by Sharon Robertson, Lt. Colonel
What a season! It’s difficult to say if the world is speeding up or slowing down as Christmas approaches. It’s a time of hurry up and wait, a time of exhilaration and exhaustion, of celebration and desperation. It’s a season like no other—it’s Christmas! It’s the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus. There are gifts to buy, parties to plan, floors to polish, decorations to get up, cards to send, goodies to bake, tickets to buy, phone calls to make; gotta run, gotta make it all happen!
God suggests, “Slow down. That’s my Son you’re talking about. Get it right!”
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it…He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:1-5, 10-13 NIV).
Moved by this reminder, our hearts are touched. Humbled minds call up a gentle vision of the innocent babe in the manger. Reverently we sing, “What child is this, who laid to rest on Mary’s breast, is sleeping?” But we know the answer to that question: clearly this child, the Child of the Promise, is someone special—God himself on a mission.
The advent of Christ was not God’s “Plan B”! Mankind was God’s special creation. “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,” he’d said (Genesis 1:26 NIV). He breathed the breath of life into the creature, and man became a living soul—a unique and special creation like nothing earth had ever known.
God’s decision had its drawbacks: though not a god, one who was made in the image of God, given life by the breath of God, would reflect certain divine characteristics. These new creatures would be thinking, decision-making human beings with a will of their own, but since they were not God, they were capable of making unwise choices—and they did. They chose to disobey. God loved them anyway.
From the very beginning God wanted fallen man to know that he had a plan to save his people from the self-destructive course they had chosen (and, contrary to all reason, continue to choose). The Father made his plan clear, revealing himself throughout the history of the world from creation to the last days and beyond. His creative power was evident in the natural world, as Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptile (Romans 1:18-23 NIV).
Obviously, God’s revelation of himself through the creation of the universe, clear enough to the simple but confounding to the more sophisticated who think they know all the answers, was not enough.
So God put his thoughts into the mouths of his servants; the prophets prophesied, the writers wrote and God’s plans were recorded for all humanity to see for themselves how God would redeem his people. Over the centuries God progressively revealed his plan for redemption, little by little, bit by bit, as humanity was able to receive it—not too much at one time, but enough to nudge fallen humanity in the right direction:
- As his first hint of his plan, God made a promise to a despairing, repentant Adam and Eve: All is not lost: Redemption shall come to the world through the offspring of a woman (Genesis 3:15).
- From that moment on, God continued to speak of the Promised One. He was to be of the line of Abraham (Genesis 12:3,7; 17:7);
- From the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10)
- and of the house of David. “He is the one who will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (II Samuel 7:12-13 NIV).
- The child’s birth would be unique: he was to be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).
- His mission is unique, as his nature will reflect both his humanity and his divinity:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD almighty
will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV).
- The very place of his birth was revealed: he would be born in the insignificant village of Bethlehem Ephrathah (Micah 5:2,3).
- Miracles would accredit his mission (Isaiah 35:5,6).
- The Promised One’s mission would include bringing a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:1,6),
- And it would also include his own suffering and death for our transgressions (Isaiah 53).
- He would be raised from the dead without seeing corruption (Psalm 16:9,10).
These are but a few of the many prophecies detailing the life and mission of the Promised One. Some prophecies were given and received gladly, some with sadness—and some with anger, resentment and antagonism. At least one foreign prophet (Balaam) deeply resented the message he was compelled by God to give—the man had been paid generously to prophesy victory for his own master, but even the heathen can be chosen by God to reveal his message, and God gave Balaam no choice but to declare in stirring words the impact the impending advent of the Promised One would have on the world: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17, NIV).
Biblical scholar Dr. A. T. Pierson neatly summarized three tests of true prophecy:
- It must be such an unveiling of the future, that no mere human foresight or wisdom could have guessed it.
- The prediction must deal in details sufficiently to exclude shrewd guesswork.
- There must be such lapse of time between the prophecy and the fulfillment as precludes the agency of the prophet himself in effecting or affecting the result.
The Old Testament prophecies clearly meet these tests. God definitively outlined his redemptive plan in words that could fit no other—and so inevitably it came to pass, as the angel announced:
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12 NIV).
It took the coming of this Child of the Promise to perfectly reveal the nature of the Father, and especially his grace and redemptive love for fragile, stumbling humanity, the sole creatures created in God’s own image.
Hebrews 1:1-3 states clearly the intent of Christ’s coming: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
These are the facts:
- Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, was not just another messenger—that baby in the manger was the incarnate Word of God. As Paul stated in his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 2:6-7 NIV), Who, [i.e., Jesus] being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
- Among theologians this is known as the kenosis experience (the Greek word kenosis means “empty”) and refers to the voluntary “self-emptying” of Christ in choosing to forego his divine prerogatives and powers and become man and bring redemption to God’s beloved but rebellious creation. Selah!
- He came to bring light into the world, that we might move from spiritual darkness into his light.
- His purpose was to reconcile us into the family of the Holy God. To do that, it was necessary for Jesus to make it possible for disobedient, deliberately rebellious, sinful individuals to be made holy, capable of dwelling in the awesome presence of perfect holiness. Impossible! Mankind, by its very nature, is innately incapable of perfection; our sinful nature must be punished! The Son of the Promise did the only thing he could to fit us for life in the presence of total holiness: He sacrificed himself, accepted our guilt as his own, so that (in accordance with the plan from the beginning) through his punishment for our debts, we could appear perfected and holy before the Father.
It couldn’t have happened any other way: All of us also lived among [sinners] at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:1-10 NIV).
What child is this, this Child of the Promise, laid in a lowly manger?
This? This is Christ, the LORD; let us go even now and worship him.