At Christmas we remember the birth of Jesus Christ. The Christ without whom Christmas would have no meaning. Christians call him King, Lord and Saviour – and these come through in all the well known carols. It’s worth considering the flow of what Christmas does mean. That it brings mankind from darkness through hope to realisation and light. Although many rejected him, some accepted him.
Why darkness? Darkness comes from humankind’s rebellion against God. The things we do that we should not do. The things we do not do which we should do. That separate us from him. This is a paradox. God intended that we should live in his loving presence and take care of his creation. But we have chosen not to trust our creator but rather to follow our own selfish ways. This has spoilt our relationship not just with God but with one another and with the creation – as we can see all around us. And in the end that rebellion leads to death. The Psalmist knew all this 2500 years ago when he wrote “Bring us back, O God our saviour, and stop being displeased with us! Will you be angry with us for ever? Will your anger never cease?”
Through hope? Amid that darkness, God spoke through his prophets that he would not always be displeased with mankind. That he would provide us all with a way back to him. The wonderful vision that one day, “Love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will embrace. Human loyalty will reach up from the earth, and God’s righteousness will look down from heaven.”
And that was a concrete hope. Jesus’ birth was not a chance event, it was prophesied in detail hundreds of years earlier:
- Born of a virgin: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) 700 BC
- Born in Bethlehem: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old,from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2) 700 BC
- Born of the clan of Judah: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.2 (Genesis 49:10) 1400 BC
- Born a descendent of king David: “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. (Jeremiah 23:5) 600 BC
To realisation? The realisation of those hopes is the wonderful Christmas story. The fulfilment of the prophecies. As the angel puts it “I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people.” That’s the coming of Jesus at Christmas.
And light? The angels shone out with God’s glory to the shepherds. But the true light was and is Jesus himself. This too was prophesied long before by Isaiah “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Everywhere we live is in that shadow of death, but the light has dawned there too. It is written of Jesus “This was the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on everyone.” And “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.” And yet we are all free to choose darkness instead of light in our lives.
Why rejection? Rejection of Jesus too was prophesied. As Isaiah wrote “There was nothing attractive about him, nothing that would draw us to him. We despised him and rejected him; he endured suffering and pain. No one would even look at him – we ignored him as if he were nothing.” And still people mock Jesus and reject him.
Some of you may know of the film The Life of Brian. It mocks Jesus pitilessly. That film could never have been made about other religious leaders. The makers would have been under threat of dearth. And yet being open to mockery and rejection is core to Jesus’ mission. He came to earth, he was born in that stable to undergo the humiliation of the cross, dying for all who would follow him, giving us all that promised way back to God. But leaving the choice whether to follow him open to each heart. To choose life or death. Light or darkness.
Why acceptance? Some chose light and life during Jesus’ life on earth and followed him, received him and believed in him. And some do today. Our scripture states what amazing promises are open to those who put their trust in Jesus: “he gave them the right to become God’s children. They did not become God’s children by natural means, that is, by being born as the children of a human father; God himself was their Father.” Although many choose darkness, the choice of light is still open to all of us. To be reconciled with God despite what we have done wrong, thanks to Jesus sacrifice on the cross.
From darkness through hope to realisation and light. In contemplating this upwards flow, it helps to realise the marvel of what Christmas actually means. “The Word – that’s Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of all things – became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us.” How wide is the contrast between the divinity of Christ and the helpless infant in Bethlehem’s manger! How can we span the distance between the mighty God and a helpless child? And yet the Creator of worlds, He who was and is the Son of God himself, was manifest in the helpless babe in the manger. Far higher than any of the angels, equal with the Father in dignity and glory, and yet taking the form of humanity! Divinity and humanity were mysteriously combined, and man and God became one. It is in this union that we find the hope of our fallen race. Jesus.
Jesus, the child who grew to be a great moral instructor whose teaching has shaped our society. Jesus, the miracle worker whose healing power is still available today. Jesus, the Saviour and Lord of all mankind who gives life to those who follow him. Jesus who accepted the penalty for rebellion in our place by dying on the cross, so we might be forgiven and return to God’s fatherly love.
From darkness through hope to realisation and light. Although many rejected him, some accepted him. What about you?