The Rest of the (Christmas) Story
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. — John 1:14
I always enjoyed listening to the late Paul Harvey on the radio. He had a talent for thoughtful commentary that is, unfortunately, a rarity in modern media. I particularly enjoyed listening to “The Rest of the Story.” Harvey would present some little-know fact or forgotten bit of history in his usual engaging style; then at the end, he would reveal that a key element of the story was tied to some famous person, or event. He always concluded with a variation on the tag line, “And now you know the rest of the story.”
I think that the Christmas story would have made a good candidate for the show. Certainly the Christmas story is very well know in western culture. Most non-Christian are familiar with the story of Jesus laid in a manger, angels visiting shepherds, and wise men bringing gifts. Yet there is a lot more to this story than just what we find in the opening chapters of Matthew, and Luke.
The Christmas story, is really just a chapter in a larger story—God’s story. It stretches all the way back to Genesis, even before creation, and it continues still today. It’s the story of God’s world, broken by sin, and his plan rescue it. You and I are a part of this story. In fact everyone is living in this continuing story. It’s narrative not only impacts our lives; it is the most important thing in life. As believers it should affect how we live, and how we interact with non-believing friends and family.
One of the best summary statements of how the incarnation fits into this big story is found in John chapter one.
God in the Manger
A couple of years ago we included a tract in all of our Christmas cards titled “God in the Manger.” Aimed at those acquainted with the “popular” version of the Christmas Story this tract explained that it was God, not just a good man, who was laid in the manger that night. As Christians this is familiar ground. Indeed, it is often too familiar. We hurry through the Christmas season, maybe even read the Christmas story, but we never pause to really consider the wonder of the incarnation. What does it mean for God to enter into his creation and be born as one of us? John starts here recognizing just how foundational this is to the Gospel.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. — John 1:1–3
John begins by identifying the Word with God, and describing him as the eternal creator. “In the beginning was the Word.” The baby laid in the manger was only a few hours old, yet he existed before the world began. In fact, he created the very world that he had just been born into. His body was his own masterful design. The womb that sustained him was the work of his hands. In Colossians Paul says that, “in him all things hold together (consist).”(Colossians 1:17) This helpless infant lying in Mary’s lap is the one holding the stars, and planets in their orbit. Hebrews 1:3 says that he “upholds all things by the word of His power.”
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. — John 1:4–5 Jesus is not only the creator, and the sustainer, he is also the source of life. I think John has more in mind here than just biological life—the beating of the heart, breathing air, and cells multiplying. He has already established the Word as the creator of living things, and the sustainer of the universe. It would be redundant if he was only referring to material life. Then there is the phrase, “the life was the light of men.”
I believe that he is referring to spiritual light. The light of divine truth, of knowing, and fellowshipping with God. That light was lost in the fall. God’s good creation was plunged into spiritual darkness, separated from his presence. But now the light has come. Isaiah prophesied of the coming of the Messiah saying that, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” (Isaiah 9:2) Then just a few verses later he adds, “To us a child is born.” (Isaiah 9:6)
We still live in a fallen world. All around us are people in darkness. They may be surrounded by Christmas lights, and bright decorations, but inside they are in a land of deep darkness. Perhaps they are struggling with anger, addiction, depression, fear, or loneliness. Whatever the symptoms the cause is the same—sin; separation from God; Spiritual darkness. They need the light of Christ to shine in them by the power of the Holy Spirit. They need to hear the good news that light has come into the world.
In creation when he said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3); the light came. The darkness was powerless to resist it. So also in the new creation, when the Spirit of Christ illuminates a heart, the darkness is banished.
Unknown & Rejected
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. — John 1:9–13
If the light of God has come into the world already then why are people still in darkness? John says its because the world did not know him. It is almost inconceivable! The creator the sustainer himself steps into his creation, and it goes unnoticed. Why? Paul in Romans 1 says that all men have knowledge of God, but because of sin they suppress that knowledge resulting in the darkening of their hearts.
Even worse is that Jesus came to his own people, and they didn’t receive him. They had God’s law, his covenant, the messages of the prophets, yet they were no more ready to receive him than the pagans. There were no Scribes, or Pharisees at his birth. The High Priest, and members of the Sanhedrin were conspicuously absent. Not everyone rejected him though. There were some lowly shepherd, and some Gentile wise men who came to mark this event. It was these on who the light shined—those who were born, “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The Word Became Flesh
So how was this accomplished? How did the light come? That’s where we get to the Christmas story. God’s plan to rescue us from sin was already in place back in Genesis.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. — Gen 3:15
God promised that one day one of Eve’s far-off great-grand-children would defeat the serpent. He is not a mere man, however, but the living Word. The creator, and sustainer, became flesh.
The word translated as dwelt in verse 14 means to pitch a tent, or tabernacle. (Mounce) This harkens back to the wilderness when God dwelt among his people in a tent called the tabernacle. Now God has come again to live among us, this time as one of us. The omnipotent God laid aside his majesty to take on humanity. He felt hunger, thirst, pain, and exhaustion. He faced tempted to sin, but resisted. And by his life among men he revealed the Father to us. In him was personified God’s grace, and truth.
As you celebrate Christmas with your family, and friends. Carve out some time to meditate on its true meaning. Not just donkeys, a manger, and frankincense, but the incarnation itself. Wonder that the creator was born as a baby. Marvel that he was willing to die that we might live, and stand in awe of the resurrected Christ. Along with reading the Christmas story from Matthew, and Luke, I suggest that you read carefully Phil 2:5–11 in which Paul describes the humbling of Christ’s incarnation, and the glory of his resurrection and exaltation. Most importantly, remember that the Christmas story is just a part of the greater story of God’s salvation plan, and live in light of all that he has done.
- Mounce, William D. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.