If Christmas was all we knew

by Jim on 24 December 2007

What if we earthlings knew little else besides the "Christmas story"?  How much would we know?  That’s what I set out to discover, more or less, as I read through the early chapters of Matthew and Luke this year.  Admittedly, I bring some previous knowledge to the story, but let’s try to get to the basics as much as we can…

The angel appears to Zacharias
An artist’s depiction of the angel’s appearance to priest Zacharias

One of the earliest things that humans were to discover came from the story of the new baby – not Jesus, but his cousin John.  It became clear that a special time in history had come – a time when the people of Israel needed to return to God (Luk 1:16-17, 76).  (Was there a time when they shouldn’t return to God?  No, but at this time God sent them a guide – John.)

Then we find out about another special baby that was to come – a descendant of the great King David (Luk 1:32, 69).  As such, he would be the King of the Jews (Mat 2:2), the Lord (Luk 2:11), the Shepherd of Israel (Mat 2:6).  This great King would save Israel from their enemies (Luk 1:71).

But as you read on you find that there’s something more to this than the birth of a great King.  The new baby was the fulfillment of prophecies, and he was the fulfillment of God’s covenant with the nation of Israel (Luk 1:55, 71-72).  That would lead us to a whole lot more information about the baby, but for now let’s play more or less ignorant about the message of the Old Testament, and God’s covenant with Israel.  Suffice to say this was part of a greater plan.

Things are starting to sound more miraculous, especially when you find out how long the King’s reign would last – forever (Luk 1:31-33)!

How can that be?  Well, looking even closer at the story we find out why the baby was unique!  In some unique way, he was the Son of God (Luk 1:31-33, Mat 2:15).  These passages don’t seem to be suggesting that he was a son of God like everyone else – he was different.

In fact, woven into the Christmas story is the idea that God would be with the people of the world in a new way (Luk 1:68, Mat 1:23).  What exactly did that mean?

Another indication that the baby was unique was the manner of his conception.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin (Luk 1:35, Mat 1:18,20)!  This seems to be a kind of explanation of why he would be called the Son of God.  This was not only a completely unique baby, coming from God, he also arrived as a part of God’s plan.  This wasn’t the idea of some couple doing family planning – it was all God.

No wonder generations later people would still consider Mary to be so special (Luk 1:48)!

This baby was clearly coming for the sake of the people of Israel.  He would be Israel’s help (Luk 1:54) and Redeemer (Luk 1:68, 2:38).  He would provide salvation, not only from enemies but from sins (Luk 1:69, Mat 1:21).  He would give them the freedom to serve God (reminding us of Moses’ request of Pharoah, to free Israel to worship God in the desert.  But excuse the digression to the OT!) (Luk 1:74).  He was Israel’s Consolation (Luk 2:25), and Glory (Luk 2:30-32).

No doubt, this person was going to shake up the status quo – he would be a sign that would cause the rising and falling of many in Israel (Luk 2:34-35).

If things aren’t interesting enough, let’s get personal for all us non-Jews.  This baby would be a revelation to the Gentiles (non-Jews) (Luk 2:30-32).  With the words of Simeon and the angels (Luk 2:14), the message widens to include all nations.  No one can ignore this birth – it will change everything.

The magi and the star
An artist’s conception of the magi following the star.

This person, Jesus, would be a bringer of joy (Luk 1:43-44) and peace (Luk 1:79, 2:14).  (John came ahead to lead people in the path of peace, and point them to this salvation (Luk 1:76-79))

And, as a mysterious shadow of what is to come, and a contrast of the other messages, we hear that this life will also somehow involve sorrow (Luk 2:35).  The salvation of the world, the changing of the nature of man’s relationship with God, this big shake up would somehow involve pain.

Near the end of what we usually consider the Christmas story we meet the three Magi.  Non Jews, but important people, they show the world-wide importance of the new child.  But they also do something that adds to the power of the words Son of God – they worship him.  In the context of what has come before, it seems clear that he is not just worshipped as a king, but as God Himself (Joh 1:1).

If you were to really believe the Christmas story, how would you respond?  The unique Son of God, come in the flesh to save the world from sin and bring joy and peace – to shake up the status quo and change the nature of the cosmos and our place in it.  If that’s all I heard, I would want to hear more.  What will He do?  How will this plan of God’s work out?  Of course, if you keep reading the New Testament, you’ll know the answer.

But just hearing the Christmas story, I’ve already found Someone to rely on to save the world.

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