The Child Is Born! A Christmas Refresh for Weary Pilgrims
Christmas is wonderful because, in a world of such strife and division, it is a holiday that celebrates hope and joy. What better news is there than that God has taken on flesh, being born of a woman, for us and our salvation? But perhaps this news sounds familiar and even tired to you. It could also be that the turbulence that now characterizes so much of public life and public-square engagement has worn you down. Many of us know today that, in a deep way, we need the refreshment of a good theological reset.
Praise God, that’s exactly what Christmas provides. In what follows, let’s consider four truths related to the coming of Christ that yield encouragement for weary people like you and me.
First, Christmas reminds us that the providence of God is always active. The Christmas story is not neat and tame. It’s actually pretty wild. Consider how politics and danger are entwined in the birth of Christ. A crazed pagan governor named Herod wrongly thinks that the Christ-child has landed on the earth to dethrone him. He sends out a search party of wise men that is supposed to lead him straight to the usurper. In a tangled web of circumstances, the wise men decline to honor Herod’s unrighteous command, and an angel visits Joseph to send him, Mary, and baby Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2:7-15).
If you were writing your own narrative about how the Messiah would come into the world, a crazed pagan governor would almost certainly not fit into your plans, and you would not send the family of Jesus into Egypt (the overtones of the Exodus are thick here). Yet this is exactly how God structured things according to His perfect plan. The Father has wisely laid everything out, and we can fully trust His good design (Ephesians 1:3-14). But we must also know this: His plans may not always looklike they are unfolding. If we feel that way, and we all will, we can remember how God brought Jesus into the world, and what a strange mix of people and events played a role in the birth of the Savior.
Second, Christmas reminds us that your duty is not to track God’s doings, but to trust His character. When Mary first hears that she is going to bear the Messiah, she scarcely knows what to say or do. Luke 1:29-31 records the interaction between Mary and the angel: “But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” Mary did not yawn at the angel’s announcement; she was “greatly troubled” and quite confused.
We all feel a lot like Mary at times. We do not know what is happening either at large or in our own little corner of things. We too feel “greatly troubled.” We can easily slip into anxiety, fear, doubt, or anger at God in such moments and seasons. In such instances, we all need a strong dose of Mary’s trusting spirit. Mary did not understand all God was doing, but she did not doubt God. She trusted God and kept walking forward in faith. We see this truth in Mary’s example: When you fight by God’s power to trust God’s plan, you will eventually see God’s hand in clearer form.
Third, Christmas reminds us that God uses the humble and simple things of the creation for His glory. This is what we all know about the incarnation: Christ was born in a stable. It’s quite beautiful, really: Christ wasn’t born in a palace. Like Adam in the garden of Eden, Christ entered the world surrounded by life, by living things, by animals, by the humble elements of the earth. This all happened because of political events: “A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered,” we read in Luke 2:1. As a result, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (2:7).
What a beautiful reminder this is that God dignifies what is humble. We can say it more strongly: God exalts the humble. We do well to remember the humility of the Son of God in His coming and all throughout His days on earth when we feel wronged, slighted, not recognized, and passed over. Injustice is real, but the Christian is not a grasper. In prayer, we should instead embrace a humble, simple, quiet life, whether our names are well-known or unknown. The most famous man in human history, after all, died on the cross as the servant of His people.
Fourth, Christmas reminds us that there is always hope in the darkness. If you had been present beside Joseph and Mary, you would not have felt the earth tremble. While the virgin conception is miraculous, the virgin birth was ordinary. But in this ordinary delivery of a child, all the hope of salvation can be found. This was the appointed time. This is when the King landed. This is when the devil began to sense that his hour of defeat was drawing nigh. We get a sense of all this in Galatians 4:4-5, which reads: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
In terms of the stable and the difficulties of the situation, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth did not look like “the fullness of time.” But God is working even in the toughest and strangest moments of our days. If you need some deep encouragement after a long and wearying year, remember this. By faith and repentance both in the hour of salvation and for the rest of your life as a work of growth, God is working a miracle in you. He did so not only in Bethlehem, though; He is doing so now, wherever faith in Christ and repentance in His name is found.
As far as the curse goes, God’s grace goes further.
Owen Strachan is Senior Fellow for FRC's Center for Biblical Worldview.