I’m pretty sure that everyone knows the feeling of broken promises. Maybe in this past year, you experienced that feeling through family members, through toxic friendships, or maybe in the political sphere. I know certainly in this past year with the amount of conflict and brokenness, that feeling of uncertainty and hurt can ring close to home. I think that is why this year it is so essential to revisit the true meaning of Christmas, and think about how impactful Christmas actually is.
With the commercialization and presentation of Christmas today, we can often lose perspective on the true meaning of Christmas, and what the coming of the Messiah meant for Israel. Christmas is the celebration of one of the greatest miracles in history. God became a man, lived among mankind, died for the sins of the world, and rose again to defeat sin and death. John the Baptist recognized this purpose as he exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Mankind desperately needed a Savior, as man repeatedly broke God’s moral covenant, leading to the punishment of death, and eternal separation from God. God desired men to know him and be with Him, so he had to make a way of salvation, as he had promised. The apostle Paul writes, “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul later writes in Galatians,
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:4-7
Even Jesus’ earthly parents knew that his purpose was far beyond what they could have imagined. When Joseph found out about Mary’s miraculous pregnancy and sought to divorce her quietly, an angel of the Lord told him of the miracle he would witness. The angel told him, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” This is the message of Christmas. This advent season is a reminder that God came into the world to save us and bring us to himself. It is the ultimate love story, and the greatest fulfillment of a promise.
To understand the cultural background about Christmas, you have to go back to the very beginning of the story of mankind. After God created the world in perfection, mankind chose to rebel against God’s ways. This introduction of sin, leading directly to death and separation from God, is the very reason why mankind needed saving. Yet right after the Fall, God promises something very important. In something called the “Protoevangelium”, or first telling of the good news, God declares that one day, an offspring of woman will defeat the power of sin. Throughout history, God then made covenants with men, which all pointed to his saving power and grace. God also made extremely specific promises about which ancestral line the Messiah would come from, and even in which town he would be born. Sometimes these prophecies were spread out hundreds of years apart, and sometimes they appear in the most unexpected places. For example, there is one passage where a high priest named Eli is given a terrible message about the judgement of God on his life, yet in that section, the messenger prophesies,
“And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.” – 1 Samuel 2:35
This passage clearly states that one day, God will bring someone who will act as a priest before God, interceding and advocating between God and man. This person can not only just approach God, but can fulfill this role for eternity. Isaiah the prophet also tells of the Messiah’ arrival when he writes,
“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.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” – Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
The people anxiously waited for their Messiah to come and save them. Yet even after this prophecy, hundreds of years passed, and in the four-hundred years before Christ’s birth, there was no new word from God. The people could have thought that God had broken his promise but they held on to this hope, despite the different nations that conquered them, and the trials they endured. God would not fail his people, and he would not break his promises. It is in this context that Jesus arrives on the scene, not as a mighty king, or a championing warrior, although he is those things and will one day demonstrate those attributes, but he came as a helpless, tiny, baby in a manger. The circumstances surrounding his birth, although miraculous, were completely humble and even a bit contemptible. As Jesus grew up, accomplished his ministry, and suffered for our sins, his life lined up with Isaiah predictions, as the prophecies proclaim,
“He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not… But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” – Isaiah 53: 3, 4-5
Jesus came as a baby in the manger to be the Savior of the world. This is the message, the hope, and the truth of Christmas. And Christmas is a reminder that no matter how many broken promises we experience, how much brokenness may be in the world, and the vast amount of hurt and pain in the world, God keeps his promises and came down to earth so that we could find our peace, comfort, and joy in Him. Jesus’ birth is a demonstration that God keeps his promises and that he is faithful to his word. I pray that this Christmas, we would be able to focus on the real message that Christmas proclaims and draw near to the God who loves us.