In the Old Testament God set forth his law for people to understand his holiness, for people to know how to approach him, and for people to pay for their transgressions through sacrifice. He mercifully revealed himself and showed his people that he is gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6) But to approach him took great care, ceremony, and permission. His presence was shown in a pillar of fire, or on a mountain, or so magnificent that one had to hide in a cleft of a rock and only see God's back because his presence was too rich, holy, and glorious for human consumption. He was and is good, but to approach him demanded sacrifice. *
Enters Jesus, a human, a baby, made for relationship.
Everything that was known about God changed the moment Jesus was conceived in Mary. Can you imagine the God of the universe in the womb of a young woman? He entered through a family line lowly enough to show his availability to everyone. The details and order of the prophecy and lineage for God to be born into the world at the perfect moment: profound.
It is difficult for me to fathom the radical shift in God's availability to humanity through relationship with Jesus. He meets me in my questions of doubt, and lovingly guides me to truth through his word. During Christmas I imagine myself worshipping a baby in a barn. He is the same God shining in glory on the mountain with Moses. As a baby he's defenseless, and yet that tiny baby came to crush the yoke of slavery and injustice with power and might on the cross. A thrill of hope, joy to the world, Word of the Father now in flesh appearing. Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us.
This week I read an important aspect of the birth of Christ that I had never heard, or at least had never paid attention to. Leviticus 25 maps out a significant detail of the law of Sabbath. It describes the Year of Jubilee, the last year of the seventh period of seven years, the forty-ninth year. "In that year, all slaves were to be freed and all debts were to be forgiven; all the land and all the people were to have rest from their weariness and from their burdens. The seventh seven, the Sabbath of Sabbaths." **
Matthew 1:17 says, "So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations." This makes Jesus the beginning of the seventh seven, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the True Jubilee! All true rest comes from Jesus Christ. He frees the slaves! Through him all debts are forgiven! He came to earth to have relationship with us, to allow us to rest in his love, mercy, and grace. He came as a baby so he could endure all the human pain and suffering we endure, to take it all to the cross, to show us he is indeed with us and for us. The seventh seven! The detail in scripture to show the Deity of Jesus is truly miraculous. My soul longs to know more.
To be sure, I love my family's Christmas traditions. Baking, decorating, hosting, all things red and green. My house feels cozy, warm, and lovely. I enjoy hearing my kids laugh and play as they work to solve the year's 1000 piece puzzle. These aspects of Christmas fill my heart. But I know they are temporary. As the years go by, the laughter will quiet, the decorations will fade, and the warmth in my home may grow cold. Of course I imagine I will deeply grieve the loss of days gone by as I'm sure many older people do, but O God, please allow my prayer to remain the same:
Give me fresh insight and deeper wisdom into the glory of Christmas. Keep my eyes away from worthless things, preserve my life according to your word. Fix my gaze on the eternal, not on the temporary. Allow my soul to feel your worth above all things. (Proverbs 2:3-5, Psalm 119:37, 2 Corinthians 4:18, Luke 2:19)
Merry Christmas isn't just a greeting for me. When I say Merry Christmas to you, it is as if I'm praying a short, small prayer for you, whether you want it or not. May God show himself to you this season no matter where you are... someone who doesn't believe, someone who is all alone, someone who is in a personal season of winter, someone filled with hope and joy, someone filled with despair, someone neck deep in doubt, someone who wears a Santa hat everyday, someone who hates me, someone who loves me... The prayer is the same: Merry Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us. Show yourself fresh and new, deeper still, the way you did in a stable in Bethlehem so long ago.
Thank you, Jesus, for coming.
He has come, he is here, he will return.
What does Christmas mean to you? Have you pondered the Incarnation? Believing in the resurrected Christ begins with believing God came to earth as a baby. How does this affect you personally? What are one or two things you can do to capture the wonder of Christmas this year?
*Do yourself a favor. Go back and click the links to the passages in Exodus. Marvel and be amazed at the glory of God and how different relationship is with him because he sent his Son, Jesus Christ to earth. Ponder, mediate, engage your heart and mind in the glory of Christmas.
**Tim Keller's new book Hidden Christmas, page 38