Merry Christmas! I’m hoping that you will have a wonderful and relaxing day with your family celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
If you’re curious if I actually believe that old-timey stuff, the stuff about the virgin birth, Bethlehem, the manger, the angels and the shepherds, and this baby named Jesus, who was both God and man, who would grow up sinless, yet was crucified by the Romans at the behest of the Sanhedrin, only to rise again on Easter morning, the answer is yes. I don’t believe that just because I was taught it, or because it has no effect on me so why not, or I don’t understand virginity makes childbearing impossible. I believe it because there stands a man, Jesus of Nazareth, at the center of history, both in the religious sense, the literal sense, and the personal sense, who defies any explanation. He is history’s ultimate enigma. As for the impossibilities, the existence of God (and the structure of the universe argues strongly in favor of a God) makes the question not whether something is possible, but given all available evidence, including the outlandish, what is mostly likely. And given all available evidence, I believe that yes, Jesus is real, and yes, Jesus is Lord.
However my purpose here is not to argue in favor of the biblical understanding of Jesus, the Bible, or even God (I might do that around Easter). This is more of a Christmas meditation than a defense of Christmas.
I grew up the son of a pastor, immersed in the church, so I’ve heard the Christmas story a time or two. There was a year I was too lazy to go get a Bible, and too impatient to wait for someone else to, so when the time came to read Luke 2 before opening presents on Christmas morning, I simply rattled off the first 20 or so verses from memory. That’s not to brag, it’s just to say I know this story very well. That being the case, it is sometimes hard for me to appreciate the Christmas story, or to find something new in a story I’ve heard a thousand times. Except last year, I found something new.
This might surprise those less familiar with the four accounts of Jesus’s life (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), but only Matthew and Luke actually contain the record of Jesus’s birth (why that is the case is a longer discussion for another time). Matthew details the birth of Jesus, the visit of the Magi, and the flight to Egypt. Luke records Mary’s story, the birth narrative we are most familiar with, his dedication at the Temple, and one event when he was twelve. After these records, both gospels time jump to Jesus meeting John the Baptist (where he is baptized and calls his first disciples). This is where Mark and John begin their own accounts, and took place when Jesus was probably 30 years old.
That means apart from one verse (Luke 2:52), we know nothing about Jesus’s life from ages 12 until 30. We can speculate with reasonable certainty he would have apprenticed under his father the carpenter, and we have no reason to believe he would have been perceived as anything out of the ordinary. Jesus certainly would have been an exceptionally righteous young man, but not anyone his neighbors would recognize as supernatural.
This is strange. It’s not like God never called young people. Jewish tradition says the prophet Samuel was called by God at 12, and Jeremiah might have been younger than that. Mary the mother of Christ was likely around 15, and some of Jesus’s disciples were probably not much older. But not Jesus. For some reason, when God rendered himself into the person of Jesus Christ, he choose to spend three decades “undercover” amongst mankind. The instrument of salvation (Jesus) was on the game board, but there was a period of time until the victory he was to bring would be realized.
Before Christmas, Christians spend four weeks in the season of Advent, the period in which they prepare to remember the coming of the promised messiah. But we forget that there was another waiting period after the birth of Christ. 30 years until this Jesus began the work we associate with him as Christ, and 33 until his mission was ultimately fulfilled. The savior was here, but the salvation was still on it’s way.
There are times we all desperately long to be rescued from our circumstances, our relationships, or even ourselves. But the lesson of Christmas is not necessarily that everything is alright, or we need to act like it is just because it’s the holidays. Our problems are real. But Christmas tells us that hope is very real too, and even though it may take a peculiar form, or take some time to come to fulfillment, it is often right around us. We just might not recognize it yet.