Christmas Reading: December 5

Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 CSB)

The virgin birth stands as a guard at the door of the gospel. It’s God’s gracious way of telling us that what follows is not normal. The story of Jesus will defy our rational minds. If we can’t get passed the virgin birth, how will we handle Jesus walking on water, healing the blind, casting out demons? What will we do with the resurrection and ascension?

The gospel is supernatural. There’s no way around that. 

When I first read this way of thinking in Macleod’s book The Person of Christ, where he briefly repackages some of Karl Barth’s teaching on the virgin birth, it was like a breath of fresh air to me.

I think we can feel a bit insecure about the supernatural claims of the Christian faith. We can feel pressure to make Christianity sound reasonable, to give people freedom to believe only the “essentials”… to boil Christianity down to some moral, helpful principles that will make our lives better and make the world a better place.

But the virgin birth won’t have it. It eliminates any chance we have of approaching Jesus on purely natural terms. It demands that we peek above the crowd in our naturalistic culture, doubt our doubts, and believe.

And this is actually compelling, not embarrassing.

Our supernatural gospel is skeptical of any person or group who claims to have all the answers— who claims that everything would be perfect if they were in charge— because our gospel proclaims that only God Himself knows just what to do.

Our supernatural gospel is skeptical of any person or group who claims that the world is doomed— who claims that we’ll never make progress and apathetically mocks the dreamers and reformers— because our gospel proclaims that God Himself entered our world to solve the problems.

Open-mindedness, humility, and the drive to improve our world are made possible by belief in the supernatural. We’re able to doubt our ideas and our perspectives, even partnering with people whom we disagree, because we believe that we’re finite. We’re also able to work diligently to improve our world because we believe that God Himself does the same and will finish the work someday.

This Christmas, let’s rejoice in the supernatural gospel, and cherish the mysteries of our Christian faith.

Christmas Reading: December 4

Then the angel told her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:30-33 CSB)

Christmas is about the birth of God’s son. This birth had been planned from the beginning of time, yet it was brand new to Mary in this moment.

Imagine the stress and anxiety. Mary was a godly woman. No doubt she grew up with at least some ambition of faithfully serving God and raising a godly family. But she didn’t imagine it like this. This wasn’t even a category to consider.

God had been writing her story since the beginning of time, weaving people and events together in unbelievable ways. But even though God is a thorough planner, he’s often a spontaneous communicator.

For Mary, serving God required embracing a future she hadn’t planned. 

It seems that a lot of Christians are afraid God’s going to ruin their plans. They think God is sitting around waiting to disrupt everything. You want to be a doctor? Keep thinking that… you’re actually headed to the hut in Africa!

In fact, God has a tendency to do this.

  • Noah, regardless of what you had planned, you’ll be building an ark now. 
  • Abraham, leave your homeland. You’ll be living in a new land now.  
  • Moses, you can’t hide out in the desert anymore. You’ll be leading my people. 
  • David, enough of the pasture. You’ll be an outlaw for about a decade.

What kind of God would act like this? What kind of God would disrupt people’s lives like this?

A God who is resolutely committed to building a great kingdom with a great king. A God who loves His people too much to let them wander through life with small ambitions.

If God closed every door and led you to do something totally different than you’re planning, would that really be a terrible thing? What kind of God are you following? If your God is a hateful bully or an aloof boss then you’ve got reason to stress. But if your God is a humble servant, a righteous judge, a loving Father… what is there to fear?

God’s invitation to Mary is this— Give up your small ambitions and embrace my Son. Bind your future to His. 

That’s God’s invitation to us as well. Are your ambitions big enough for an invitation like this?

Christmas Reading: December 3

The true light that gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9 CSB)

Light is powerful. It helps us see things clearly, it keeps us warm, it’s a symbol of hope and truth. Without it, we are left to dwell in darkness. Stumbling, crashing, aimlessly wandering around in despair, cold and afraid.

John describes Jesus as the true light

No doubt there are other lights. Billions of people find ways to navigate and cope with the darkness without Jesus. But John says that Jesus is the true light.

By true, he means that Jesus is the real, ultimate light. He’s the light that gives light to all other lights. Every other light is actually just a reflection of the true light. In the same way that the moon only shines because of the sun, so every other light only shines because of Jesus.

If Jesus is the true light, then that presents us with two uncomfortable realities.

First, in Jesus alone can we be truly known.

If Jesus is the true light, then we can’t hide. We’re accountable to someone. Jesus shines into our darkest places, knows our deepest desires, weighs our motives, and calls us out. He has the right to say what’s good in us and what’s evil in us… and judge us accordingly.

Second, in Jesus alone can we truly live.

We can’t experience life at its best—full of joy, and love, and significance, and safety—without Jesus. We can see flashes of these things in our lives without Him… but we’ll never experience them fully. We need him. He is the true light.

And thus, Jesus presents us with an uncomfortable decision. 

Will we come into the light? Will we come to him, be exposed, confess our sins and live in the light? Or, will we continue to hide, be appalled at Jesus’ audacity to make such an exclusive claim over our lives, and remain in darkness?

Christmas Reading: December 2

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness. (Isaiah 9:2 CSB)

The Bible honestly and frankly describes our world as a place of darkness. A place full of evil and suffering— violence, poverty, injustice, sickness, and unimaginable pain.

Throughout our lives we experience this darkness in various ways.

  • When we disappoint someone, embarrass ourselves, or hurt people close to us… when we keep secrets and hide shameful parts of ourselves… we make darkness our home.
  • When someone hurts us, embarrasses us, or violates us… our world gets darker because of the shame we feel.
  • When we’re depressed, lonely, or afraid, the darkness can be overwhelming.
  • When we see the sufferings and atrocities in our cities and around the world, our hearts break and the scope of the darkness grows.

The darkness is real and growing, and nobody knows exactly how to fix it. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Christmas book, God is in the Manger, writes— “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes – and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom must be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Christmas.” 

As Bonhoeffer sat in his prison cell in Nazi Germany, hoping, praying for someone to come and rescue him, he realized that just like being in prison, the only hope for the human condition is that someone from the outside would come to help. The door of freedom, the light we need, must come from outside the darkness.

And that’s why we celebrate Christmas—because while we are trapped in a prison of darkness, a Light has come to set us free.

Don’t quit just yet. Don’t lose hope just yet. A light has dawned. His name is Jesus.

Christmas Reading: December 1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1, 14a CSB)

Most biographies start with a person’s birth. But according to the Apostle John, the story of Jesus doesn’t start in Bethlehem. It doesn’t start with angels or the Virgin Mary. It starts in the beginning. The very beginning.

This is a bold claim. 

It means that understanding Jesus is unlike understanding any other historical figure. To get the full story on Jesus, you can’t just study his birth, his family origin, or the cultural setting of his day. You have to rewind to the very beginning.

The Apostle John is begging us to see that Jesus is unlike anyone we’ve encountered before. He’s not merely a dynamic teacher, leader, miracle-working human rights activist born in a stable in Bethlehem—though he is all of those things—he’s more. He’s far more.

Jesus is Creator God, the Eternal One, the reason all things exist. He is the wisdom of God personified, the highest and greatest, the Lord of all. He is adored by angels and feared by demons. He is supreme in all things.

And do you see what this means? It means that Christmas is more.

If Jesus is more than a man, then Christmas is more than a celebration of a man’s birth. Christmas is more than a story about Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and angels. It’s more than a story about a baby wrapped in swaddling cloth. It’s more than a cute story for kids’ plays and yard decorations —though it is all of those things—it’s more. It’s far more.

The Christmas story is God’s story. 

And we are reminded at Christmas that the God who is powerful and majestic is also tender and near. At Christmas, the God who is greater than us became the God who is one of us.

Therefore, a casual glance at baby Jesus in the manger won’t do. A sentimental feeling associated with a familiar Christmas tune is not enough.

This Jesus is demanding and deserving of more— far more.

O, come let us adore Him!