This is the last part of a four-part blog series as we journey to the manger through Advent and Christmas. You can read the first, second, and third parts here.
My parents’ neighbours love holiday decorations. Each year they add a new inflatable to the lineup of festive decorations adorning their lawn – at some point, even Rudolf joined their Christmas throng, driving a speed boat! The inflatables are a December special, getting setup the last weekend of November, only to be taken down and stored away before New Year’s Eve.
Their inflatable decorations, and the soon-to-be disposed-of Christmas tree were put up to mark a festive occasion. And if we peel back all the layers, underneath that occasion is the celebration of the birth of a baby – born in a manger in a small town in the Middle East, 2000 years ago.
Over the last two millennia, people from all over the world have seen something about this child that’s justified celebrating his birth. And clearly something about his life still echoes through the halls of history, because we still celebrate him all these years later. But today, we seem very quick to move past Christmas, and hurry into January and a new year.
Imagine going on a long journey to visit an old friend, only to turn around as soon as you arrived at the front door. Hopefully the journey was pleasant – perhaps it was even an opportunity for growth – but if you’re journeying to see a friend, then you’re traveling to go spend time with them. The point was never just the challenges we encounter along journey – it was the destination.
The lead up to Christmas and the journey through Advent can certainly lead us to celebrating when Jesus came into the world. But how unfortunate it would be if we went through the whole journey, only to miss out on spending time at his manger.
We often celebrate Jesus’ birth as merely Christmas Day. But in the tradition of the Church, the occasion of Jesus coming into the world was celebrated with a twelve-day feast! The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” wasn’t a countdown to Christmas Day – it was counting the days of the Christmas feast. They would stay and linger beside the manger – they would stop to see and behold the Christ Child, the promised Messiah.
There are probably some very practical reasons why we can’t keep a twelve day feast anymore, but what would happen if we lingered by the manger for just a few days more?
In the Gospel of John, the first words that are spoken concerning Jesus are: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1.29)
Behold. Look. See. This isn’t just to catch a quick glimpse. There are no short cuts to beholding. You can’t behold a book by skimming through it. To behold means to stop and pay attention. To take it in. To linger, and to apprehend. To sit with something, and to see it for what it truly is. To behold is to see clearly, fully, truly, and carefully.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and all the traditions and pressures we place on doing Christmas right, it can become hard to see Jesus clearly. It can be hard to behold him. But now that Christmas Day is past, perhaps we can slow down for a moment – and as we pack away our decorations, maybe we can behold him as we take down our Christmas trees and nativity scenes.
As the inflatables collapse and the lights get torn down, remember that this was all put up because of the Christ Child who was born. Behold him. Slow down for a moment, and see that he is the Lamb of God.
Jesus is described as a lamb. This isn’t just a cuddly lamb toy – and it’s not a therapy animal. Jesus was the Lamb of God, who was without spot or blemish (1 Pt 1.19; Lev 4.32). And just as spotless lambs were offered up as sacrifices in the Old Testament to atone and make reparations for sin, so is Jesus the Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sin of the world.
We spend little time thinking about sacrifices today – especially of the sort described in the Bible. It may even seem barbaric. Yet the price of forgiveness and reparation for sin was to offer up a sacrificial animal – and the extent of the cost served to illustrate the gravity of our misalignment with God. The holistic corrosion of our being by sin is the barbaric perversion of our own nature. And in order for us to be healed and restored, it requires a cost.
The Lamb of God was given as the ultimate cost – the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. And in Jesus, God took that cost upon himself. As we have seen in our journey to the manger, Jesus, whose name means “God Saves,” is also called Immanuel, which means “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. The eternal Son of God, who is coequal with the Father, became a person to take the cost of our sin upon himself.
Jesus came into the world in order to be the Lamb of God for you. And he did it because he beheld you. And in beholding you, he loved you. And in his love for you, he sought you and paid the cost so that you could be with him.
As you take down the decorations, behold him in his manger. This is God, and he loves you. Behold, the Lamb of God – slow down for a moment, and gaze upon him. May you see how much he loves you. May you know the great depths of his mercy and grace. May you cherish the God who is with you, the God who sees you, and who calls you by name. In the tide of love that flows forth from the Christmas manger, may you be swept off your feet by the God who comes to pick you up in his arms – the God who has come, and who will come again. May we behold the Lamb this Christmastide!