This is the time of year where we as Christians are to joyfully celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior and Lord. Somehow, rush hour traffic at lunch time and crowded smalls do not deter most Christians from expressing such joy. Church attendance, ironically, reaches its all-time high during the year (aside from Easter) when members bring friends and relatives to Christmas Eve services. Isn’t it a blessing that we are able to take comfort in the basic story that undergirds this holiday season?
While “comfort and joy” are sung about and hoped for during this month, I wonder whether the story told through movies, Sunday school lessons, and sermons is really the whole story. William Walsham How, the great nineteenth century hymn writer, pens these words concerning the Christmas story,
Who is this, so weak and helpless,
Child of lowly Hebrew maid,
Rudely in a stable sheltered,
Coldly in a manger laid?
’Tis the Lord of all creation,
Who this wondrous path has trod;
He is God from everlasting,
And to everlasting God.
This is the first stanza of his somewhat familiar hymn Who Is This, So Weak And Helpless?, and one can see his perspective. The coming of the Messiah, God in the flesh, with the incarnation of Jesus should not immediately draw our hearts towards routinistic praise. Rather, the very occasion of the birth of Jesus should amaze us. This child of a lowly Jewish woman, lying in a cold, uncomfortable manger within a fly-infested barn, stripped of all glory, is actually the Lord of all creation and everlasting God.
We tend to think of Christmas as a time of giving and receiving. While we receive great gifts and increase our prosperity, we give gifts to loved ones and friends which in turn increases social status and affection for one another. Yet, the first Christmas for the Son of God is different. Jesus, being very God of very God, chooses to put on sin-cursed flesh and abandon his post at the Father’s right hand where he has received eternal praise and glory. Instead of increasing his glory and prosperity, Jesus “makes himself nothing” by becoming the “very form of a servant.” (Phil 2:7) Actually, the Greek word for “servant” is better rendered slave or bond-servant.
The weakness of Christ – his humiliation – is most likely not a concept preached on in churches during this time of year. Yet, how helpless does the God of the universe seem in needing to cry for food, be changed, and be dependent on others. The One who alone knows absolute freedom and independence becomes a baby and now knows absolute dependence.
The transcendence of God at Christmas needs to be balanced by his immanence. No other god, religion, or ideology is able to strike this balance like Christianity does. People today avoid Christianity and “organized religion” since they don’t want to be exploited. Yet, the irony is that God comes down in Jesus Christ to be exploited and humiliated for our sake. He bears our humanity and suffering in a way we can never experience and in a way we would never wish to experience. For in Jesus’ humanity, he eventually “hangs there dying, while the rude world scoffs and scorns.”
It is this helpless babe that our hope is found. This child that needed someone to wipe his backside is the one who is one to bear your sin and my sin. He is humiliated so that we may be exalted with him someday (Rev 19:1-10).
So during this Christmas week, let us meditate on the weak and helpless child to whom are due not only material gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but the very gift and offering of our bodies as living sacrifices so as to worship him (Rom 12:1-2).