I think one of the most unintentionally hilarious songs during the Christmas season is the umpteenth rendition of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” — because despite the wonderful sentiment, it’s not always the “hap-happiest season of all.” Sometimes, it’s quite the opposite.
All things, not just holidays, devolve and dilute their meaning and influence over time. Perhaps this the natural course of things, though, because of the influence of sin. Just look our society’s use, or lack thereof, of the English language. The progression of technology has led to the dilution of words. We call failures “epic” and individual feats “amazing,” without really considering their true worth. Indeed, the art of language has lost much of its former weight and glory. We’re no longer enthralled by words and their ability to capture and captivate our attention — our capacity for thoughts is relegated to 140 characters or less. Another word whose luster has dulled with overuse is “remarkable.” Something truly remarkable is that which is wondrous, tremendous, a work so phenomenal it’s unbelievable — an occurrence so sensational it seems beyond all belief. Such an event is the incarnation of Christ.
The coming of God to man is the most remarkable fact in all of human history. The notion that omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omni-holy, omni-just God would condescend to frail, feeble, fragile, filthy mankind is so far-fetched we have to be told, over and over again. The mystery of the cross and the glory of our redemption began with the modest magnificence and furtive renown of a manger, in which a little baby boy wailed as his heavenly lungs breathed earthly air for the first time. In a method which seems severely flawed to our created ears and limited understanding, God has deemed in holiness his Son to be the satisfaction of all the Father’s righteous indignation since the Fall. Holy God occupies unholy ground — remaining untainted by it, walking among us, talking to us, grieving with us, feeling for us, dying for us. The Christ child comes as the Messiah to overrun our deadness and darkness with his deliverance, his light. He comes as the manifestation of wonder and remarkability, the very embodiment of the Godhead’s gracious disposition towards the desperate.
Christmas begins Jesus’s quest to rid the world of sin, redeem the lost, and rescue the downcast. Christmas assails our sin-ridden world and begins the remarkable story of grace, as told by the Heavenly Father. The advent of Christ sets in motion the grand motif of God drawing near to us, not because we’re doing it all right but because we’re perpetually doing it all wrong. The incarnation is the ignition of Jesus’s “good tidings of great joy.” It’s the the inception of illimitable mercy, unilateral love, and inexhaustible grace. Christmas is the genesis of God’s story of grace in Christ’s condescension. It begins with a Prince humbling himself, emptying himself, “taking on the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7), taking on sin, shame, sickness, pain, and grief, bearing our iniquities and transgressions (Isa. 53), and ends with the Son of Man conquering death, hell, and the grave, crowned as King of kings and Lord of lords.
All goodness finds its dayspring in this moment in time. Our deliverance is derived from Jesus coming down. With his descent, there’s no ascent for us. Without the Son stooping, we’re forever left to suffer the cruel pangs of sin and hell and brokenness. As Dr. Bonar says in his Family Sermons:
The Son of God came to take our place of banishment, that, by so doing, he might effect our restoration . . . In love he took the lowest place that he might invite us to the highest. In love he went to the farthest circle of banishment that this earth knows, in order that, by bearing that banishment, he might bring us into the very centre of divine fellowship, and nearness, and heavenly gladness. (52, 63)
This is our glorious hope, our remarkable redemption: that Jesus came to us, for us. He comes enrobed in love and adorned with grace. Love brought him down and love leads him to the cross.
As we celebrate Christmas, let’s not neglect to remember all that that means. Too often, and shamefully so, the busyness and craziness of the holidays crowd the meaning they were meant to have. We’re inundated with parties and people, and without notice, we become ungrateful, sour, almost robotic. Let’s enjoy these times; cherish these moments. Let’s be people so taken up with joy and happiness as loved ones are embraced and friends are greeted that we’re immersed in the elation and celebration of the season. And when it’s all over, when the holidays’ hullabaloo has ceased and wreaths are packed away and the lights taken down, let’s recover the remarkability of our redemption — the wonder of what Jesus has finished.
As the crooners begin their incessant and inexhaustible song, let’s not allow the commercialization of the holidays deafen us to their individualization — let’s not forget that the baby in the manger that secular musicians sing of is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace. (Isa. 9:6) He is both Jehovah and Emmanuel, the Lord and the Savior who’s come for you.
As you read about the baby boy in the manger, don’t forget that it was he was that carried your cross for you up the hill to Golgotha. The Son came down for us to bring us to the Father — God became man that man might be with God. This is the story of grace, dawning in Bethlehem and climaxing at Calvary. And that’s truly remarkable.
This article was originally written for Rooted Ministries.
- Horatius Bonar, Family Sermons (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1954).