Monday, December 20, 2010

It's a Boy!

Christmas is a beautiful story—especially if you don't give it a lot of thought. Stop and think about it for awhile and the perplexities are enough to drive you nuts. It's not an easy story to understand. Remember, Christ didn’t get His start in Bethlehem. He has existed for all eternity. Wrote John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (Jn. 1:1). This Bethlehem child was no Jesus-come-lately; He was the eternal Word made flesh to dwell among us. As the poet George Herbert put it:

The God of power, as he did ride
In his majestick robes of glorie
Resolv'd to light; and so one day
He did descend, undressing all the way.

Though Herbert wrote in the lofty metaphor of the poet, he was more earthy than he knew. "Undressing all the way" was right. Not just in the sense of stripping Himself of the full benefits of deity, but more earthy yet—this baby Jesus was born like you and me—in his birthday suit, as naked as a jaybird. And He was born not in the birthing room of a modern hospital, but in a cave-like stable amid dusty straw and the steaming dung of beasts.

Does that not bother you—even a little? Couldn't God to better than a stable? I did better for my kids and I'm not even God. And to come as a baby? Angels from heaven made grown-up appearances, scared the bejeebers out of people, impressed their socks off. People took note of angel's appearance. And yet who will take note of baby's appearance, except the immediate family and those who are annoyed by a baby's cry in the middle of the night. And what about the fact that God cast His own Son our our mercy. God trusted His only Son on history's most important mission with a couple of young folks who had zero parental experience—zero. What was God thinking? Do you suppose this is where Edgar Rice Burroughs got the idea for his Tarzan series: a baby raised by apes in the jungle? Hmmm.

It just doesn't seem very God-like. Now sending plagues and splitting seas, crushing city walls and humbling kings—that's God-like. But showing up as a baby? Even though the prophet predicted it, would he have even believed if he saw it: “Israel, behold your God!” (Isa. 40:9). And what do they see but a little bundle in a teenage mama's arms. His eyes can't focus. He cries, He whimpers, He fusses, He even messes his diaper. And if left alone with no one to care for Him, He'd die in no time at all. Israel, behold your God? You can see why it took the cross and resurrection before anybody made much of Christmas.

And maybe that's why we can be too quick to rush past the manger to the cross and the empty tomb? Though perplexing in their own way, those things, especially resurrection, feel so much more like God's doing. But I don't want to run past the manger this Christmas. I want to linger there a while and, like Mary, ponder what is going on there—to think my way through the perplexities to a deeper faith and a wider worship.

See Him there in the manger. In the manger. Not a palace. Not a comfortable home. Not even an Motel 6. But a manger. When Christ emptied Himself to come down and save us, He didn't just do it halfway. Jesus checked His pride at the door on the way down to earth. He didn't say, "I'll go so far and no farther." He didn't say, "I draw the line at a stable." He didn't say, "I refuse to be born in that dump." No, Jesus was willing to do whatever it took, willing to reach as low as He had to go, willing to make His beachhead on the earth in a musty stable in Bethlehem. Jesus came all the way down. Now, no one can say, "Jesus, didn't stoop far enough for me." No one can say that—not the poor, not the outcast, not the man without a home. Born as He was in a stable, Jesus demonstrated total commitment to go as far as He had to go to seek and to save humankind.

And to come as a baby. Why not just beam Him down like an angel? Why not step out of heaven and into Jerusalem as a grown-up Christ ready to accomplish His mission? Why not execute what the military calls a surgical strike? Move in quickly, execute the mission, and get out before people know what hit them. Why come as a baby? Why risk the Son of God to a couple of bumbling parents? Jesus was their first child, you know. They had no experience. Jesus would be a guinea pig of sorts as they tested their parental skills. Why put the Son of God in the care of others? Would it not have been a safer course to send Jesus at an age when He could have cared for Himself? And why risk the Son of God to adolescence and the temptations that come naturally to changing bodies and racing hormones? What if Jesus gave into temptation even once? What then? This Lamb of God would have been blemished and His sacrifice unacceptable. Why did God send His Son as a baby? Why this route, this risk, this way?

Because God loves us, that's why. If Jesus was going to save us He would have to be one of us. His ministry needed context, roots, and history. He needed to know us from the inside out. Now Jesus understands us completely. Now Jesus knows our temptations and our struggles and overcame them every one. Instead of acting the role of a TV meteorologist who tracks a tornado on radar from the comfort and safety of a studio, Jesus moved right out into the storm—seeing the twister with His own eyes, feeling the wind in His face, dodging the debris, experiencing the sense of danger that comes from being in the thick of it all. And He did it from birth to death; from the crib to the casket; from the womb to the tomb. He did it without sin so that He could bear our sin on the cross and kill its power and penalty once and for all. And He did it all to a T—perfect in every way. Pretty darn amazing if you ask me!

About twenty years ago somebody left this poem on my desk. I really like it. It's simple. It's to the point. And it's the truth:

A cave, a birth
A cry, a song,
To praise a King expected long.
To heal with love,
To give with joy.
A star above,
It is A BOY!

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