Picture Christ. Not a baby in a stable. A fully grown man, confident in stature, rolling up his sleeves and preparing for work. He’s done this before. I can tell by his worn hands and fit build. There is also a joyful anticipation in his approach, because he knows the hard day’s work ahead will reap a reward. He kneels next to you, and he kneels next to me, gently places his hands on ours as if to say, “Here…let me show you how.” As I sat down to write, this is the image God continued to show me of his son, and I believe it’s a glimpse into the true character He is longing for us to know.
If you’re like me you’ve heard or seen a version of the Christmas story dozens, if not hundreds, or times. Christ in the manger is an iconic image with scenes we typically borrow from Matthew or Luke’s gospel. They each contain a lot of detail about the events surrounding Christ’s birth. I don’t want to minimize the impact of that moment on human history, but our reenactment of it can fall a little short. Something about the use of theatrics versus the actual grittiness of God becoming flesh don’t mix well. I also question the “details” that we focus on. Take Mary, Joseph, the journey, the manger and animals for instance. They are all important and symbolic, but when our attention is solely directed towards such things, does it really aid in understanding why Christ came?
There is richness and value in each gospel, with all of God’s Word having equal importance, but what we choose to emphasize is the key. For me, as I read the account of Christ’s birth from John’s gospel, and marry it to some of the additional information about Christ he later documents, I begin to get a fuller picture of what I believe to be the true Christmas story. First, here are the details of Christ’s birth that John was inspired to write:
“The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:9-14
Not the manger, farm animals, and wise men you were expecting – is it? Yet this account speaks volumes as to why Christ came and what the world he entered was like. It wasn’t so different from the one we find ourselves in today.
Have you ever found yourself caught in a moment where you’ve said to yourself, “I don’t know what to do next?” The picture I get is like standing there in a semi-state of shock because you don’t understand how you ended up where you are or what you need to do. This could be literal, but I’m speaking more figuratively about how life hits us sometimes. I’ve found myself in this place more often than I’d like to admit and all I can think to mutter is…help. I don’t know how anyone can help me, I just know that I need it! There are bills to pay and too much month at the end of the money. Relationships are strained or chaotic and you’re not sure why. You thought you’d be traveling and saving the world by now, but you haven’t left your desk in years. All the while, your soul whispers deep down inside…help.
These real life circumstances are the exact place that God longs to be. In the center of our mess; not excluded, but voraciously included. So much so that He sent His son. By doing this, He made His place of comfort among us – not in a temple or cooped up on a cloud somewhere. In the beginning we can’t forget He desired to walk and talk with His people in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8); only to have his heart broken as generation after generation chose rules and religion over relationship. As man’s heart became harder and more distant, it was clear that the plan set in motion from the beginning of time was to be implemented. Mary labored intensively, and let out shrieks of pain with every contraction - then a familiar expressive cry came next. From the mouth of a baby came the announcement that the true light that gives light to every man had come into the world. It was in fact this cry, that was the answer to our cry for help.
Just as soon as John records Christ’s entrance into our world as the true light, he also records the world’s reaction. They were so blinded as to what they thought a true king would look like, they didn’t recognize him, and therefore didn’t receive him. I wish I could say that this problem has stopped, but it hasn’t. Preconceptions still exist that keep people from Him. They still see rules and religion instead of a friend rolling up his sleeves, bending down to help.
John records another story later in his gospel that demonstrates the scope of what he wrote about Christ’s birth in chapter 1:9-14. It also explains in greater detail the image of Christ we began with.
“At dawn he (Jesus) appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave you life of sin.’” John 8:2-11
This story captures what John declared about Christ in the beginning – that he was unassuming, not taken seriously, questioned, and rejected. Yet he came to us…his own. No matter what our family history is, he chooses to walk among us with an open invitation to become adopted into his family. Spiritual lineage is what matters and that starts the moment we accept his outstretched hand. If pride is set aside and our hearts are open to receive him, we will “see his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” I believe this invitation may have been the essence of what Christ wrote on the ground. As people began to walk away, one woman stayed to read it even though she was riddled with guilt. It didn’t last long however, as Jesus’s words set her free with a fresh start. You can say what you want about her, but in my opinion, she just landed a starring role in the Christmas story that’s not told often enough.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14