The Word Became Flesh

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - The_Nativity: Painting depicting Mary, Joseph, and the newborn Jesus

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

John 1:1 – 18

Oftentimes, we speak of Jesus birth and life on this world as if they are secondary to His death and resurrection. There’s no question that Jesus’s death and resurrection is the culmination of everything the Old Testament prophets looked forward to, and it opened the way to salvation for all. I John 2:2 calls Jesus the propitiation for our sins; Hebrews 9:12 says that Jesus entered the most holy place by means of His own sacrifice; and Jesus Himself says, addressing the mob that came to capture Him in the Garden, “All this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled,” in Matthew 26:56.

There’s no question in my mind that Jesus’s crucifixion was intentional, divinely planned, and the dawn of a new covenant between God and His creation. But He could not die as one of us without first living among us, and that life teaches us much about who God is and who we should be. His life demonstrates to us what it is to be Christian. I Peter 1:16 states that we should be holy as our God is holy. Jesus’s life exemplifies what that means. He gives us the template after which we should pattern our own lives. His death gives us hope, and His life gives us purpose.

Philippians 2:5 – 8 illustrates this fact beautifully:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

We serve a Savior who humbled Himself to live a human life. We have a God who became a servant. We have a Messiah who suffered as we do; who faced temptations as we do; who felt the same joys and sorrows we feel. In doing so, He showed us what it means to be Christ-like in our own lives. As Hebrews 4:14 – 15 says, we have a High Priest who can sympathize with our challenges and our weaknesses, which allows us to approach His throne with confidence in our times of need.

While many of us recognize that December 25 was almost certainly not Jesus’s birthday and that the only event we’re commanded to memorialize is His death, may we never minimize the importance of His birth and life simply to counter popular culture.

Jesus could not have died had He not first lived among us. For that, He had to be born as Immanuel — God With Us. He had to fulfill prophecy that He would be born to a virgin, to the tribe of Judah, in the town of Bethlehem. May we live to glorify our Savior by taking hope in His birth, honoring and finding purpose in His life, and then living for the hope His death provides us. May we always glorify, honor, and magnify the Word that became flesh.

Arguments About Christmas

Radically Christian: Why Arguments About Christmas are Counterproductive In my childhood, I argued about Christmas a lot. “You know,” I would say in a matter-of-fact tone, “Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25th.” I relished correcting people about the inaccuracies of their religious holiday and their little nativity scenes. Since then I’ve learned, you can be right […]

Comfort and Joy

girlmittens

Comfort and Joy — those two words summarize the gospel message very well. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus extends this invitation:

Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

This is an invitation to all of us who want to leave behind the burdens of the world and find comfort in His arms. Jesus goes on in the the following verses to talk about how He is Lord of the Sabbath, the day of rest from this world’s labors. He offers comfort that gives us refuge and rest from this world and its concerns.

In John 15:11, when Jesus is telling His followers of the love He has for them and that they should have for each other, He says:

I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you.

How many times can we read of Christ’s followers rejoicing? They rejoice in worship. They rejoice in prison. They rejoice in persecution. They rejoice in their hope. Their lives are joyful because they carry Christ’s joy and love inside them.

Too often, we trade Christ’s comfort and joy for burdens and heartache. We dwell on things that take away our peace. We take in influences that squander joy, and then we might go and do the same to others. Think of how confrontational and impatient we can become while waiting in lines or stuck in shopping traffic this time of year. Think of how you treated the last cashier to ring your order up incorrectly.

We proclaim to serve a risen Savior, a Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, the Lamb of God. Every day we follow Him should bring us comfort and joy, and we should then spread that everywhere we go. What joy it should be to know that we have a home prepared with our Savior! What comfort we should be able to take in the fact that the burdens of this life are temporary and that He came to bear the weight of our transgressions! How can we let anything in this world get us down when we keep those things in our thoughts?

These two qualities are then rooted in love — love for our Savior, love for the world, love for each other, and the confidence we have of God’s love for us. It’s a way we should be set apart form the world. During the holiday season and throughout the year, we should bear tidings of comfort and joy.

Celebrating…What Exactly?

The last couple of years, I’ve found myself very pensive about what the holiday season means to me and what it should possibly mean for other members of the Lord’s body. I don’t have to give much evidence that – like many Christian traditions and practices – the Christmas holiday has devolved into a symbol of Western materialism and misplaced priorities. I don’t have to do much to demonstrate that it’s become more hype than substance, and I don’t have to look far to find all manners of ugly behaviors, misplaced priorities, and outright greed connected with a holiday supposedly celebrating one who came to teach a message denouncing materialism, emphasizing simplicity and spirituality, and who lived a life characterized by modesty and self-control.

That’s the world, though. It doesn’t have to define me, and it’s not really my place to look down my nose at others. Instead, I should be taking a good, hard look in the mirror and asking myself: what am I celebrating?

Self-Righteousness?

Growing up in the church of Christ, I’ve heard sermon after sermon condemning Christmas as a secular holiday unordained in the Scriptures. After all, the probability of Jesus being born in December is remarkably low. The only observance set forth in the New Testament is that of the Lord’s Supper, commemorating the death (not the birth) of Christ. I’ve heard the arguments that Christmas originated as a pagan holiday, leaving hollow the calls to restore, “The true meaning of Christmas.” I can recite ad nauseam every reason Christians should reject Christmas, and I even know a few Christians who do.

I once heard a brother say that we spend all year trying to get people to focus on Christ, and then we spend the one time of year that they are focusing on Him diverting attention from Him as much as possible. And it’s true. You’d have little problem finding preachers proclaiming the evils of Christmas from the pulpit during any given December. I’ve seen whole series on the topic. I wonder, though, who is actually benefitting from these lessons. I wonder whose minds are actually changed by these exercises in. Instead, I think these lessons merely serve to satisfy our own self-righteousness. “We’re not dumb enough to think Jesus was really born December 25.” I used to eat that stuff up, but now it just seems empty. I’m sure it has a place; I’m just not sure what that place is.

Unspoken Materialism?

We can quote the Sermon on the Mount and I John 2 as much as we like, but we have to admit that we Christians in the United States still tend to be pretty materialistic. We like our cars, our houses, our phones, our computers, our Internet access, our cable, our running water, etc. We take our stuff so for granted that I honestly think we fool ourselves into thinking we are being selfless when we drop off a couple cans of beans at the local food kitchen or when we donate some clothes we don’t want anymore to Goodwill. We feel we are going far when we drop a check in the collection plate equal to 1/100 of our annual income…because it’s from the heart.

I think we should enjoy our blessings – don’t get me wrong. But are we celebrating stuff during the holiday season? Do we get impatient or frustrated with incorrect or “missing” gifts? (Why did mom get me the black iPod touch when I clearly said I wanted the white one?) Do we get overly excited about the gifts we see and unwrap? Are we turning a season of thanksgiving into a season of thanksgetting? While we are busying ourselves with not celebrating Christ during a pagan Christmas, we should be careful that we are not merely observing a celebration of materialism in His place.

How About a Little Peace, Love, and Understanding?

Here’s where I am right now:

  • While I understand Jesus was likely not born on December 25 and that the date formerly belonged to a pagan Roman holiday, I don’t really care. No one celebrating Christmas these days understands the significance of or the imagery surrounding Sol Invictus. The once pagan icons and symbols have taken on other meanings. Observing Christmas does not, by default, turn someone into an idolator by association.
  • The stuff is not important. We should be taking this time to teach about self-sacrifice and giving of one’s self rather than participating in the culture of getting. We should be encouraging people to think on peace and kindness, mercy and forgiveness amid the themes prevalent during this season.
  • Jesus is the best example of these teachings. Let’s stop trying to tear people’s thoughts away from Christ because we want to win some religious-political argument. Let’s take advantage of the season to show people what Christ was really about. Let’s use this time for teachable moments – not opportunities to prove our own intellectual self-righteousness.

For me, Christmas has become a serious Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8 issue. Some of my fellow Christians set aside time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Some refuse to acknowledge Christmas at all. I won’t judge either way, for I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas for me is a celebration of family – a celebration of the families into which I was born and later married as well as the family of believers into which I was baptized. And, if I’m celebrating my Christian family during this season, then I can’t help but be thankful that Christ came to this world, was born miraculously, lived a sinless life, and died so we can all become adopted sons and daughters of God.

Jesus us the reason I have a spiritual family to celebrate, so far be it from me to erase Him from that celebration. He is more than the reason for a given season. He is the reason we have hope. He is the reason we are a people, a chosen generation, a nation of priests. I’ll then take every opportunity I have to share Him with others, even if it means I need to put on a little Christmas spirit once a year.

That Obligatory Christmas Post

It’s that time, Christmas time is here,

Everybody knows, it’s the most controversial time of year,

Read those blogs, preachers soapboxing,

Hip, hip hooray for Christmas Vacation!

Okay, I’ll stop singing now, and, while I stop singing, can I make one request? Can we all stop arguing about Christmas? Back in Romans 14:5-6, Paul had this to say regarding the observance of holidays:

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Observe Unto the Lord

Some of us don’t observe Christmas at all. Others observe it but do so as a “secular holiday,” while still others see it as one more way they can honor Christ in their lives. That religious undertones may exist has little to do with the argument. Do you think those Roman feasts and holidays early Christians felt were a part of their culture were completely absent of religious undertones? Of course not, but those Christians recognized, amidst the celebrations, that their blessings were not from Minerva, Jupiter, or Apollo. They knew their blessings came from God, and that’s exactly what Paul is saying here. Celebrate or don’t. Either way, give thanks to God.

Can a Christian converted out of Judaism celebrate Chanukah as a part of their culture? What about a Christian come from Islam? Might they still celebrate Ramadan? Remember that Paul, in Acts 18:18, observed a Nazarite vow. In Acts 20:6, Paul observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and in verse 16 of the same chapter, he celebrated Pentecost – both of these religious holidays. Do you think Paul, for an instant, felt his soul depended on observing those Jewish holidays? Do you think he remained unconvinced that the Old Testament had been done away with? Of course not, but these were a part of his culture, and Romans 14 makes room for personal and cultural traditions, so long as they don’t actively violate God’s law.

Again: celebrate, or don’t. Either way, glorify God.

About That War On Christmas

Along these same lines, certain TV personalities like to bang the drum about the “War On Christmas” every year. Watching TV, we become outraged that anyone would want to “take the Christ out of Christmas,” while we then listen to sermons at church about how Christ has little to do with Christmas. On the one hand, many conservative Christians will say that Christmas is a “secular holiday” (in quotes because I’m not sure how secular a holy day can be); then, with the other hand, we’ll pound the gavel about the Reason for the Season and how “liberals” are trying to erase Jesus from this holiday.

Really?

Here’s the thing: it’s a one-sided war. No one is actively trying to take the Christ out of Christmas. (Well, maybe a couple of people are, but it’s not as prolific a problem as some would make it.) There is no War On Christmas; there’s only the War On the War On Christmas. (Did you follow that?) It’s a manufactured conflict to keep people of a certain religious mindset engaged in a culture war that is equally as one-sided. You know your personal reason for the season. Don’t get dragged into conflicts over the reasons others have to celebrate or not. Otherwise, any meaning is lost entirely over the type of bickering Paul warns against in II Timothy 2:14.

Bring On the Grace

To end on a more positive note, remember what Paul said of Christ in I Corinthians 8:9, right after praising the generosity of the saints in Macedonia:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

The way I see it, the holidays many of us observe between the months of November and January serve to cast God’s grace and mercy in our lives into sharp relief. We have reminders of His blessings and care all around us as many families gather for Thanksgiving. Whether remembering the birth of Jesus or the deliverance of Y’hudhah HamMakabi, we see reminders of God’s salvation and forgiveness in the darkest of times. Under the stars of Solstice, we are reminded of God’s renewal and His gift of our natural world. As we then approach a new year, we look back on the many ways God has blessed us over the year and look forward to rededicating ourselves to His service. Yes, these are things of which we should be mindful every day, whether December or May, but these traditional holidays can bring our thoughts into sharper focus.

For this Christmas, let’s lay aside the bickering and arguing the conservative media encourages. Let’s not split hairs over the consciences of others. Let’s instead strive to emulate the generosity, the grace, the forgiveness, and the mercy of our Lord, so Christ can be seen in us this season and every season.

The Gospel in Jesus’ Birth

And the angel said unto her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).

This is the day that many in the world set aside to consider the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  It is important for us to take note that God never commands us to observe the birth of His Son, and we have no example from the New Testament of such an observance.  We do not even know the day of His birth – December 25 was fixed hundreds of years later, and more because of the pagan festivals that surround that date than anything from the Scriptures.  Since the shepherds were out at night with the flocks (Luke 2:8), it is most likely that He was born in spring or fall.

Nevertheless, the birth of Jesus is an important event.  It is the moment at which the Word becomes flesh and dwells among mankind (John 1:1, 14).  It is the occasion of the miracle of the virgin birth (Matthew 1:22-23).  It is also the beginning of the fulfillment of the hope of Israel– and it is the feeling of hope that is about to come to pass that makes the story of Jesus’ birth so memorable.  Isaiah spoke of the one who would prepare the way of the Lord (Isaiah 40:3-5) and Malachi speaks of the Elijah to come (Malachi 4:5-6); the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that his son would fulfill these things (Luke 1:13-17).

As a good Jewish girl, Mary would know all the predictions that were made about the Messiah – born to be the King, the One favored by God (cf. Isaiah 9:1-5, 11:1-10, etc.).  And then the angel Gabriel comes to her and tells her that the child she will bear by the Holy Spirit will fulfill these things.  He will be called great, the Son of the Most High.  He would receive the throne of David.  His Kingdom would never end.

These promises were no longer in the distant future.  They were here in the flesh.  God’s great plan was being realized in the flesh (Ephesians 3:11)!

The Good News of Jesus of Nazareth begins here.  In the messages of the angel Gabriel and the Holy Spirit through Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, and Anna, we learn how Jesus will overturn the way the world works (Luke 1:47-55), suffer and die (Luke 2:35), but would rule over a Kingdom without end (Luke 1:30-33), and would be light of revelation to both Jew and Gentile (Luke 2:31-32, 38).  Redemption was here!

Jesus of Nazareth was not born on December 25, but we can take advantage of the focus on Jesus’ birth to proclaim the message of His birth, life, death, resurrection, and lordship, just as Gabriel and the Holy Spirit did in those days of pregnant expectation so long ago.  Let us find our hope in God’s redemption through Jesus Christ, and proclaim the wonder of Jesus in our lives!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry