As we approach the celebration of Christmas, it seems appropriate to seek to unwrap the mystery and the meaning of the manger.
From the perspective of reasoned thought or a rational mind, the Bible’s claim that the God of the Universe, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, took on human flesh by being born of a virgin some 2,000 years ago in Judea may seem preposterous. Certainly from a naturalistic or humanistic worldview, what is claimed in the birth narratives of the New Testament gospels is regarded as impossible.
However, from a super-naturalistic worldview and from the perspective of faith in a personal God, the Christmas proclamation is truest truth.
Indeed, by the power of the Holy Spirit, very God of very God was conceived in the womb of a willing servant named Mary and born in a town called Bethlehem. That one event changed the course of human history.
To deny the truth of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is to deny one of the foundational claims of the Christian faith. Without the Incarnation there is no redemption, without the manger there is no cross, without Christmas there is no Easter, without the God-Man there is no hope of heaven.
The oldest of our creeds, the Nicene Creed, affirms that:
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through Him all things were made. For us and for our salvation He came down from Heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.”
That declaration of faith in the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is found in the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions, The Apostles’ Creed (2.2), The Scots Confession (3.06), The Heidelberg Catechism (4.035-.036), The Second Helvetic Confession (5.062-069), The Westminster Confession of Faith (6.044-.045), The Shorter Catechism (7.021-.022), The Larger Catechism (7.146-150 and 7.156-.157) and The Confession of 1967 (9.07).
Prophets foretold it, Elizabeth anticipated it, Mary and Joseph experienced it, angels announced it, shepherds witnessed it, Simeon and Anna confirmed it and wise men from the East followed the natal star to acknowledge it. So threatened was the Roman procurator by it that he had all the Jewish boys under the age of two in the city of Bethlehem exterminated.
But God’s plan would not be thwarted. It is the Incarnation, literally God in carne (God in flesh).
The Messiah had been born, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The Kingdom of God drew near as the God of the Universe became flesh to dwell among humankind, full of grace and truth. The essence of the Incarnation is that God literally became a man, at the same time fully human and fully divine.
Many Christian churches now prepare for Christmas following a liturgical calendar that begins with a season called Advent. Although not expressly Reformed, Advent (which means “coming”) is a time to consciously attend to the magnitude of the Biblical claim that God finds people to be so precious that He would sacrifice His own glory to condescend to our lowly estate and then humble Himself unto death on a cross that we might be reconciled to God.
Litanies like Hebrews 1:1-3 and Philippians 2:5-11 amplify the reality that the Incarnation is inextricably connected to the crucifixion, resurrection and glorification of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Christmas cannot be cut off from the realities of Good Friday, Easter, Christ’s ascension, nor His now awaited second coming.
Jesus’ birth is both the advent of a “who” and a “what.” Christmas is the celebration of the reality of God with us and the celebration of the inauguration of the Kingdom of God among us.
John the Baptist cried out that the Kingdom of God was drawing near. With the advent of Christ, it did. With His coming again the Kingdom of God will be fully present and the will of God will be fully accomplished on Earth as it is even now in Heaven. For that advent we now wait.
In reference to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, Luke 2:19 says, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
With her, let us then ponder the advent of Jesus Christ and prepare our hearts and minds to be discerning of the truth as we approach the manger throne.