Why Christmas?

Dec 26th, 2020 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

Christmas is an intriguing and agreeable story: The tale of an unwed mother and an ostracized family, angelic messengers, noble shepherds, magi from the East and a tyrannical king.  But, Christmas has a prequel; it only makes sense within the context of the larger story of what God is doing in the world.

Shayne Looper, pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Coldwater, Michigan, asks us to consider this prequel to the Christmas story:  It begins with a Creator God who created “carbon-based, physical-spiritual hybrid beings and placed them on a planet—our planet, as it turns out.” The Creator designed these beings to be a race of loving protectors and rulers of His creation.  Eugene Peterson paraphrased Genesis 1 this way: “God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature. So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.’ God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them. ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.’”  Unlike other creatures he designed, the Creator engineered humans, as His theocratic stewards, with a degree of responsible freedom.

But these promising humans were co-opted by a dark power and drawn away from their Creator with disastrous results. What happened?  His image bearers declared their independence from Him.  The Bible connects the origins of this rebellion with Satan.  Ezekiel 28:11-15 describes the privileged position of Satan before his rebellion:  “full of wisdom” and “perfect in beauty” (v.12), dazzling in appearance (v. 13), an “anointed guardian cherub” at God’s throne (v. 14)—until “unrighteousness was found in you” (v.15).  Satan was a created being with astounding beauty and power, but the Bible assigns pride as Satan’s fundamental sin (1 Timothy 3:6).  Isaiah 14:12-15 is a rich poetic image of Satan empowering the king of Babylon:  “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God.  I will set my throne on high . . . I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”  Thus, the rebellion of Satan had begun.  If we understand Revelation 12:4 correctly, one-third of the angelic host joined Satan in this rebellion (see also Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:4).  And, Genesis 3 brings humanity into this rebellion.  Will God’s image bearers join Satan?  The tragic answer is yes, and all the devastation, dysfunction and hurt of a fallen, broken world resulted.

Theologian Wayne Grudem summarizes two devastating results:  [1] Sin struck at the basis for moral/ethical standards —i.e., “What is right?”  In the Garden, God defined what was right and wrong.  The test of that standard was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, from which they were not to eat.   Adam and Eve were moral creatures and, when faced with an ethical standard, had the capacity to choose obedience or disobedience.  Satan knew that and successfully challenged God’s goodness and His ethical standards; Adam and Eve joined the rebellion.  As God’s revelation continued to unfold throughout history, humanity has persistently defined “what is right” its own way; ignoring the standards that God as Creator and Sustainer of all life had revealed.  [2] Sin also answered the question “Who am I?” differently.  God’s answer was that Adam and Eve were created persons:  Of value and worth as God’s image-bearers, yet dependent on Him and subordinate to Him as dominion stewards (Gen.1:26ff).  But in their sin, they declared their independence from God.  Since Genesis 3, humanity has been pursuing autonomy from God—a rejection of Him personally and of His standards.  In our Postmodern, Post-Christian world, humanity has embraced a thoroughgoing pursuit of autonomy, defined as a rejection of authority and ethical standards, all in the name of individual rights and liberties.  [“Every man is doing what is right in his own eyes.”] Humanity’s situation appeared hopeless.

The Creator, though, did not give up hope for His image bearers.  He immediately set in motion a plan to right what had gone wrong and restore humanity (Genesis 3:15). Looper creatively summarizes the plan:  “He begins shaping a millennia-long lineage chain among his human creatures.  Within that lineage, he promotes a particular culture, and superintends a specific genetic line. He does this over a period of thousands of years. He plans to enter humanity himself through the line he has prepared, in order to free humanity from the rebellion and restore it.” This is the metanarrative into which Christmas fits.

“Christmas is thus the story of a rescue mission, an invasion.  It is a bittersweet story because when the Creator entered his creation through the line he had spent thousands of years preparing, his own creatures did not know him . . . Rather than going to war against the rebels, as one might expect, he goes to war for them. He could have overwhelmed them with his vast power in a campaign of shock and awe, intimidated them with threats of punishment, or appealed to them on the basis of their greed or selfishness—the same old story of the ways of power in the world. But His sights were set on something more radical than conformity to a set of rules: He was out to change humanity from the inside.  To that end, the Creator lived among humans as a human, modeling for them the life he makes possible and instructing them in how to live it. But they needed more than instruction. They needed the kind of life they had lost and didn’t even know was missing. To make that possible, the creator had to give his life on their behalf. He did this by dying and returning to life. That is the climax of the story, which is narrated in the New Testament Gospels.”

Therefore, on Christmas morning, God entered space and time.  Where the human rebellion had introduced a gulf between two parallel worlds, Christmas now bridges that gap.  The Lord of both worlds descended to live by the rules of the one and, because of His love, offer redemption and forgiveness to His rebellious creatures.  For many people today, Christmas is not about the bridging of these two parallel worlds.  It is about nostalgia, about feeling good.  As we watch the seemingly endless Christmas movies and decorate our homes and businesses with the warm, white lights of Christmas, we feel good.  We both remember and long for the seeming innocence of another age.  But Christmas is not about nostalgia; it is about the Bethlehem Child.  Because of Jesus, the despair and anarchy of life are replaced with meaning, purpose and hope.  When things seemed at their worst, God bridged the gap between the temporal and the eternal.  In the first-century world, mesmerized by Roman power and glory, many overlooked the arrival of God’s gift in Bethlehem, in a manger, under a star.  In our day, many who are mesmerized by power, wealth and technology—and yet obsessed with the quest for nostalgia—still do.  Set aside nostalgia and believe the story of Christmas, for it is true.

See Shayne Looper, “Christmas Is Really Act 2” in www.christianitytoday.com (13 December 2018).


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One Comment to “Why Christmas?”

  1. Arlie Rauch says:

    What sad history beginning in Eden. That’s really where evolutionism began. Thanks for pointing us to the necessity, goodness, and beauty of Jesus’ first coming. Now we await His second!