This is the first part of a four-part blog series as we journey through Advent. A new blog will be released each week as we journey to the manger.
I was just walking out of my last final exam of the semester. It was cold outside, with a bite of frost in the air. To my left, I saw my friend Andrew stretch his arms wide open and take a deep breath. “You know what?” he said to me, “All those songs make so much sense now.” I looked at him, puzzled by what he meant.
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Of course you would do that when it’s this cold! And all the songs about snow – I mean, we don’t have that back home at this time of the year. It always felt disjointed to me hearing all those Christmas songs. But now it just makes sense!”
It had never occurred to me that Australians don’t get snow at Christmas. Or that the carols we sing could feel out of place for someone on the other side of the world. So much of the holiday spirit, and the traditions and practices we keep at this time of the year, can seem disconnected and foreign when we don’t know their context.
Every December, Christians all around the world celebrate Christmas. And while Christmas is now an occasion to give presents and spread cheer, when we peel back the layers and the traditions, we discover it all revolves around the birth of a baby.
But why on earth should we care to remember – let alone celebrate the birth of a child from 2,000 years ago? Talk about a strange and foreign custom! I mean, I can remember the birthdays of a few of my friends – and each year I am happy to celebrate their lives by commemorating the day of their birth. But why would anyone remember and celebrate us 2,000 years later?
Of course, Christians aren’t remembering just anyone’s birthday – they’re celebrating the day Jesus was born. Jesus – who is called Christ, the Messiah and long-awaited king – it’s his birthday we mark and celebrate after all these years.
But for those who follow him, Jesus isn’t just another religious leader, or even a political hero. For Christians, he is called “Saviour” – and he’s God-with-us. We believe Jesus is God in the flesh, not because he attained to some heightened spiritual state of being, but rather from his very beginning is God, who became a man.
As religious beliefs and ideas go, this has to be among the strangest the world has to offer! Why would God ever become a human? And if God were to become a human, why would he choose to arrive on earth as a little baby? After all, the most basic belief in any divine being is to understand this God to have made everything that exists. This is the Divine Creator of the universe we’re talking about! If the Creator wanted to step into the creation, wouldn’t God have come in the fullness of his splendour and majesty, with trumpets blaring, and an angelic host all around, declaring his God-ness to all the world in a single climactic moment?
Have you ever experienced the sensation of walking out from a dark building into brilliant sunlight, only to have your eyes feel blinded and seared by the light? Perhaps you’ve felt a similar sensation when someone turned on the light in a dark room? The sudden brightness of the light can feel painful to eyes that have grown accustomed to seeing in the dark. If the illumination of light can sear our eyes, how much more would the full revelation and manifestation of the Creator sear our being when we have grown so accustomed to living without the awareness of his existence, let alone his presence?
It is a mercy for the Creator not to come into a world unprepared in the fullness of his God-ness – we wouldn’t be able to take it if he did. But God is not aloof and uninterested in his creation – as a matter of fact, he delights in it, and greatly desires for everything within his created order to know and participate in him. The same God who intricately knit us together in our mothers’ wombs wants us to know and be with him. But somewhere along the way, we’ve all gone very awry. We live in a world that wants to live as though God doesn’t exist – or at least, if there is a Creator, it’s one that doesn’t take an interest in the minute details of our daily existence.
So we find ourselves in a world where we are used to living apart from God. At the same time, we find that God is deeply interested in being intimately near to us. Yet, if God were to enter into our world in his fullness, we wouldn’t be able to receive him as he desires. Something needs to shift for us – we need something to mediate God’s presence to us – something which can actually bring us into God’s presence, and fix what went awry inside of us.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore and unpack this in more depth as we journey towards the manger.
Next week in part two, we’ll explore why God became human.