Life can be a mystery. We are compelled to explore the ramifications of our deepest questions: Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going? What about the back and forth tug of war between good and evil?
No one can escape the need to come to terms with those heart and soul issues. There is something in us that enjoys probing facts and delving into riddles. Our latent curiosity knows no boundaries.
However, in our zeal for knowledge we can travel down detours or crooked trails. We can dream up far-fetched theories based on one-dimensional logic or treasured traditions to define or explain the unknowable nature of God. Or worse, with our rituals and rules, we can replicate the bygone scribes and teachers of the law who closed the door to the kingdom of heaven for those seeking entrance. That is a tragedy because the truth is so easy: God is never far from anyone of us. He is always within reach, but when it comes to the spiritual realm we often transform the simplicity of God’s good news into religious gunk that serves to confuse.
The all-time greatest mystery is what we honor at Christmas. The Incarnation—the eternal God crawled into the skin of humanity to know the sorrow of loss and the pain of rejection; to revel in the joy of friendship and the wonder of each sunrise; to walk the dusty backstreets of Palestine and experience the full scope of what it means to be human.
Yet, as we consider the babe in the manger, there is hostility directed at Christmas by antagonistic pundits and well-meaning but misguided politicians wanting to affirm all the colors in our rainbow of multi-culturalism. It is sad that the divide and conquer mentality extends to the diverse mosaic of celebration.
This is not a defense of Christmas because that’s unnecessary. For anyone who has not yet been steamrolled by political correctness in hyper-drive, it is inherently self-evident that Christmas is: The etymology of the word Christmas makes its meaning abundantly clear; Christmas is in remembrance of the birth of the Christ child. Period. Or as Archie Bunker would so eloquently say: “Case closed.”
The Incarnation—the Creator of the universe encased inside of human skin is a mystifying puzzle. No matter how hard we try we cannot fully understand this cosmic brainteaser because God is God, and we are not. By definition, God gets to do whatsoever pleases him and despite our arrogance to think otherwise, it is not required that he explain himself or his ways to us.
What we do know is that God is pleased to love us. He desires to communicate with us in a vital relationship—he wants to be our guide through the vagaries of life, but here is a serious problem. Pride swells within us and we figure we can go our own way and do our own thing. We are sinners. We do not sin because we make mistakes or bad choices—we sin because we are sinners. God loves us anyway. He loves us with a perfect love that our minds cannot decipher or comprehend. Sin separates and destroys, but because of God’s supernatural love, he intends for us to be restored to him.
God has a plan to redeem us and he is actively working his plan; he has put in place the bridge that carries us back to him. God’s plan is not at all complicated. It is encapsulated in a handful of words: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
The baby in the manger was born to die to pay the price for sin; the crucifixion was the final sacrifice for our prideful rebellion. Read the headlines. Watch the twenty-four hour news channels. Our world is sin-stained and corrupt to the core, but “creation waits in eager expectation to be liberated from its bondage to decay” because God is in the business of redemption. Through the ages God has on occasion revealed himself to mere mortals, giving us glimpses of his objective.
Zechariah, a first-century Hebrew priest had a miraculous encounter. He was the father of John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for Jesus of Nazareth. When his son was born, Zechariah proclaimed: “Praise be to the Lord, God of Israel, because he has come and redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he said through his holy prophets long ago.”
Around the age of thirty, possessing a sense of destiny and purpose, Jesus set off as an itinerant rabbi. As he traveled about, he gathered a cluster of ne’er do well followers. He had an appeal to the masses for multitudes came from far and wide to hear him speak about love, grace, and the kingdom of God.
His insights into the ancient texts were considered radical by the religious establishment, which ultimately sealed his fate. Jealous of his popularity and afraid of his vision, the Sanhedrin Council—akin to the Jewish Supreme Court—abused their authority and manipulated the system to have him executed by the Romans.
Normally, his death would have been the end of it all, but not in this case. The borrowed tomb where his friends buried him could not contain him; he burst forth from it and in doing so, he destroyed death, and now grants eternal life to anyone who chooses to believe in him. 2000 years after his life, death, and resurrection, he remains the centerpiece of many public discussions and is often something of a media star.
If Jesus was not the Son of the living God, then in a fundamentally secular culture, why does he get so much press? If Jesus was merely a first-century wandering rabbi from Nazareth, why all the animosity about commemorating his birth?
In referring to God’s visitation to planet earth, an eyewitness wrote: “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 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.”
Then while engaged in a discourse with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, Jesus—the One called Immanuel, which means God With Us—said: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” We may not appreciate it, but the verdict is in; the frequently angry aggression against Christmas is merely human-centric wisdom preferring darkness to light. Instead of accepting and embracing the grand mystery we put it inside a box of our brilliance, endeavoring to reduce the Incarnation to tinsel, lights, and mass marketing histrionics.
At Christmas we ought not to surrender to accepted cultural norms. Instead we should intentionally meditate upon the simply profound mystery: What God does in Jesus should not be a surprise. Yes, it was unexpected, but the whispers and prophecies of his advent are found all over the Old Testament. Jesus coming into the world is God’s fulfillment of his word. In Jesus, God peals back a layer of his transcendental character; in Jesus, we see God’s best revelation of himself; in Jesus, God comes, God ministers, God cares, God saves, God redeems, and God keeps his promises.
In Jesus, we find the answers to life’s most heartfelt mysteries.