Jesus’ birth into the world was nothing short of an act of desperate, extravagant love by God, who had been pursuing humanity down through the ages. It was the culmination of a long and sordid tale of love gone bad. Humanity had spurned God, and now, He had come in person, “for God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). He was willing to leave all our mistakes and double-dealing in the past and never speak of them again. Jesus birth was hope personified for all of humanity.
A glowing, miniature nativity scene with a ceramic baby Jesus falls so far short of the reality of the “true meaning of Christmas” for nestled in the manger was God Himself, gift-wrapped in the frail human frame of a baby. To really understand the true meaning of Christmas and the significance of this tiny baby, we must start at the beginning.
“Even before He made the world, God loved us …” (Ephesians 1:4).
The world God made for His treasured creations, Adam and Eve, was spectacular, but the most incredible part was God’s physical presence. He had created humans with a basic need for Himself, as fundamental to life as air, water and food. Adam and Eve’s relationship with God in the garden was so personal and so intimate that they felt secure, safe – loved. This was the life God wanted for us. No fear or anxiety. No death. His presence was a canopy of protection from all emotional and physical pain.
“When Adam sinned, sin entered the world …” (Romans 5:12).
We all know what happened next. It is the familiar Sunday school story about Adam and Eve, tricked by the snake into disobeying God. Over time, we have simplified this event into little more than stealing cookies from the cookie jar – basic childish disobedience. But, from God’s perspective, this was so much more. In fact, throughout the Bible, in all of history past, present and future, God likens this type of betrayal to adultery. In Donald Miller’s book, Searching for God Knows What, he tells a true story of a man who “overheard his wife on the phone with another man. She did not know he was in the house, and he walked up behind her and leaned against the frame of the door to hear her confess her love and enjoyment of the other man’s touch.” The man was devastated. Miller suggests it is this type of terrible, gut wrenching pain God must have felt when Adam and Eve were unfaithful to Him.
After what they had done, Adam and Eve could not face God. They hid. They must have felt fear, dread and horror in the pit of their stomachs at what they had done – all new emotions they had never experienced before. As the snake had promised, their eyes were opened, but they were not like God. Instead they saw clearly for the first time that they were nothing without God. Like the moon without the sun, all their beauty had just been a reflection of God. Ashamed, they covered themselves.
“… Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned” (Romans 5:12).
When He called them out from hiding, God saw with sadness His beloved creation, now deeply disfigured by sin. This condition would be hereditary, passed down generation after generation. Though Adam and Eve had spurned him, God could not help but love them. Without hesitation God pledged that He would someday reconcile them with Himself.
Still, God could not let them stay in the Garden of Eden where they might eat from the Tree of Life and live forever – not like this. For now, they would have to endure the hardship and pain of the separation from God that they had chosen, but He promised to take them back. He had already chosen His own son as the “ransom long before the world began” (1 Peter 1:20).
Over the years Adam and Eve must have pined for God at the garden’s entrance, now guarded by angels, but they had hope. They knew what God had promised – someday a child would be born who would make things right.
“… The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith” (Galatians 3:24).
God had set His plan in motion for reconciliation, but in the meantime He provided a framework for humanity to live, as best as they could, though terminally stricken by sin. No longer able to meet with God face-to-face, humanity could only approach Him through a set of rigorous laws and rituals. God also set up a way for humanity to compensate for their sins through sacrifice, a mirror through which they would see just how badly sin had disfigured them.
Against the echo of Adam and Eve’s infidelity, God repeatedly demanded faithfulness. He told humanity straight up – “I am a jealous God! I will share you with no one!”
“Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God …” (Romans 1:22).
In every generation there was a handful of people who loved God. These God-followers looked forward to the promise, and died faithfully believing in the coming Christ child.
However, the masses acted on the wanton impulses of their adulterous hearts. Many “…worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator Himself” (Romans 1:25), but do not be fooled, worshiping idols made of wood and stone is not the only way to be unfaithful to God. Sex, money, fame, power – all are lovers humanity chose time and time again.
“Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder …” (Romans 1:29).
As humanity ran wild, chasing after just about anything other than God, He begged them to return to him. “You are precious in my sight…and I love you,” (Isaiah 43:4) He pleaded with them. Humanity was running as far and fast as they could away from Him, fingers in their ears.
Then God did the unthinkable.
“But when the right time came, God sent His Son …” (Galatians 4:4).
To the world, it looked like just a “pregnant fianc