At first glimpse the Prodigal Son story in Luke 15 appears to have nothing to do with the Incarnation narrative in Luke 1-2. However, when you think about it, you might realise there is only one journey in the two stories. Our minds go to the younger son and his flight from home and into the arms of the world to live a “prodigal” lifestyle, only to be spit out bereft of both dignity and “dollars.” But this is the wrong journey.
It is the father who makes the most terrible journey, out of an extravagant heart (a pure prodigality), he embarks on the rescue run to bring his boy home whatever the cost to himself. And in the incarnation, it is also God’s intent to go to extreme and extravagant lengths to bring him people home, whatever the cost of humiliation to himself.
Religion may be about our pilgrimages and journeys supposedly heavenwards. But Christianity is all about a different traveller – God himself. He makes the move, he pays the price, he performs the rescue.
When the Son of God burst into this world in a flurry of newborn cries, His mission was bigger than we tend to think. Just surviving to adulthood looked unlikely, but there was so much more. He came to breach the defences of the god of this age, to reveal His Father’s heart to us and for us, and to die in our place that our sins could be forgiven and our fellowship in union with the Son by the Spirit established.
That was quite the mission. But then the New Testament goes further, the mission just gets bigger. In reference to the coming of Christ, Paul wrote to Titus that it is God’s grace that teaches us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. The coming of Christ was not only to breach, reveal and rescue, but also to transform. Ungodly sinners transformed to have godly desires. This worldly sinners transformed to have future oriented hope. Once we see what had to happen in us, Jesus’ mission only appears bigger and bigger! What a Saviour!
At just the right time, God the Son was sent into the world and he came, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law. What comes next? This classic Christmas explanation in Galatians 4:4-5 is still only mid-sentence, but what comes next?
We sell Christmas short when the end result of Christmas was something less than what Paul writes here. He writes of adoption as sons and the sending of the Spirit into our hearts. Too often the Gospel we tell ourselves and others does not go there. Instead in the shrunken Gospel there is just some combination of some of these elements: Jesus makes a way for our guilt to be paid, we get to go to heaven, we get empowered to live better lives, we can now choose to obey God, etc.
Jesus came so that we could have the Spirit restored to us again. And the Spirit is sent, not primarily for improving our behaviour or empowering our obedience (although both will follow), He is sent to restore us to the love relationship of the Trinity. Let’s not sell Christmas short to ourselves, or to others.
Christmas feels like a long wait for children. They wait for it all year, and then December drags slower than ever. Christmas Eve feels like an eternity and finally Christmas morning comes. For many children, by the time the evening arrives their nerves are fried and everything starts getting a bit fraught. Was it worth the wait? Maybe.
Simeon waited many years to lay eyes on His Messiah. When Mary gingerly carried her newborn son into the temple with Joseph watching over her, Simeon finally got to see the boy Messiah. Now dismiss me! He declared. It was worth the wait.
May the familiarity of Christmas not spoil the wonder of the incarnation for us this year. Pray that by His Spirit, God will give your heart a glimpse of His Son that will remind you that only in Him is their true satisfaction. And, if you have met Jesus, then there is nothing to fear even if death is your next earthly experience!
Hidden away in Zechariah’s song is a wonderful truth. He pondered all that the angel had told him for nine silent months. He searched Malachi since that was the text the angel referred to, but surely he had time to enjoy the rest of the Old Testament too. And when it all finally came out, Zechariah was gripped by God’s faithfulness, God’s rescue, and God’s transformative work in the lives of those He rescues.
Too often we give God half credit for salvation, but inadvertently try to take our part of the credit for the efforts at transformation. Christmas gets awkward when we only half receive a gift. “Thank you so much, but here’s mine to you!” The good news is that we, in our total bankruptcy, are invited to receive from an ever-abundant and generous God!
Mary would have had a mind swirling with questions after hearing all that Gabriel told her. Many of those questions were unanswered. Yes she would carry and bear the son of God – which was truly amazing. But what about other people? What would she say? How would all the complexity be worked out?
The trust of this young teen is heart stirring. I am God’s servant, so I trust Him. Actually, that is true for us too. We don’t know how the future will be worked out, but we do know who is in charge. And as Mary realised, God’s in-charge-ness is incredibly gracious and faithful. That is, He can be trusted.
When God the Son became a human, he came all the way to our side. He didn’t just take on flesh, but supercharge it with a divine inner engine. Equally, He didn’t just take on humanity, but play it safe with every luxury divinity could buy. No, Jesus really became one of us.
One way we see this is in His acceptance of His name qualifier. Jesus was a common name in those days, so every Jesus walking around would have some identifier added – Jesus the son of Thaddeus, Jesus the fruit seller, or even Big Jesus. So what identifier stuck with our Jesus? Jesus of Nazareth.
And it stuck. All through His ministry, after His resurrection, even after His ascension to the heavenly throne. Still He is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus of Nowhere, Galilee. Jesus of a town that nobody was ever proud of. He really did want to come and be with all of
To chase this idea more, click here to read an extended version of this post.
The “child-friendly” Christmas story is not completely safe. After all, the paranoid persecutor, King Herod, instigated a brutal killing of every boy under the age of 2 in Bethlehem. For that community it was horrific, but on the national scale, it would barely have registered – such was the nastiness of Herod.
God delivered Jesus from this attempt on his life. As we preach Christmas we can give the impression that if only humanity could learn our lessons from the Christmas story, then we would just be able to stop such nastiness to one another and the world might remain a lovely place year round. This is naive.
God did not deliver Jesus from Herod to set an example of how we should seek to stop evil in this world by delivering others. He did it because His plan was to deliver innocent Jesus to death for our sake. Christmas is not about us learning to be nice, it is about God’s mission to transform us at great cost to Himself.
The Christmas story is strangely complex. On the one hand you have a poor couple in a poor town in poor circumstances giving birth to a little boy. On the other hand you have angels from heaven telling shepherds from nearby fields, and stars in the heavens telling exceedingly rich nobles from a distant land.
Jesus was not born in a palace, but at the other end of society’s echelon. He was born in Israel, but with visitors from outside. Christmas makes it clear that Jesus’ ministry and goal will not be just for the elite, or even just for the Jews.
Jesus came for everyone. This may be something we reference in our Christmas messages of peace on earth, but does it register in our motivation for an expansive ministry? How will Jesus’ global goal grip your life, your energy, your giving, and your plans in this next year? Perhaps our Christmas ponderings are too passive – we talk of peace on earth in the brief season of a Christmas truce, but maybe Christmas should stir our imaginations and motivations as we think about living for Jesus in the coming year.
One of my favourite chapters to write in Pleased to Dwell was chapter 8, looking at the ladies that appear in the genealogy of Matthew 1. I won’t go into the detail now, but it is is striking that the line of Christ is not a dream list of superstars. There are certainly some heroes in there, but there are lots of sinners, lots of strugglers, lots of failures.
Even among the women listed, there are question marks galore hanging over their heads (which I think is part of the reason they were chosen for inclusion). The Old Testament line leading to Jesus is not a red carpet, but rather a crimson line of sin. Jesus came from people like us and to people like us. Hallelujah! What a saviour!