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The Christmas story that we are all most familiar with is the one about a man whose name is Joseph and his bride-to-be whose name is Mary. It would be a pretty uninteresting story without much excitement except for the fact that Mary happens to be pregnant, and Joseph is not the father. In fact, no man is the father. Now, this is interesting.
As the story goes, rather late in her pregnancy, Joseph and Mary must travel to the village of Bethlehem in Judea because Caesar wanted to have a census taken so he could collect more taxes and everyone had to register in his and her ‘home town,’ which for both of them, was Bethlehem.
We’re not told how long they were there before the time came for the child to be born. The baby was wrapped in the clothes that babies in those days were wrapped in, but there being no crib or bed to lie the baby in, they laid him in a manger.
When it comes time to name the child, which didn’t happen until the child was eight days old, He was given the name Jesus. In the introduction to this story, we were told that an angel, whose name was Gabriel, visited both Joseph and Mary with specific instructions on what they must name the child. “You shall name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” The name “Yeshua,” or “Yeasou” or “Jesus” depending on the language literally means, “one who saves.”
Just that much, all by itself, would be enough to make a great story. But there’s more. In fact, much more. As soon as the baby is born, some angels in the sky appear to some shepherds who are in the fields keeping watch over their flocks. It’s night time. But suddenly the sky is filled with the most unnatural light. One of the angels speaks directly to them. “Today, in the city of David, a Savior (“one who saves,” a “Yeshua,” a “Yeasou”, a “Jesus”) is born, who is Christ the Lord.”
And the reaction of the shepherds is the only normal thing that happens in this story. They are filled with ‘great fear,’ “mega fobos.” And they do what they are told. They leave their flocks, go into the town, and there they find the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, just as the angel said.
That's the Christmas story that we are all most familiar with. Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, Bethlehem, angels, shepherds and some really good singing. We usually throw in a donkey, a barn and add our own little adventure that every door in Bethlehem was slammed in poor Joseph and Mary's face, although none of that is in the text at all.
This morning however, we hear the exact same Christmas story, but told very, very differently than the one we are most familiar with. No Mary and Joseph, no angels or shepherds, no little town of Bethlehem, no swaddling clothes or manger.
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and without him was not anything made that has been made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” When was the last time you sat your children or grandchildren on your knee in front of the Christmas tree and told them the Christmas story like that?
And yet we can almost picture the writer to the Hebrews doing just that. 'Long ago, at many times and in may ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his “Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things through whom He also created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
Of course, this is all one and the same story. Each story is told from a different perspective. The one is told from the perspective of those eyewitnesses who were there and reported what happened in time and space when Caesar Augustus was Emperor and Quirinius was governor of Syria. This is what they experienced and they would most certainly have taken their children and grandchildren on their knee and told them about the things that happened on that night that we have come to call Christmas.
But the other Christmas story is told from a perspective that is so far outside time and space and our human experience that is hard for us to relate to it. Certainly hard for us to connect it to donkeys and stables and ‘the season of giving,’ the kind of things that so many believe that Christmas is really all about.
But this is the Christmas story that we are told today, this Christmas day. It is the Christmas story told from God's perspective, of which He is the only eyewitness. This is the cosmic story of Christmas that no one who lives in time and space and human history could ever begin to imagine unless God Himself told it.
Only God, who was in the beginning can tell us that the baby born to Mary in Bethlehem is the eternal Word through Whom time and space and human history were created. If God had not told us THIS Christmas, we would still have THAT Christmas story about Mary and Joseph and angels and shepherds. But we would never see its cosmic significance.
And the truth is, when this cosmic Christmas story is not heard and remains unknown, the meaning of the historical Christmas story, becomes confused and maybe even distorted.
Which is not to say that Christmas becomes meaningless. It’s just that we are the ones who must supply the meaning of Christmas rather than God. And apart from God’s perspective of Christmas, it becomes a time for gift giving, and family gatherings, and school vacations and parties and shopping and chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
How then do we keep Christ in Christmas? The answer is to become familiar with both of the Christmas stories, the historical as well as the eternal. The eternal Christmas story tells us the true meaning of the historical Christmas story. And the historical Christmas story tells us God is at work in time and space and human history, that is, in our lives where we live from day to day, to “Yeshua,” or “Yeasou,” or “Jesus” people from their sins.
Today we hear the Christmas story as only God Himself can tell it, and only believers, by the Christmas gift of faith from the Holy Spirit, can know it, and believe it, and celebrate it.
The baby born of Mary is not a child that there is something divine about, but the baby is God. Mary is not just the mother of Jesus but Mary is the mother of God. The One who created history entered into the story when the time had fully come. The infinite really is contained in the finite.
John is not the only one who tells the Christmas story from the cosmic perspective. Paul does too. Paul tells the Colossians that the baby born of Mary, “is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together… For in Him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things… making peace by the blood of His cross.” (Col.1:15-20). Try singing that to “Jingle Bells” or “Frosty the Snowman.”
So, when we are told that the baby born of Mary was in the beginning and the One through whom all things were made, we are able to see that this child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger is the One through Whom God is making a new beginning and a new creation.
In the beginning, God created a perfect and glorious world FROM THE OUTSIDE IN, BY SPEAKING DOWN UPON IT. “Let there be light. And there was light.” But Christmas is the new beginning, when God restores His creation to its perfect and glorious condition, FROM THE INSIDE OUT, BY SPEAKING FROM WITHIN IT. The baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger is none other than “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
This 'new beginning' that comes to pass in the days of Caesar and Quirinius, is of course, not the same kind of creation as God created 'in the beginning.' In the beginning, God created the material of the world 'ex nihilo,' 'out of nothing.' And by His Word, He formed the formless and filled the void and “it was so,” and “it was very good.” And there was no sin to deal with.
But after sin entered into God's very good creation, the act of creating has to be different than it was in the beginning. Unless He will destroy return it all to ‘nihilo,’ something that He swore He would not do, He must redeem His creation. He must renew His creation.
And for this, blood must be shed. Blood that atones for the sin of the world. Blood that washes away the old. Blood that makes all things new, and pure and holy and ‘very good.’ And only divine blood can do this.
And so this must be an inside job. God must become flesh so that blood can be shed, because a spirit does not have flesh and blood as Jesus truly has. And the flesh must be that of God Himself so that it will be divine blood that is shed. The swaddling clothes He is wrapped in are the sign of the grave clothes that He will be wrapped in. The manger He is laid in is a sign of the tomb that He will be laid in. The new beginning that God began when the Holy Spirit overshadowed the virgin Mary is accomplished when the baby she gives birth to, cries from the cross, “It is finished.”
This is Christmas. The same Spirit that hovered over the water in the beginning is the Spirit who hovered over Mary. Therefore the son of Mary is the image of the invisible God. The ‘light’ that God spoke into the darkness in the beginning, is once again spoken into the darkness of our sinful and fallen world through the One who is ‘the light of the world.’
So, even if we cannot communicate all of this to those whom we meet and greet during this holiday season, at least let US be aware of what we are saying when we say, “Merry Christmas.”