Christmas marks the time when angels sang close enough to the earth that humans could hear them. Shepherds out on the hills outside Jerusalem watching over the flocks of sacrificial lambs must have been terrified at the sight of hundreds of glowing beings streaming at them from out of the cold, black sky. Talk about unidentified flying objects! “Be not afraid,” an angel said, which tells us how scared the shepherds must have been…
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:10-14)
Even the stars celebrated. Men traveled for weeks to honor this birth, on the mere say so of those stars -- wealthy, educated men. Can you even imagine? Christmas marks the time when God Himself stepped into history, took on a human body and committed Himself to live a life under the limitations of His own creation. Astounding. He walked into time to demonstrate to both humans and angels His perfect justice and mercy and His so doing made every life meaningful and redeemable.
The miracle of Christmas – even after 2,000 years, even though watered down by all of our prosperous fuss-and-bother -- remains a breathtaking event. A baby born of a virgin, a perfect baby arriving on earth without the taint of Adam’s sin, born into an impossible situation; Mary, the virgin (all of 14 years old, 9 months pregnant and unmarried, traveling for three days on the back of a donkey only to find herself in labor, stuck in a barn, a cave really, far from home and the women who might have helped her) just she and her betrothed, Joseph, clueless except for the information he’d had from an angel – who talks to angels? How preposterous, how unlikely.
How astonishing that news of this baby’s arrival would so unhinge Herod that he’d order all male babies killed. What?!
And yet there the baby was, wrapped in swaddling clothes – strips of cloth used usually to wrap corpses in – wrapped as His body would be some 33 years later. There He was complete with the “same hinged thumbs and toes, the same valved heart….” (John Updike Seven Stanzas at Easter)
There he was
“… this amazing Jesus
Who made Uranus and Venus became a fetus
It’s such a secret that few if anybody knew it
Months later, he’s covered in amniotic fluid
The subject of the gospels, praise of Apostles
Armed with eye sockets, arm pits and nostrils? (Shai Linne The Hypostatic Union)
So – it was a baby. Big deal. But this child would know more about God by the time he turned eleven than the priests in the Temple knew. This child would, by the time he became an adult, command crowds of thousands, heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, and withstand the temptations of Satan himself. This baby would grow into the man that would one day storm into the Temple and overturn the tables of the money-cheaters. This baby would stand on the walls of Jerusalem and weep for His city, for what He knew would happen to it. This child would grow into the man Pontius Pilate would one day crucify – a horrifying event, accompanied as it was by earthquakes and lightning, a blood moon, and the Temple veil ripping from top to bottom.
And this is the baby who would, after being beaten beyond recognition, through the streets of Jerusalem, up to Golgotha with a cross dragging on his torn shoulders, nailed to that cross and hung up for all to ridicule, who after all that would die and then vanish from his grave to be seen and talked with by hundreds in the weeks after his brutal execution.
This baby was the “woman’s seed” promised in Genesis, the one Isaiah prophesied – “For unto us a son is given.” This baby would be the Lamb of God, the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace. He would be called Immanuel – God With Us. He will one day rule over the whole world from his throne in Jerusalem.
This is a baby who would walk on water, and calm the storm, who would feed the 5,000 and bring Lazarus out of his 4-day tomb. That baby. THE baby. The one who would hang on that cross and finally, after hours and hours, shout, “Tetelestai!” It is finished. In fact, if one looks closely at the Greek here, it means, “finished in the past with results that continue forever.” Ah… THAT baby. The one who would take the punishment that the justice of God demanded from each of us. The one who condensed all of the law into two – Love God, and love your neighbor – and then showed us what that might entail, and what the ultimate reward would be. The “not my will but Thine” baby. That baby.
Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace! /Hail the Son of Righteousness! /Light and life to all He brings /Ris'n with healing in His wings/ Mild He lays His glory by /Born that man no more may die /Born to raise the sons of earth/ Born to give them second birth /Hark! The herald angels sing /"Glory to the newborn King!" (Charles Wesley 1739)