This week the blog is sponsored by The Good Book Company, publishers of Repeat The Sounding Joy, A daily Advent devotional on Luke 1 – 2, by Christopher Ash.
Confession time: I don’t particularly like Christmas. I think it goes back to my days as a local church minister with a young family. Somehow all the pre-Christmas stresses of presents (I get so anxious trying to find the right presents), food preparation, family gatherings, with the extra pressure of all those Carol Services, school nativities and then Christmas Day services, just when others begin to relax – it all got to me and I used to dread it.
As a young Christian – thrilled with what Jesus did for me on the Cross – I used to struggle also with all that talk about the Incarnation at Christmas (some of it from ministers who had vague ideas about “incarnational ministry” without really believing in the Atonement). Let’s get on to Good Friday and Easter Day, I used to feel; let’s not dwell on Jesus the sweet little baby and all that sentimental stuff. It just gives grown-up unbelievers the impression that Christianity is for little children.
Maybe you are bored with the nativity. Another December, another setting up of the crib, getting out the toy angels, shepherds, and kings, more random Christmas cards, same old, same old…
Let the nativity run deep into your Christmas celebrations
I want to encourage you, this December, to throw your boredom out the window and drink the bracing fresh air of the true nativity of Jesus, with all its depth and wonder. Let me urge you to be intentional about some serious meditation on the real meaning of the birth of Jesus. Don’t be afraid to think hard about what it meant and what it still means. Don’t shy away from facing the deep questions: what does it mean to say that the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, took on human flesh? What does it mean to say that Jesus Christ, in his one undivided person, was possessed of a fully divine nature and a fully human nature, without the two mixing? What actually happened at that astonishing moment – the most astonishing moment in human history – in the hiddenness of Mary’s womb?
Don’t be frightened to ask some deep questions about the Person and Work of God the Holy Spirit and his intimate relationship with the Son, just as you ask again about the intimate relationship of the Son with the Father.
When you do all that you will find that the conception and birth of Jesus becomes a wonderful – and, for many of us, fresh – opportunity to deepen your grasp of the gospel. I hope you know the gospel, believe the gospel, stake your life on the gospel. But however much you and I understand the gospel, there is always space for more depth; for the gospel is deeper than we can ever imagine. Give yourself time to think, to ponder, to talk with others, to wonder, to bow your heart in worship before the Father who sent his only Son, before the Son who took on flesh for us, before the Holy Spirit by whose agency Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb.
Fresh gospel opportunities
But a fresh breathing of true nativity air will not only be good for you. If you have children, or grandchildren, or nephews and nieces, or you are an adoptive uncle or aunt to children, the nativity is an opportunity to teach them the gospel. If you and I just go with the sentimental flow of our vaguely Christianized secular Christmas culture, our children will learn nothing – nothing, that is, essentially different from what they learn through Santa Claus or The Snowman. But if you talk to them about the true and deep meaning of the nativity, even if they don’t fully understand it (and they won’t), you will be introducing them to the Savior of the world. Don’t feel that you have to dumb it all down; don’t be constrained not to say anything a child can’t understand. After all, you and I cannot fully understand the wonder of Christmas. If a child grasps a little and says to herself, “This is wonderful; I wish and hope I may begin to understand it more,” that is so much better than when a child thinks, “This is really babyish and I am already outgrowing it.”
What is more, this is still a moment when outsiders will sometimes listen to the Christian message. We don’t know for how much longer they will listen, but many will listen this year. So let’s take every opportunity to show them – not least by our own sense of fresh wonder – that the Christian gospel is deeply wonderful and true.
Repeat The Sounding Joy is Christopher Ash’s Advent journey through Luke 1 – 2, where he brings these familiar passages to life with fresh insight, color and depth.
As you soak up the Scriptures you’ll experience the joy of Christmas through the eyes of those who witnessed it first hand, from Mary and Elizabeth to the Shepherds and Simeon.
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