Human experience unfolds in story. Meaning is fashioned from places, plots, and players fused in real-time. This is because more often than we like to admit it God uses the stories of people, events and the things we already know to reveal Himself and His will to us.
Christmas is a classic example of this.
Being gathered here together as a family already resembles something that happened around 2000 years ago in Bethlehem as the first Christmas was also celebrated by a family.
In fact as far as the biblical narrative is concerned it seems that human life begins and ends in the story of families: it starts with the story of Adam, Eve and their children and it ends with the entire household of God. In fact Matthew 1:1-17 speaks of Jesus’ genealogy: a story of families and its narratives of one family tragedy after another. And in the middle of this grand cosmic narrative is the story of the first Christmas that was again unfolded in the story of a family.
The Matthew 1:22-23 (ESV) reads:
“All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”
The verse was directly lifted by the evangelist Matthew from Isaiah 7:14 which is Isaiah’s prophecy of a child to be born from David's household to usher God's reign on earth, as the God who is present in the midst of His people: the Emmanuel.
The title consists of two Hebrew words: El, meaning 'God' and Immanu, meaning 'with us'. It is where we get the word 'immanent' and in theology the term 'immanence' which speaks of God's presence as something near and tangible where we can be drawn near.
Emmanuel speaks of God's nearness, as God, for Jesus did not lose his divinity in becoming human as the Apostle Paul plainly puts it Christ is, being in very nature God (Philippians 2:6 NIV) and Matthew1: 22 makes specific mention of the miraculous conception of Jesus as being born of a virgin.
Moreover, John 1:18 tells us that“God the only Son, who is at the Father’side (ESV)” has seen God. This verse tells us that Jesus, as God, is with God and because Jesus is with God as God, He is capable of revealing God to us. And he has in fact done this as John writes, Jesus “has made God known.” The Greek word, used, is exégeomai, which can be translated as “made known” (note also that this is where we get the word, exegesis which is often defined in preaching as the process of drawing out the meaning of a specific text) could be translated more literally by saying that Jesus has “explained” God to us. Thus in Jesus we have a human being who is perfectly coordinate with God – because He is God, therefore when we see Jesus, we see God, who became flesh and blood in an amazing act of gracious condescension.
In this way the Christmas story shows God's seriousness to His promise of being the God who is for us by becoming the God who is with us in Christ. The infant Jesus in the manger puts God's promise to the Old Testament saints into concrete terms as God who is with us in our frail humanity. Thus the good news of the full plan of God which was hidden is now revealed ultimately kicking off the kairos moment of God's salvation to his people in the person of his Son.
The Christmas story, reminds us that something important has happened which makes all the difference to our understanding of God and his design for the world.
It makes all the difference because it shows that the world and our lives are the concern of God, not just our concern. In Jesus Christ, God went into the world working, moving and living with His creation and in doing so comes into contact with the whole range of the human experience and the whole range of emotions that one goes through in the ordeal of living.
It shows that God is not distant that he cannot respond to our miseries. Furthermore it implies that God in Jesus went through the whole sweep of human experience making Him able to sympathize with us in whatever we are experiencing now (Hebrews 4:15). God incarnated himself in human form and lived among us, and so he knows how we feel in times of pain and suffering.
Lastly is also, means that he understands the full extent of the futility of life apart from God.
The message that God is near is an invitation to draw near to the God who is already near. Wherever we are and whatever we are going through in our lives Jesus as Emmanuel is an invitation to come near to God now, because God in Christ is near.
The Christmas story is a prelude to the most momentous time in history when God and sinners will ultimately be reconciled in the climatic drama of the Crucifixion. Jesus came to take our place, in all our human, earthly life and activity, in order that we may have his place as God's beloved children, in all our human and earthly life and activity, sharing with Jesus in the communion of God's own life and love as Father, Son and Spirit.
Relating it to the whole of Matthew’s Gospel it speaks of the simple massage the world must change, that it can change and that it will change because the God of creation wills it, because Jesus has already turned the tide of the destructive forces by his human response in the heart of the human situation.
Thus, we are invited now by God to draw near because we know deep in our hearts that we are away from God. Thus, Christmas is reminder and invitation to draw near to God who in Christ invites us to become a part of His family (John 1:12).
Christmas points us towards the climactic victory of God and the human family that was ushered in by the baby Jesus who was born in that little town of Bethlehem.
- Watkins, T. Wyatt. Gospel, Grits and Grace: Encountering the Holy in the Ridiculous, Sublime and Unexpected (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1999) p.xiii
- Torrance , Thomas. Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ ed. Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008) p.61
- The term kairos is derived from an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment).
- McKeating, Colm. Peace At The Last: A Christian Theology of the Last Things(Quezon City, Philippines: Claretian Publications, 2009) p.202
- Torrance, Thomas. Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Faith (New York, NY: T & T Clark, 2000) p. 8
- Hellwig, Monika. Understanding Catholicism. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1981) p. 171