God's Gift in Troubled Times
It’s been a tough year. After a long battle against an unpredictable virus, a violent summer, and a contested Presidential election, there is a general feeling of weariness with 2020 and a relief that it’s almost over, as if January 1 could dispel all our problems. In reality, we know that a turn of a calendar page will not make a difference.
But there has been one day in history that has made all the difference in the world, marking a momentous turning point in the history of humanity: the day when God became man, overturning every logical consequence of our sinful world.
A Glorious Event
What happened just over two thousand years ago in a small town in Galilee is impossible to describe in full. Of the four evangelists, John came the closest to express its mystery when he said that the Logos, the “communication” that was God and was with God from eternity “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Over the centuries, poets have struggled to find words to announce that pivotal event, from 4th-century Prudentius, who sings of the “Alpha and Omega,” Creator of the universe who “is found in human fashion” to redeem a race “doomed by law to endless woe”, to 20th-century Jaroslav Vajda who, after taking us to the place where “God embodied love and sheathed his might,” asks, “Who could but gasp: Immanuel!”
I must admit that I don’t always gasp at the start of the Christmas season. Familiarity dampens excitement, and the typical preparations for the season can become a distraction. It’s also easy—even for Christians—to succumb to the sentimentality that surrounds us and coats this earth-shaking event with honeyed words of love and peace.
But a careful look at the story most of us consider well-known never fails to reveal new wonders about that remarkable day when the all-powerful, majestic God took on a weak human body, when the eternal subjected himself to the movements of time, when the immortal plunged into mortality, when the Word that created the universe chose to lay speechless in the arms of a young woman, trusting her to teach him how to speak. All this, as the Welsh poetess Ann Griffiths wrote, in order to see “the law held in honor and its great transgressors going free.”
It is this multitude of apparent paradoxes that causes us to gasp:
- ...that the almighty God would stoop to become human in such a mundane and humble fashion;
- ...that, even at that time of self-imposed humiliation, he was with us in all his majesty and power;
- ...that he did all this for a rebellious humanity.
Far from confusing us, these paradoxes dissipate our confusion, not by lulling us with comfortable explanations of a world we have corrupted but are consistently trying to normalize, but by taking us beyond it, to what we and the world were meant to be from the beginning.
God with Us
In our efforts to remember the divine glory and power of that baby in the manger, we can’t go to the opposite extreme of forgetting or minimizing his full humanity, which made him able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” and infirmities (Hebrews 4:15), and to become a brother truly “born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17).
As Martin Luther said in one of his Christmas sermons,
“Of what benefit would it be to me if Christ had been born a thousand times, and it would daily be sung into my ears in a most lovely manner, if I were never to hear that he was born for me and was to be my very own?”
And that’s exactly what we are hearing. The angel who first appeared to the shepherds was very clear in defining his good news “for all the people.” “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
He has truly come for us, to bring remedy to our greatest problem—our enmity with God—and to establish his kingdom of true love, peace, and justice, in a way not even his disciples could initially predict or understand.
This is, by itself, the greatest news we could ever receive. But there is more. As Samuel Zwemer, missionary to the Muslim world, wrote in The Glory of the Manger,
“Because the Word became flesh, he shares with us in our temptations and in our victories. He has a fellow-feeling for us all in our infirmities and trials. ... The Son of Man lives to intercede” (cf. Heb 7:25).
Most people in Israel would have recognized in the angelic announcement of “Christ the Lord” the Immanuel the prophets had predicted for centuries, the “God-with-us” his people had been eagerly waiting, at times losing hope.
This was the Christ that had been promised from the very first proclamation of mercy in Genesis 3:15. As Mary told her cousin Elizabeth, God had “helped his people Israel in remembrance of his mercy,” “and his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:54, 50).
All the events, prophecies, types, and ceremonies that had preceded this moment in Israel had the purpose of directing the attention of all to this birth. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor. 1:20). As Jesus later revealed to a stunned crowd, he had truly come “to proclaim good news to the poor, … to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (Isa 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-20).
Those who saw in these and other similar words the promises of a political leader were later disappointed, but those who accepted the simple message of the gospel could attest of their truth, albeit in counterintuitive and unexpected ways.
When the shepherds who had just witnessed one of the greatest angelic manifestations in Scripture arrived at the manger and told everything they had seen and heard, we read that all their listeners “wondered.” “But Mary,” who had received the most astounding revelation a woman could ever receive and had carried God in human flesh in her womb, “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:18-19).
At the end of this difficult year, with uncertain prospects in sight, we would do well to follow her example. We won’t be disappointed.
Simonetta Carr is a mother of eight and a homeschool educator for twenty years. She has also worked as a freelance journalist and a translator of Christian works into Italian. Simonetta is the author of numerous books, including Weight of a Flame and the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series.
"A Mystery Beheld" by Joseph Pipa
"Why Keep Christ in Christmas?" by Justin Poythress
"Christ, Fully-Human" by Adam Parker
The Incarnation in the Gospels by Richard Phillips, Philip Ryken, and Daniel Doriani
 Jaroslav Vajda, “Peace Came Down to Earth,” https://digitalsongsandhymns.com/songs/7272#tab-lyrics
 Ann Griffiths, Hymn I, in E. Wyn James, ed., Flame in the Mountains: Williams Pantycelyn, Ann Griffiths and the Welsh Hymn, trans. H. A. Hodges (Tal-y-bont, Ceredigion, Wales: Y Lolfa, 2017).
 Martin Luther, Through the Year with Martin Luther, ed. Suzanne Tilton, Peabody, Mass., Hendrickson, 2007, 108
 Samuel Marinus Zwemer, The Glory of the Manger: Studies on the Incarnation, The American Tract Society, 1940, 166.