At Christmas, our vision tends to narrow. We shift our focus from world events to our local community. We shift our focus from the worries of work to our family circle. And, in the church, we tend to shift our focus from the whole, immense Bible to a couple short chapters in Matthew, Luke, and John. We zoom in on a baby in a manger.
This is all well and good. But sometimes, the narrow focus of the holiday season can make us miss the big picture. We get so used to the little bit we can see, that it becomes rote. We come to the manger once a year to ooh and ahh over Sweet Baby Jesus. And that’s good, but only if we don’t stop there. Because Sweet Baby Jesus isn’t enough. We need to zoom out and remind ourselves of why we even have Christmas, remind ourselves of how Christmas fits into the big picture of what God is doing in our world.
Many people start the Christmas story where Linus did in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, in Luke. And that is most definitely part of the Christmas story. But the roots of that passage sink deep through the rich layers and epochs of Scripture, all the way back to creation.
The Christmas story starts with “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It starts there because everything starts there. That’s where we begin to understand why we even need Christmas to begin with.
In Creation, we see God’s original intent for humanity: fellowship with him through submission to his authority. And it was good. Not because we were inherently good, not because creation was intrinsically good, but because God is good and everything in creation, including humanity, was submitted to him. Our popular conceptions of the Christmas Story don’t include the baby in the manger possessing the awe-inspiring authority required to bring the universe into existence and hold all creation under sway. We need to regain that understanding though.
But the story doesn’t stop there. God put a choice before his crowning creation, mankind, to submit to him or to follow their own desires. And we chose poorly. And in choosing to follow our own desires, we rejected the authority of God over them. We rebelled against our king, our sovereign Lord. The consequences of this rebellion were and are catastrophic.
Our rebellion against God secured our autonomy, so we think, but at a great price. Where once we were assured of the provision of our loving God, we now incur the punishment of our righteous God. And that punishment takes both consequential and ultimate forms. The consequences of our sin are a form of punishment: brokenness, laborious toil, and death. But there is an assurance as well of ultimate punishment for rebellion against God in the form of eternal destruction and separation from God. Consequential punishment is steep, ultimate punishment is devastating. And that would be the end of the story if not for the grace and mercy of God. Apart from that, we humans would have no hope beyond desperately scraping some happiness and satisfaction out of our few, meager years on earth, knowing that punishment surrounded and awaited us.
But that still isn’t where the story stops.
Because God didn’t leave us in our rebellion. Even from the beginning, he promised to bring peace and to fix what was broken. These promises centered around a coming king. And that makes sense: if all that was wrong was caused by our rejection of the rightful king, only a rightful king being reestablished over us would fix things. These promises brought hope to those who heard them, hope that the darkness would be conquered by the light. But if we stop with the promises, we have a futile hope.
But then Jesus shows up. Almost everyone misses it at the beginning, but some begin to see: this is the king, this is the one who fulfills the promises.
The King who arrives in a village, not in a royal city
Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
The King who rides on a donkey, not on a charger
Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The King of the nations, not a king of a nation
Isaiah 56:6-8 “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
The Lord GOD,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.”
The King of healing, not a king of judgment
Isaiah 35:4-6 Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
The King who dies, not the king who wins
Isaiah 53:3-5 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
This promised King, revealed to be Jesus the Christ, isn’t what kings are supposed to be, doesn’t do what kings are supposed to do, and isn’t who we expected. But because he isn’t those things, he can be exactly who he needed to be: one meek enough identify with us in our weakness, but strong enough to save us.
And he proves it. Because The King who dies is The King who is raised to life on the third day. He’s The King who commissions his followers to complete the task for which he was sent: to declare to the world that the old, painful, destructive way of continual rebellion against God and his authority didn’t have to continue: there was a new King establishing a new Kingdom! One of faith, of hope, of love. One in which we could come back to God and be transformed.
And this message of new life began to spread. And men and women and children accepted the good news of the King with joy! They were redeemed! They were restored! They were enjoying fellowship with God and with one another!
But we can’t even stop there because we need a King who can provide not just salvation for me but justice for all. We need a King who could create a new Kingdom, not just in my heart, but one in which all of creation was being cleansed and reborn so that it once again could display the glory of its creator.
That’s why the Christmas story starts in creation, winds through the promises, rejoices in the resurrection, works for the redemption of the world, and looks forward to the end of time and Jesus coming again.
The King from the Barn is also the King from The Palace
Revelation 5:11-13 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
The King on the Donkey is also the King On a White Horse
Revelation 19:11-13 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.
The King of the Nations is also the King of a New Nation
Revelation 5:8-10 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
The King of Peace is also the King of Righteousness
Revelation 19:14-15 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
The King who Dies is also the King who Reigns Forever
Revelation 21:3-4 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
See, we like the Christmas Jesus, the meek and mild baby Jesus. But we need to understand that Promised Jesus, Sweet Baby Jesus, Humble Jesus, Dying Jesus, Rising Jesus, and Coming Jesus are all the same Jesus. We need Jesus in his totality, we need the complete Christmas story, from Genesis to Revelation. Because, it’s only when we put it all together: the hope of the promised king, the peace of the king who came, the salvation of the king who dies and rises, and the justice of the king who will come again that we understand the glorious truth of Christmas: There is one Lord and one Savior, Jesus Christ, and he invites us to know him, and in knowing him, to be saved, and in being saved to worship him as the one who will restore all things. Did you worship him this Christmas? The One weak enough to identify with us, but strong enough to save us, the one who was and is and is to come, the Blessed Redeemer, the Glorious King, the Creator and the Sustainer, Our Counselor and Our Friend, The Almighty, The Victorious, The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, The Alpha & Omega. He was a baby, but he’s not anymore. He was weak and inconsequential the first time his feet touched this dirt, but he won’t be the next time! No, the earth will shake and the heavens will roar. This Jesus, this Messiah, this King will come in war. But not a war of ultimate destruction, a war of ultimate deliverance! A war against sin, and sickness, and death. A war that cleanses and heals and creates a New Heaven and a New Earth, where peace, and righteousness, and justice will reign forever and ever and ever and ever.
So, whenever you look at the manger, whenever you look at Sweet Baby Jesus, don’t stop to ooh and aah a moment before you get back to Christmas traditions and presents. Stop and look closely. That baby changes everything, but that moment is not enough. See and marvel and rejoice at the miracle of God’s plan through the ages.
That’s the Christmas story.