By Barbara Boatwright, Ph.D.
If there is ever a time of year that is marked by joy and celebration, it’s Christmas! It is the one Christian holiday in the year that is celebrated by hundreds of millions of people across the globe from all manners of faith and walks of life, a most special time of year marked for traditions such as family gatherings and giving generously to the poor. These practices are actually rooted in the deepest Biblical meanings of Christmas that are becoming increasingly lost to secular society. One of these traditions has to do with the giving of gifts, which originates from our gratitude for the gracious gift of Jesus Christ coming into our fallen world as our hope and salvation.
Early December marks the beginning of the Christmas season with Advent. “Advent” derives from the Latin word for “coming, as in the arrival of a notable person, thing or event”. Just as we anticipate opening gifts under the Christmas tree, we celebrate waiting for the arrival of God on earth in the birth of the Christ child.
As we look at God’s manifestation of himself throughout the Old Testament, we read of his presence in examples such as a “pillar of fire” or a “burning bush,” and we know from Moses, that no one could see God’s glory and live (Exodus 33:20). After experiencing the power of God through fire, drought, and rain, Elijah learned to recognize the presence of God on Mount Horeb in a whisper. But in Jesus…God comes to us as a person, a BABY?!
In the words of Tim Keller, “Why would God come this time in the form of a baby, rather than in a firestorm or whirlwind? Because this time he has come not to bring judgment but to bear it, to pay the penalty for our sins, to take away the barrier between humanity and God, so we can be together. Jesus is God with us” (Hidden Christmas, p. 54). Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us. All other world religions only offer knowing about their god; only in Christianity can people truly have a personal and intimate relationship with God.
Jesus coming to us in physical form also meant that He fully experienced all the limitations of being human- like hunger, fatigue, and pain. Writer Glyn Evans illustrates this point as compared to an adult choosing to live the rest of his life crawling like a baby (Daily with the King, November 12). I would take that statement a step further in two respects.
First, a baby is vulnerable to all the ways he is treated – Jesus allowed Himself to fully experience all that can happen at the hands of others. Like all new parents, Mary and Joseph were not perfect in the ways they raised Jesus or any of their subsequent children. The circumstances of His birth were by any standard exceptionally difficult, as He was born to a poor family in harsh conditions. To make matters worse, He was from Nazareth, which was considered to be “the other side of the tracks.” (John 1:46). He had none of the accoutrements of wealth, position, or formal education that society regards as necessary for leadership, yet His coming has impacted the world for all time. He ultimately allowed Himself to be subjected to the worst treatment that man can endure- betrayal, false accusation, and a criminal’s excruciating execution on the cross. What does this say to us, but that Jesus personally understands and identifies with us in the worst that life on earth brings to bear? He has come for the weak and downtrodden, and this gives us space to admit that we, too, are weak and in need of a Savior.
Second, a baby is also dependent upon his parents for everything- provision, protection, and nurture. In our world that values power and self-sufficiency, a “self-made” man is revered, and here, too, Jesus offers us a radical departure. In truth, the greatest person in all the history of the world operated from a position of total dependency. Every other world religion is based upon man’s efforts and strength. Yet the entire Bible is filled with stories of miracles, signs and wonders, and demonstrations of supernatural power that can only come from the hand of God- wielded through the least likely of candidates by the world’s standards. The greatest men in the Bible were not the eldest sons or from the best tribes, but were raised up for God’s purposes from the least important children in their families and the smallest of the tribes (think Joseph and David), and the greatest women of the Bible were often the least physically attractive and often barren (consider Sarah, Leah, and Hannah). Apart from the hand of God and their obedience, each of these people would have lived lives of total obscurity. Jesus Himself embodies all of the “least of these” attributes as we read in Isaiah 53: 2-5 (NLT):
“…there was nothing beautiful about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be healed.”
Our nature is to look to the rich, educated, and strong for leadership. The disciples and people of Jesus’ day were looking for a warrior king. He will indeed come back in all His kingly glory at the second coming. For us though, for now, we have been given the ultimate gift of salvation and restored relationship with a personal, knowable Savior God. Jesus gives us the roadmap for navigating the pain and trouble of this world.
He demonstrated for us that He did nothing on his own apart from His Father’s instruction (John 8:28). In flesh and real time, Jesus modeled for us how to truly rise above the troubles of this world. He revealed this by being fully human, and even in His divine nature, totally dependent upon God. In the perfect will of His Father, He overcame the world and reconciled us to His Father- our Father. Now, through Him, we can live into the promise of Paul in Philippians 4:23 who says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
No matter what the circumstances are in our lives this Christmas, let us thank God for the greatest gift of all time- salvation by His grace, and the power to live an overcoming life. May we recognize and appreciate this most valuable of all gifts, wrapped in a plain and humble package.
Dr. Barbara Boatwright is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the director of Life Resources, a Christian non-profit organization in Mt Pleasant dedicated to emotional and relational wellness. For more information about the services offered by Life Resources, call (843) 884-3888 or go to www.myliferesources.org
As seen in the December 2018 edition of The Carolina Compass.