Life this year has been, hmm. Difficult. Freeing. Uncomfortable. Progressive. Challenging. Growth-filled. Interesting is a good word to describe it 🙂
I started out this year hopeful for a positive year. After everything that happened last year, I broke in the new year by driving through the country at night, praying under a clear, crisp, moonlit sky. Praying that as 2009 had been a year full of storms, that 2010 would be a year of peace and growth. A year of victory. And ultimately, that is exactly what God provided for me, and so much more, albeit in an unexpected way. But rather than go into details about that here, you can read about a small part of it here.
Rather than spending my Christmas letter talking about what has happened in the past 12 months like I normally do, I want to take a different route. To direct our focus to a different subject, a different time. While it is good to celebrate the victories and mourn the losses, sometimes we can focus on those instead of the real reason behind this annual tradition that is “The Christmas Letter.”
Our story begins with hope. Such a simple thing, and yet, such a powerful thing. Hope has the power to drop us into the pit of despair if it is deferred, or to lift us to the highest mountaintop if it is fulfilled. For thousands of years, the people of Israel hoped. They longed, and they dreamed. You see, they had been promised a King, a Messiah, that would rescue them and set them free. They knew captivity, it surrounded them and engulfed them. And yet, for many, their focus was on the physical captivity that they wanted freedom from. However, as is often the case, God had much bigger plans in mind.
The Christmas story starts in the most unlikely of places, with the most unlikely of people. It involves a girl and a guy, as many love stories do. Love stories are the best 🙂 And this one tops them all.
You see, there was this girl named Mary, and Mary was engaged to this guy named Joseph. I imagine that their engagement was pretty typical of most of the day, and that they looked forward to when they would stand before God, pledge their vows, and begin their lives together.
Until one evening. Mary had an unexpected visitor who said that she would become pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s easy for us to sit back and be like, oh that’s so nice. But if you really think about it, this was no easy thing. If we think reading like The Scarlet Letter sounded rough, in Biblical times, women could be stoned to death for having a child out of wedlock. And yet, I’m sure with that knowledge burning in the back of her mind, Mary still chose to trust God and follow the plans that He had laid out for her.
But where does that leave Joseph? All of the sudden, he finds out that his fiance is pregnant, and he knows that he didn’t have anything to do with that process. Scripture tells us that Joseph was a good man and didn’t want to see her disgraced publicly. You can really read of the love that he had for his fiance in that; even though I’m sure he was feeling deeply hurt by the news that his fiance was pregnant, he loved her so much that he didn’t want to see her hurt, so instead, he decides to quietly break off their engagement.
Until one evening. Joseph was given a dream in which he was told that Mary was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that he shouldn’t be afraid to marry her, and that he was to name her son Jesus, because He would be the savior of His people. This is exactly what Joseph does.
I can’t imagine how difficult this would have been for either of them. I mean, I grew up in a small town, and people talk. You can’t get away with anything – whatever you do, somehow everyone seems to know about it. So first you have Mary getting pregnant out of wedlock. Now you have Joseph marrying her still. Since he didn’t call off the engagement or pursue “justice,” I imagine that people not only thought that Mary was unfaithful, but that Joseph was the guy to do the deed. God’s purpose in our lives isn’t always a walk in the park…
And so we find ourselves at the first Christmas. We are all familiar with the story in Luke 2, we’ve heard it from the time we were kids, seen it on cartoons, set up little nativity scenes of ceramic figurines. It’s on church bulletins, cards, billboards, and postage stamps. Yes, we’re very familiar with Luke 2. Maybe too familiar.
You see, what happened that night wasn’t just the birth of a precious baby boy. The miracle wasn’t just that Mary gave birth even though she was still a virgin. It wasn’t even that the birth of Jesus that night was the fulfillment of thousands of years of prophesy, or the hope of numerous generations.
Paul comments to the church at Philippi that Jesus “was born as a human being.” (2:7b) Stop and think about that for just a moment. The Creator of the universe took on the same form, weaknesses, and limitations as His creation, for a very specific purpose.
Many of you have probably seen the TV show Undercover boss, where the CEO of a major corporation loses the suit and corner office to start out as an entry-level employee at their company in order to see what life is like for their employees. It’s kinda like that, times a billion, and with a twist.
You see, there was this little problem called sin. Back in the garden of Eden, God basically said – do whatever you want – just don’t eat from this one tree in the middle of the garden. So, what do Adam and Eve do? They eat from the one tree in the middle of the garden. And by doing so, they immediately separate themselves from their Creator. From actually walking with God in the cool of the morning to being banished from His presence in the blink of an eye. By putting themselves and their desires above God, they pretty much doomed us all to be separated from our Creator. It is our sin that separates us from God.
However, even before Adam and Eve decided to supplement their diet, God had a plan set in place for redeeming His creation. And from that day forward, God started revealing His plans to us through the prophets. For thousands of years, He told us what He was going to do – that He was going to send a Messiah Who would redeem us.
Which brings us back to the subject of hope. While Israel hoped for a warrior-king who would free them from the control of Rome, God provided a Savior-Messiah who freed them from the tyranny of sin.
Christmas morning is the beginning of a 33-year-long fulfillment of that prophesy – a fulfillment where the first Christmas found a young mother holding her newborn Son, and 33 years later found a Savior dying on a cross and rising victoriously on the first Easter.
The Christmas story is about redemption and restoration. It is about God intervening in the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into and setting things right. It is about God giving His own life in order to restore our relationship with Himself, in a way that would still satisfy the demands of Justice. All we have to do is accept that gift of Grace that He has given us.
And so, as you celebrate this Christmas, take a moment to stop and think about the magnitude of the child lying in the manger. He is not just another baby boy.
Blessings in Christ,