Such innocence. Such sweetness. What joy and beauty to behold in the face of the newborn baby as his parents cradled him in their shaking arms. The responsibility to raise and care for the Son of God must have weighed so heavily on their hearts that first Christmas morning.
For four-thousands years, the prophecy was told to dark and war-laden lands: “The kingdom of God is coming.” Hearts and minds were strengthened. Hope was palpable. Other kings had failed, but One was coming that would ultimately succeed and reign in victory – forever. Eager eyes were on guard, watching.
For four-hundred years, heaven and earth were silent, as if the prophecies foretold in previous generations were simply the stuff of legends and myth. There were no more prophets. No words of the promised coming kingdom. Dejected eyes scanned the horizon only to view a world of pain and suffering. Feeble. Helpless. Hopeless.
Then, “in the bleak midwinter, as the earth stood hard as iron”, suddenly, yet quietly – there. A baby was born. Not just any baby though. A king. THE King. Yet there was no one awaiting his arrival besides Mary and Joseph. No fan-fare. No celebratory decorations. No imperial infant-sized robes. No royal crown or a king’s ring.
But there was proclamation. Shepherds who were on their guard to protect their sheep from hungry wolves listened intently as the wind whistled through the grass in their fields. They squinted their eyes to clarify any shadowed shapes in the dark seemingly moving toward their flocks, their crooked wooden staff at the ready. They peered at the sky as the moon slowly emerged from behind hazy clouds. The stars became ever brighter as suddenly an angel appeared as the veil between heaven and earth was lifted. The shadows of darkness were pierced as the glory of the Lord surrounded the shepherds, and the four-hundred-year-long silence was shattered as the angel announced the birth of a Savior, the King, to men now frozen in terror. The fear melted and gave way to awe as an army of angels joined the first as they continued the proclamation of the glory of God, peace on earth, and good will toward men. The darkness of night returned when the angels left their sight as quickly as they came. The shepherds set out to find this newborn King, and upon finding him, beheld God’s glory again in the face of a baby.
This birth was unlike any other. This birth was not a mere king of men, despite His entrance in a stable instead of a palace. No. This was the birth of Immanuel. The name means “God with us.” This baby was not just the son of God. He was God incarnate. The prophesied hope of the world was now in tangible form. God, who is spirit, took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, whose first earthly bed was a manger, with blankets of fabric and straw. Jesus set aside His glorious heavenly throne to enter an undignified world in the squalor of a borrowed stable. He lived 33 short years as a divinely perfect man among earthly, unholy people who regarded this King as unremarkable, mysterious, and offensive. The coronation of this King fitted his blood-stained brow with a crown of thorns, nail-pierced hands instead of a ring upon his finger, thread-bare coverings instead of royal robes, and his beaten, broken body a most undignified ascension to the throne of a wooden cross adorned with a crude sign, a pedestal for dirty, bare feet, and jagged splinters suited for a dishonorable thief.
Immanuel, God in the flesh, gave of Himself in the person of Jesus Christ to save His people from their sin by dying an unimaginable death on a cross, a death reserved only for the most scandalous and vile creatures of men. He rose from the grave to conquer death eternally so that all those who believe in Him and confess Him as Lord may live in the presence of His glory forever. And He ascended back into heaven where He sits enthroned as King, awaiting the consummation of all of creation.
The kingdom of God has indeed come, just as it was prophesied thousands of years ago, but it is not yet complete. The consummation of this kingdom is still to come when Christ returns to reign over His cosmic creation where all things will be made new. Where the twinkling lights of Christmas trees today become mere shadows of the past that once reminded the broken, hurting, and grieving of the glory that was to be revealed in its entirety. All darkness will be dispelled. All health and abilities will be restored in bodies of glory. All wrong will be made right. All brokenness will be made whole. All tears will be dried. Where there is mourning, sorrow, and grief, there will be only joy and peace. The aching souls and longing of our hearts for home – our true home – will be fulfilled. Forever.
Oh friends, may there be joy and happiness as you celebrate this birthday of the King. But though your Christmas morning may not shine as brightly as it once did, or as you once thought it would, see the celebration for what it is instead of what it isn’t. Lift up dejected eyes of grief or disappointment and see the glory revealed in Jesus our King.
This is a usually forgotten verse from one of my favorite Christmas songs, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”:
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessèd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.