Most Americans think they know the whole “Christmas story,” much like many Americans think of Thanksgiving as simply a time when the Pilgrims and Indians celebrated a good harvest season. They know Christmas celebrates Jesus being born in a manger, and many know that Jesus is God in some form or fashion. But it’s more than that, more than I even realized. Here is the rest of the Christmas story.
The theological word for what happened at Christmas is the Incarnation. Over time, the meaning of the Incarnation was fully fleshed out (pun intended). It meant that Jesus was both fully God, begotten from the Father, and fully man, taking His flesh and human nature from the Virgin Mary.
Most people, including me, tend to think of the Incarnation as an expression of God’s saving love for us. God came through the Gates of Splendor to earth that we might escape the Gates of Hell. In other words, we think of Jesus in terms of an individual’s personal redemption. Jesus being our personal Savior is part of the Christmas story, but just not all of it.
Until this Christmas season, I didn’t really appreciate the significance of the following statement in “Mary’s Song” to God in anticipation of Jesus’ birth: “He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble” (Luke 1:51-52 NASB).
Huh? What does this have to do with the Christmas story, and what on earth—literally—does this mean?
I believe it ties into one of the great philosophical questions of all time, “Is the universe we experience all there is?” Philosophers might put the question this way, “Is the universe a closed system?” Namely, is all that there is in the “box of the universe” and nothing outside the box exists?
The atheist says there is nothing outside the box. Others might concede that there may be a god outside the box, but the box is sealed off; that god doesn’t or cannot enter into the box. In our culture, awash in evolutionary thinking, that is the predominate view.
But if this view is true, then whatever power or authority we find in our experience—whether it’s the authority of a parent over a child, an employer over an employee, or rulers over the ruled—it comes from us. In the governmental realm, this belief gave rise to the notion that earthly rulers were divine, certainly a belief system at the time Jesus was born.
Jesus’ birth was a divine statement that this belief—that authority is found in man—was not true. There is a God “outside” the box of the universe and God can and has entered our existence.
It is in that sense that the Incarnation “scattered those who were proud,” proud in thinking that power and authority were found in themselves. And with respect to those “rulers” who took that proud thinking into positions of civil government, the Incarnation “brought them down” to size.
The Incarnation is God’s visible statement to us (the Word made flesh!) that there is a Presence among us, a God who transcends us and has authority over us.
Thus, the Incarnation gives meaning to the statement in Isaiah 9 that the “government will rest on the shoulders” of the “child” who would “be born to us.” It gives depth and breadth to the statement that “there will be no end to the increase of His government.”
The Incarnation explains why the Psalmist wrote:
I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD; He said to me, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance and the very ends of the earth as Your possession’” (Psalm 2:7-8 NASB).
And the Psalmist’s conclusion? “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the LORD with reverence, and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way” (Psalm 2:10-12a NASB).
That fearsome message is not what we think of when we think of the Christ child, tender and mild, lying in a manger, come to save us from our sins. It’s the forgotten part of the Christmas story.
And, in a day in which many in the Church believe Christians and pastors should abstain from politics for the sake of the Gospel, perhaps it is because they, too, have forgotten this part of the Christmas story.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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