A Message in a Manger

“God put eternity into the hearts of men”, said the writer of Ecclesiastes, and Jesus is the answer to that longing that is built into us.

We live imperfect, flawed lives, and then we die. We came from dust and to dust we return, and “all is meaningless”, according to the writer of Ecclesiastes. When Jesus Christ was born, however, all of that changed.

The sins and wrongs of fathers and mothers pass down to their sons and daughters and have done so from the beginning. In Jesus, God introduced a new lineage and a new possibility. Born a man, but also born of God, through Jesus comes the answer to the finite frailty of humankind.

The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the core of the Gospel. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, all of our hope is in vain. If miracles are not real, then the atheists are right that we are to be despised. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, there is no escape from injustices, and they will never be righted in this life or by the oblivion to follow.

In I Corinthians 15:1-19, Paul acknowledges these things and supports his claim to the truth of the message of the Gospel by listing the eye witnesses to the risen Christ: Peter and “the twelve”; then to “more than five hundred” at one time; then to James and all the apostles. When he wrote this letter, Paul says, most of the five hundred “are still alive, though some have fallen asleep”.

The people Paul listed were alive at the time of Jesus, witnessed the risen Jesus after he was crucified, died and was buried, and most of them were still alive when Paul wrote this letter.

The account of Jesus is clearly not meant as a mere story. It does not read like allegory or fiction. The Gospels, the message of Paul and all the books of the New Testament read like a chronicle of events that happened in time and place.

This Christmas and every Christmas we remember the birth of our Jesus, who would be called the Christ, the Messiah (Savior) in real time, in a real manger, born to real people. It is the chronicle of God inserting Himself into this material world to bring about His purposes in His creation. It is the pivotal point in the history of that creation.

He did not come with trumpets blaring or displays of unquestionable power. He came in humble circumstance and in gentle, vulnerable condition.

But Why? Why would the God all creation enter His own world like that?

The threads of understanding are there from the beginning of the collection of 60 some writings written by 40 some writers that we call the Bible. God made us in His image (Gen. 1:27), “a little lower than the angels” and “crowned … with glory and honor”. (Ps. 8:5) He made us to rule over His creation, putting everything “under our feet”. (Ps. 6:6)

We sense the likeness of God in our own bosoms, and we are tempted to think we are gods.

God put eternity in our hearts…. (Ecc. 3:11)We sense the eternity God put in our hearts, like we can taste it. We long for it, and we are tempted to want it more than God who made us.

Though we are made in God’s image, we are nevertheless made from dust and to dust we will return. (Gen. 3:19) We flower only for a moment and return again to the dust. (Ecc. 3:20) Though we sense the eternity God put in our hearts, we do not know the beginning from the end. (Ecc. 3:11)

This is God’s design, and it is intended for His purpose. As God’s image bearers, He desires us to be like Him, but not to usurp Him. Not that we could, but we are tempted to think we can!

God is love, but we are tempted to love ourselves. We only love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19), and we must learn to love as God loves.

We are prone to sin, which means to miss the mark – to fail to conform ourselves to the character of God. We bear God’s image, but we must learn to become like God in character.

Because God is love, and created us in His image, He created us to love. Love requires freedom of the will. If God created us like Him in character, we would have no choice in the matter, and we would not be able to love as God loves. Thus, we must be free to choose to be like Him and to love.

The root of sin is pride – the desire to exalt the self, to love the self, and to turn from God. Satan’s temptation in the garden appealed to that pride: God does not want you to eat this fruit, because if you eat this fruit, you will have knowledge and be like God.

The irony is that God wants us to be like Him. He made us like Him; but we can only like God; we can never be God.

God inserted Himself into the world in a way that requires us to have faith in something beyond our own ability to achieve. He came in a way that only the humble of heart can (or are willing to) grasp.

God came to us in a way that appeals to a willingness to recognize the truth – that we are flawed, imperfect, sinful and in need of help that must come from beyond us. He came in a way that does not appeal to the pride, the arrogance, and the unwillingness in us to submit to help from an outside source.

God came into His creation in a way that is designed to evoke in the crowning glory of His creation the reaction God seeks – humility, acceptance, thankfulness, gratitude, love. God showed us the way by example:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8

We must acknowledge our limitations to know God. We must come to understand and accept our dependence on Him to become His children. We can only comprehend and receive God on His terms, but His terms are not onerous.

In fact, His burden is light. It is full of blessing; it is the only way that offers life; it is the antidote to sin and death. When we give up ourselves and going our own ways, we gain everything.

God placed eternity into men’s hearts, and God provides the answer for that longing in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who became vulnerable – like us – to lead us to Himself.

6 thoughts on “A Message in a Manger

  1. Reblogged this on Navigating by Faith and commented:

    Christmas is a time of reflection for most of us, a time to reflect about the past year and our journey to this “place” that we find ourselves. It’s a time to reflect on God and the amazing introduction of Himself into our history almost 2000 years ago. That is the part of the message in a manger: God emptying Himself of all His privilege and position as Creator of the universe and inserting Himself as a weak, vulnerable child into a humble family in a lowly province of the Roman Empire. this is only the beginning of a Message in a Manger.


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