Judging by what I see in advertising, Christmas is a time of sentiment, nostalgia, and good cheer. Also consumerism, but let’s leave that aside. There is an undeniable ‘spirit of Christmas’ vibe that many of us enjoy and look forward to. You know, except for the ‘Scrooge’ types…
One of the few Christian images that remains familiar in secular society’s version of Christmas is that of baby Jesus in a stable. The image is static and timeless. It will be the same next Christmas as it is this one. We even recognise the image even in silhouette form. But it doesn’t challenge us. It doesn’t appear to call us to anything, much less faith or repentance. It’s just part of the holiday vibe.
Some Christmas Realities
Yet the Bible’s claim about this baby is beyond remarkable: this is God’s Son come into the world. But even this grand theological truth (taken in isolation) is easily accommodated to the prevalent fuzzy sense of Christmas cheer. Jesus is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23); isn’t that nice? God is with all of us, don’t you know? Now let’s open presents!
The reality is that Christmas points to truths far uglier, far more beautiful, and far more cosmic in scale than anything that Christmas sentiment might suggest.
Ugly in that Jesus came to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). We are all sinners deserving of God’s judgement, except that Jesus mercifully bore our sins in our place.
Beautiful, therefore, in that Jesus’ coming reveals a God of mercy, a God who delights to save sinners.
Cosmic in that Jesus calls everyone everywhere to turn to him and find salvation, both Jew and Gentile (non-Jew) alike. The Jewish shepherds who came to see Jesus demonstrate that God came to save his own people, Israel. Even the lowest among them are invited to bow at Jesus’ feet and rejoice in his salvation. The Gentile ‘wise men’ demonstrate that those far away, even pagan idolaters, are likewise summoned to come to Jesus in repentance and faith (Ephesians 2:17). Christmas shows that, in Jesus, God lays claim to all of us.
Christmas & the Second Coming of Jesus
Jesus’ second coming is not usually something people talk about at Christmas. We should talk about it. The very point of Jesus first coming was to make his second coming ‘good news’.
When you read the Old Testament it often sounds as though the promised coming of God is one event. God promised he would return to bring about a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness reigns (Isaiah 65:17-19). However, the wicked would be excluded and would be judged instead (Isaiah 66:15-16). The problem is that sinners don’t belong in a new creation, both because we don’t deserve it, and because we would ruin it anyway. Sinners need to be redeemed and made new first, otherwise we would all be condemned.
Therefore God planned two comings for his Son. In his first coming Jesus achieved salvation by his death and resurrection. When he returns upon his second coming, Jesus will bring the fullness of the salvation he has achieved as a gift to share with his people:
‘…he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself… and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.’Hebrews 9:26, 28
At Christmas we remember that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. We recall that Jesus has won salvation already, and we look forward to his return, when he will give us a share in his kingdom forever.
The best thing we can pray for at Christmas is for its completion: ‘Come Lord Jesus’ (Revelation 22:20).