"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A peculiar gift in a strange package

This past week for youth group, we did a white elephant gift exchange.  I like these exchanges because they are complete surprises.  Often, the box or wrapping paper gives no clues as to what lies inside.  During the Christmas season, gifts can so quickly and easily become a distraction from Jesus—the true reason we celebrate.  This year, I want to invite us to look at our gifts as a reminder of Jesus.  When Jesus came down at Christmas, he became God’s ultimate White elephant gift to humanity—a peculiar gift—the fullness of God, eternal and holy—wrapped up in the flesh of a helpless infant.  We did not know the greatness of the gift we received.

This is such a spectacular truth—Jesus Christ: fully God and fully man—that we don’t really know how to fathom it, and so we take Christ’s birth and make it something worthy of a Hallmark greeting card.  After all, he was the son of God!   We paint this picture: the stable is neat and tidy—no manure caked in the hay. Mary is pristine, beautiful, and solemn; not a teenage girl desperate, terrified, sweaty, and screaming in pain.  Joseph is a carpenter…with a minor in midwifery…and knows exactly what he’s doing when he delivers that baby.  He couldn't possibly be a desperate man praying for God’s help in a healthy and safe delivery; scrambling to find some rag to wrap the baby in and something sharp and clean cut the umbilical cord.    The star in the sky casts a perfect spotlight on Jesus as he lies in a plush manger crib—no dried animal slobber, wooden slivers, or jabbing straw to be found.  Jesus is a perfect, beautiful baby, complete with heavenly, glowing aura.  There is no afterbirth.  He is not sticky and wet.  “The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes…”  Ok, let’s brush off some of the glitter and push aside the tinsel.  Let’s be realistic.  There was no “silent” night.  Jesus was a baby. A human baby.  Exiting the balmy 98.6 degree climate of his mother’s womb out into the chilly night, breathing air for the first time into his lungs, I am sure like every baby, Jesus put those lungs to good use, screaming and waling… and waking up an animal or two. 

This peculiar night when the Holy Lord came into the world as an infant…was a profoundly human event.  It was messy, scary, dirty, and lowly.  There was pain and uncertainty.  It’s as if God went out of his way to point out just how human Jesus was.  Being born in a stable, and laid in a manger, he made himself even more vulnerable than most.  In all of the chaos, it was not a silent night…but it was a holy night.  This little baby boy, crying in a manger, sticky with afterbirth…was Holy God!  Multitudes of angels sang in worship at his birth.  Prophets foretold his coming.  He shall be called Immanuel—“God with us”!

Unique amongst all, Jesus alone existed before his birth.  “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” John 1:14.  He chose to be born as a human and dwell amongst us.  He chose to leave the glory and splendor of Heaven, giving up power and becoming a helpless baby.  He chose to be born to a teenage mother with an unbelievable story of being a pregnant virgin by the power of God.  Who would look with favor on that family?  He chose to be a homeless wanderer, despised by the religious leaders of his day.  He chose to face a criminals death on the cross—all of this for our sake.  Jesus said that he came to serve, not to be served—that he came to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Not only did he choose to live our experience, he also lived this life with the ultimate purpose of dying for our sake.

Jesus understands life.  He knew trial and temptation—and he conquered them through his power.  He is God.  Demons fear him.  Angels adore him.  He holds all authority, yet chose to surrender his life for our sake.  Because he is man, he can relate to us—cry with us, feel our pains, joys, happiness and sorrow.  But because he is God, he can conquer our pains, our sin—he can save us because he has the authority!

Job longed for a mediator; someone who could stand on his behalf before God.  God is not a mortal like me, so I cannot argue with him or take him to trial.  If only there were a mediator who could bring us together, but there is none.” Job 9:32-33.  Jesus became that mediator!  Augustine said, “He is mediator between God and man, because he is God with the Father, and a man with men.  A mere man could not be a mediator between God and man; nor could a mere God.  Behold the mediator: Divinity without humanity cannot act as a mediator; nor can humanity without Divinity; but the human Divinity and the Divine humanity of Christ is the sole mediator between Divinity and humanity.” 1 Tim 2:5-6 says, “ For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.”

John Calvin said that as God alone, Christ couldn't feel death, but as man alone, he couldn’t conquer it.  So he coupled both natures together.  He faced death…and conquered it, so that we might be free!
 If Jesus had not become man, we would have no one to relate to—no one who has faced our trials and triumphed, no one to put our hope in, but we are made holy by Christ.  For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.” Hebrews 10:10

Jesus made the greatest gift exchange—he became human…so that we might become holy.  He chose us so that we could choose him.  He gave us his very life.  Will we give ours in return?

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