I often mistake the story of Christmas as “the beginning” of the story. It is not. Christmas occurs at a pivotal point in the saga of humanity. Or more accurately, God’s love story. The Old Testament is full of God’s passion, love, and pursuit of his people building toward and setting the stage for the New Testament.
All the gospels, in their own way and perspective open with the Christmas story. Jesus’ birth suggests that God would hold nothing back. He sets aside all glory to become man. But while his birth is important, it is only the start of what Jesus will sacrifice and do to bring us to him.
The way John describes Jesus coming to earth is more artsy and abstract than the other gospels, but beautiful in the bigger picture of it all:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
Creator God builds Himself into creation. Embracing humanity–his most treasured invention–in the most intimate of ways, by becoming one of us. Emmanuel–God with us. His mission is to save us from ourselves and Satan, the deceiver. Into a world full of darkness, Jesus brings light. Still, he gives us the choice to see. The choice to recognize. In Jesus’ day and still today, many people are distracted or searching for red herrings or seeking worldly accomplishments. Jesus stands before them in flesh and blood and they only see an average man.
Jesus’ life, especially his birth, was without the privilege and honor one would expect for Creator King. Instead, he is born in a barn in a quiet town. His birth was not without fanfare. But the star was only interpreted by three wisemen from the East. And shepherds–of all people–see the fanfare of angels and go to worship him and tell others. Word spreads, but obviously not far. Word reaches the ears of a jealous king. It also comes to those who are ready, those who are waiting. Which isn’t many. At least there are not many waiting for the type of savior God intended to be. When Jesus begins his ministry, he is just the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. Humble. And, as we are told, with nothing to attract us to his physical looks.
Even his ministry and death were far from what anyone expected. Most were expecting a military leader and king to free them. Instead, God came as a servant-king–born with animals, the son of a carpenter, kneeling to wash his disciples’ feet, extending his hand to heal the untouchable, honoring women, and welcoming children. He broke all the rules and crushed their expectations. But he did so because his plans were so much grander than they could ever imagine.
God’s plans rarely make sense to our limited-perspective minds. At least not in the middle of them. It is rarely until after the fact that we see the purpose in the plans of God.
I am trying to live each day with more trust in what doesn’t seem to make sense. This Advent season taught me the lesson of letting go of control. We’ve had a lot of changes and busyness vying for attention and time. I find in these times that Satan whispers in our ears the need for control, the temptation to take the reigns away from God. But in reality, that route only leads to chaos. We know this. Or at least we should.
But even in the midst of uncertainty, our daughter lives with joy. She does not fear the future or wonder how things will work out. Rebekah loves embracing life fully, without reservation. She knows she is safe and loved. Her favorite refrain is to sing, “Mommy, Daddy, Bekah” over and over. She beckons to us “You sit here” and crawls into our laps with a book or doll. Her greatest desire right now is to be in our presence.
I’ve wondered a lot this Advent if living in God’s presence is truly my greatest desire or not. I like to think it is. But I don’t always live that way. Too often worry, or fatigue, or frustration fight to distract me from simple joys and unwavering trust.
Maybe that is why God calls us to be like little children. They don’t worry about what they will wear or eat. They simply trust they will. The past and future don’t fight for control of their minds. It is all about the present. The moment. Trust is innate. Childlike is not an insult, but a calling. A childlike faith puts trust in the promises of a limitless God.