What does Christmas mean?

Despite not preaching at Christmas services this year, for some reason I have found myself thinking about the meaning of Christmas more this year than most. To stimulate your thinking this Christmas Day, I simply offer two things—one ancient, the other modern, neither mine. The ancient focuses on the meaning of Christmas—or rather the incarnation—for God. The modern focuses on the potential meaning of Christmas for us.

The ancient is an extract from Augustine’s sermons on the nativity, in this case Sermon 191. He beautifully expounds the paradox of the incarnation, drawing on a wide range of ideas from the gospels and the teaching and claims of Jesus, and showing how the incarnation involves that Great Reversal of God becoming human—in Paul’s words, that great ‘self emptying’ of God in Jesus (Phil 2.7), in which he lets go of the riches of his glory in order to embrace our poverty, that we might gain his riches. (2 Cor 8.9).

The modern is from King’s Church, Edinburgh, a Baptist church which now associates itself with the NewFrontiers network. I was captivated by this video in the way that it connected the mystery of the incarnation with the transcendent longing of human life that we see all around us. The closing shots offer a wordless invitation, through the extended visual metaphor of the closed door, perhaps alluding to the invitation of Jesus made in Rev 3.20: ‘I stand at the door and knock’. This Christmas, will we receive the one who comes near? Will we open our doors to him, and will we hold out the invitation to others to open the doors of their lives to him too?

The Word of the Father, by whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born in time for us. He, without whose divine permission no day completes its course, wished to have one day [set aside] for his human birth. In the bosom of his Father, he existed before all the cycles of ages; born of an earthly Mother, he entered upon the course of the years on this day.

The maker of humanity became a human that he, ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast;
that he, the Bread, might be hungry;
that he, the Fountain, might thirst;
that he, the Light, might sleep;
that he, the Way, might be wearied by the journey;
that he, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses;
that he, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge;
that he, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust;
that he, Discipline, might be scourged with whips;
that he, the Grape, might be crowned with thorns;
that he, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross;
that Courage might be weakened;
that Security might be wounded; that Life might die.

To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, he who existed as the Son of God before all ages, without a beginning, deigned to become the Son of Man in these recent years. He did this although he who submitted to such great evils for our sake had done no evil and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at his hands, had done nothing to merit these benefits. Begotten by the Father, he was not made by the Father; he was made Man in the Mother whom he himself had made, so that he might exist here for a while, sprung from her who could never and nowhere have existed except through his power.

This Christmas may you know the one, who has drawn near, draw near again in all the joys and challenges that you face.

(The picture at the top is a restored mosaic from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It reminds me of the comment by Peter: ‘They spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things’ (1 Peter 1.12).)

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