Warning: The following article could discourage a cute, comfortable, and romanticized view of Christmas.
I’ve often had a hard time knowing exactly what to think about Christmas and the birth of tiny baby Jesus in the Bethlehem stable. Growing up, I imagined (with the “help” of our church’s Christmas Eve pageant) a heart-warming scene of a little baby born in a stable with animals, shepherds, angels, and three wisemen or magi (whatever they are) bringing expensive and carefully wrapped presents. There was always a lot of starlight shining down on the scene. It is easy to cling to our romanticized and warm-feelings perspective on Christmas: “Let’s read the Christmas story together, pass around the hot chocolate, and then open up our Christmas gifts that are really at the centre of all of this excitement and anticipation.” A visitor who didn’t know much about the deeper meaning could certainly wonder about the connection between the baby, the stable, and all of this shopping frenzy.
I was told that the significance of the birth was that Jesus obviously had to be born so that he could, much later, die a sinless death on the cross for my sins. The importance of Christmas was simply that it needed to happen so the really important event (Easter) could happen. I have come to the conclusion that I have been living with a cute, comfortable, and romanticized view of Christmas while ignoring the immense theological and real-life significance of this event.
I remember watching sports highlights on TSN (The Sports Network) where they would often refer to a critical moment somewhere in the game as the “TSN Turning Point” because that moment changed the game. That moment set the direction for what happened afterward and, in a sense, sealed the outcome. The Gospel writers (especially Matthew and Luke in this case) include a bunch of strong hints that the babe in the manger is the TSN Turning Point for the entire history of the world. Each part of the story of Jesus, from the birth in Bethlehem to the ascension in Galilee, changes everything. In their view, the events of Christmas are about much more than a tiny baby, a stable, sheep, and expensive gifts given by the magi!
First, the Gospel writers are shouting to us that this baby Jesus is in reality the almighty King bringing the desperately awaited Kingdom of God. This King will be given “[a]ll authority in heaven and on earth” (Mat- thew 28:18). In Jesus’ birth, the King and God’s Kingdom are arriving. Time will be measured into all eternity from the day of Jesus’ birth forward. From the moment of Jesus’ birth, all other kings and kingdoms are given notice that they are secondary to King Jesus and this Kingdom. The Bethlehem Christmas story is a political story, a revolution story, a world-transforming story— because from this point on, everything will be different. The powers of darkness, sin, and death are doomed from this moment on.
This birth event is the TSN Turning Point for our whole world even though our world still suffers from violence, injustice, war, addiction, climate destruction, and every other consequence of sin. The Gospel writers are trying to tell us that the ultimate causes behind these will be defeated by this King. The birth itself is the launch of the revolution that will ripple across time and space leaving nothing untouched. The birth itself leads naturally to the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, and ultimately Jesus’ return and the full presence of the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
It is clear that the angel Gabriel was well aware that this birth was all about a King and a Kingdom (Luke 1:32-33). It is clear that the shepherds were in the know as the angel of the Lord declared to them that this child was the “Christ” (or Messiah or King; Luke 2:10). It is clear that the magi were well aware of the revolutionary nature of these events as they searched for the “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2-3). King Herod knew the implications of this birth and arranged the massacre of the baby boys in Bethlehem hoping to eliminate the threat that Jesus posed (Matthew 2:16). Herod recognized that this was no cute and romantic story. The Gospel writers are showing us that the Bethlehem moment is the TSN Turning Point because it is a King and Kingdom moment.
The most appropriate response to the birth of Jesus begins with our intentional worship of this King. Worship, individual and corporate, involves a heart and mind posture of joyful surrender and submission to Jesus, the verbal and melodic proclamation of truth, and actions that faithfully demonstrate these realities. When we see the Christmas scene, it should immediately lead us to proclaim our allegiance to this King and our desire to seek first this Kingdom. We then can look at our crazy Christmas schedules and ask how we can use our time and resources in this season to demonstrate and embody this worship.
This worship means that we must pull ourselves away from our online (or in-person) shopping for a time and experience the reorientation that is part of worship- ping before King Jesus (like the magi do in Matthew 2:11) and offering Jesus everything that we value (like the magi do in the same verse). Christmas calls us above all else into worship and the offering of our lives, our time, our gifts, our affections, and our futures to this King. All of our gift giving and gift receiving, our house decorating and food sharing, and even our acts of kindness and charity—must come from this place of worship. In doing these things, God’s Spirit is at work dethroning the “self” as king (Matthew 16:24-25) and reorienting us towards the only Kingdom that is eternal and worthy of the name. This is what worship of the true King involves.
Second, it is one thing to recognize that the baby Jesus is the King bringing his Kingdom, but this does not tell us immediately about what kind of Kingdom it will be. The great news is that this baby is not only King but Immanuel—our “God-with-us” (Matthew 1:23). He is not only King, but also love embodied, love incarnated. God so loved the world that he sent his Son (John 3:16). We should see nothing but love in the sending. Love in the Bible is an action word that exists as it is displayed (as are many other biblical words like “hate,” “remember,” “faith,” “forget,” “believe,” and so on). Love to be real must involve actions that can be seen, felt, and tasted. God’s love in the Bible is displayed as all creation is moved closer to God’s intentions for it.
The baby Jesus is God’s love embodied. Jesus is the agent of God’s love who moves all creation back toward God’s intentions for it. The baby Jesus is, therefore, God’s light sent in the darkness. The baby Jesus is, therefore, God’s hope sent into our hopelessness. The baby Jesus is the most rightly named “love child” in the history of the world. Sending him to earth was an act of God’s love for the world. Every action of Jesus recorded in the Gospels is literally an embodiment of God’s love for the world.
So we want our worship of the true King and our seeking first of the eternal Kingdom to come from that same place of love. We deny ourselves and take up our cross because of love. We invite others to Jesus because of love. We walk with others through joy and suffering because of love. We live into generosity and hospitality because of love. We have hard conversations because of love. We cannot truly worship without love, and we cannot truly love without worship.
As we gather together in this Advent season, and finally on Christmas Day, let us not fail to see that in front of us is much more than a tiny baby, magi, sheep, shepherds, and an angel choir. The Gospel writers have painted a much deeper picture of a baby who is both King and Love embodied. This the TSN Turning Point. Let us bow in worship! Let us embody this transforming love!