Advent wreath. In some churches, the Gospel is read from the center of the church on this day, rather than from the lectern—symbolizing the presence of God, the Word made flesh, in our midst.
The first mention of December 25 as the day of Christ’s Nativity appears on a Roman calendar that was prepared in the year 336. Some theories suggest that the date was chosen to counter the pagan festival of the birthday of the sun, celebrated on the same date during the winter solstice. Others suggest that December 25 was chosen by counting nine months from the traditional date of Christ’s conception, March 25. Either way, it is clear that the church saw a need to commemorate the birth of Christ on its own holiday, emphasizing the unique importance of the Incarnation event. On Christmas, we celebrate the mystery of humanity and divinity becoming one.
The early church theologians stressed that the Incarnation should not be seen as condescension, as the “descent” of God to man, but as the lifting up of humanity into the divine life. As the ancient creed of St. Athanasius puts it, Christ is both divine and human “not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.”
700 years before God took manhood into Himself, Isaiah spoke of the great restoration that would take place through the Incarnation (taking human flesh into Himself) as he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the following words of life. He wrote of the great reversal that would take place through God taking human flesh into Himself.
“Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”
He first points out that the old things of the past are not to be remembered, as all things have become new in Christ. Think how much energy we use on “former things.” We may do this in two ways, neither of which helps us. We may remember “good old days,” back when it was all right, and we remember with such yearning and nostalgia and romance. We likely remember things as much better than they really were.
Or we remember all the negatives. We go over the past in shame, wishing we had not said what we said or had not done what we did. We know our guilt, and we go over it, or we remember how hurt we were, and angry, and we remember how badly we were treated. We enjoy the past either way, in anger or in guilt, because it is so precious to us, and we treasure our hurt as we cannot let go of the past. God shouted through the angel on that Christmas Eve the Gospel of Grace to all!
2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Do not remember former things. Christmas, when God speaks clearly and when God acts decisively, is a time for letting go and forgetting and giving up and releasing all that is past, for it is under the washing and cleansing blood of Jesus the Christ!
The second part of this word from God, spoken on Christmas day, is this: Behold I am doing a new thing. That word is the central fact of the Bible and the key to our gospel faith. That is the good news for us. The reason we may forget what is old and past is that it is being powerfully displaced by what is new and healing and liberating. The poet adds, with a little impatience, “Do you not perceive it?” Haven’t you noticed the newness God is working? Christmas is a day to stop and notice the newness that God is giving, that lets our life start over in a fresh place.
2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
The Apostle Peter wrote of our becoming partakers of the divine nature (of God taking our flesh into Himself) as he wrote his second and last letter to his beloved people….
“Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
2 Peter 1:2-4 KJV
The shepherds, hearing the Good News, left their flocks and went to see the place where He was born in a manger, and as a result of hearing the news and seeing God in the manger, “ returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” By returning is seems to point out that they returned back to their occupation of caring for the sheep, most likely not realizing that their occupation of caring for sheep that would be sacrificed in the ordained rites by God would soon end. For the Once for all and never to be repeated sacrifice soon would be accomplished through the death of the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, born on this Night of all Nights!
The shepherds had a new song that they began to sing, as a result of the Good News coming to earth and as a result of their receiving the gift of the Savior, the forgiveness of their sins!
What is our song? How are we expressing our comprehension and experience of that which was delivered from God’s mighty throne of grace 2000 years ago? Are we seeing the new that came that night? Are we seeing that the gospel is always coming to us, making all things new?
Speaking for myself, there are two Christmas Carols that I have found as having words to express that which I have experienced anew and afresh this Advent and Christmas season.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Hail! the heaven-born
Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the son of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Wow! “Light and life to all he brings….born to raise the son of earth, born to give us second birth.” We are made new creations in Christ by His raising us up!!!!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new-born King !"
O Holy Night
Oh, holy night! The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices
Oh, night divine
Oh, night when Christ was born
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name, all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise His holy name
Those two hymns speak of how through God taking humanity up into Himself, we as sinners were lifted out of the darkness of a godless human existence, and as a result we have an identity as the offspring of God. Just think, dear one, we are children of the most High God!! The song writer then goes on to sing of how the chains that bound all humanity in sin and death have been broken. Therefore as He opens this experience more and more to us through His Word and Spirit, we find ourselves loving others who are yet not feeling their worth in Christ. For they are our brothers and sisters in the redemptive work of Christ.
May the Lord add His blessing to His Word so that we would truly see ourselves and all others as He so dearly sees us through His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
Let all within us praise His Holy Name!
Pastor Orval Wirkkala
P.S. I would enjoy hearing from you and of your new song that you are singing!!