Thursday, December 24, 2009

God With Us at Christmas and Always

I don't believe in Christmas. I believe in Christ, that he was born of a virgin, fully God and fully human, so that he, our Great High Priest, could offer himself, the perfect Lamb of sacrifice, as the perfect and gracious payment for the sins of his people. I just don't believe in limiting the celebration of his birth to one season of the year, or, on the other hand, limiting the theme of preaching to exclusively the nativity for fully one twelfth of every year.

But as it is here, and here to stay, I also believe in making the most of it.

A common distortion in the popular celebration of Christmas when the focus is on biblical themes is the concentration of attention on the birth and infancy of Jesus in isolation of its significance as the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity (e.g. "Jesus' birthday").

But the biblical witness does not miss this point. In Matthew's account of Jesus' birth, the angel tells Joseph that he is to name the boy Jesus because, as the name indicates, he will save his people from their sins. Several verses later, we are told that his birth will fulfill what we read in the prophet Isaiah, that he will be called Immanuel, which means God with us.

Why two names? The reason is that the child born in Bethlehem cannot be a savior, J'shua, the Lord saves, unless he is also Immanuel, God tabernacling among us in human flesh (John 1:14).

Charles Spurgeon, the great nineteenth century London preacher, made the same point in his 1859 Christmas sermon, "A Christmas Question," using Isaiah 9:6 as his text.

"Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given." The sentence is a double one, but it has in it no tautology. The careful reader will soon discover a distinction; and it is not a distinction without a difference. "Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given." As Jesus Christ is a child in his human nature, he is born, begotten of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary. He is as truly-born, as certainly a child, as any other man that ever lived upon the face of the earth. He is thus in his humanity a child born. But as Jesus Christ is God's Son, he is not born; but given, begotten of his Father from before all worlds, begotten—not made, being of the same substance with the Father.

The doctrine of the eternal affiliation of Christ is to be received as an undoubted truth of our holy religion. But as to any explanation of it, no man should venture thereon, for it remaineth among the deep things of God—one of those solemn mysteries indeed, into which the angels dare not look, nor do they desire to pry into it—a mystery which we must not attempt to fathom, for it is utterly beyond the grasp of any finite being. As well might a gnat seek to drink in the ocean, as a finite creature to comprehend the Eternal God. A God whom we could understand would be no God. If we could grasp him he could not be infinite: if we could understand him, then were he not divine.

Jesus Christ then, I say, as a Son, is not born to us, but given. He is a boon bestowed on us, "For God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son into the world." He was not born in this world as God's Son, but he was sent, or was given, so that you clearly perceive that the distinction is a suggestive one, and conveys much good truth to us. "Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given."

If it is not God who gracious condescended to take our form in Bethlehem's manger, then he could not have even more graciously taken your place on Calvary's cross. But the gospel--the good news for helpless sinners--is that Jesus was not only a child born, but also a son given, and that for us. It is because he is Immanuel from God that he can be Jesus for us.

Soli deo gloria.


Anonymous said...

Again a gentle post. Thanks your friend

paul said...

this is a great site about the new mystery religion!