Have yourself a Merry Nicene Christmas

No, this is not one of those nerdy academic posts.  On this Christmas day I wanted to sketch out some brief thoughts over some observations I’ve made recently that really points to something broader I’ve witnessed in how we can make false choices with respect to the Christian faith. And particularly, this time of year with reflections of Christmas and the purpose for which we celebrate this unprecedented occasion of the incarnation. So I will get to the title in a bit.

Let me start with a gospel music production that we watched last night. The program was mostly music (and it was pretty spectacular too!) interspersed with acting scenes centered on three characters whose lives, we learn after awhile, are interconnected.  The overriding message I got was Jesus is a means to make your life better. If you have the Lord and tragedy happens you have the power to “speak life.” You feel empty? Try Jesus. You witnessed a miraculous event points to the fact that you need God.

What was missing for me in this presentation is why God the Son, eternally existent with the Father humbled himself and left his throne of glory. It was to rescue us from our sin, the sin that plunged humanity into sin because of the events that happened in Genesis 3.  This sin that we are all born into, that impacted all of God’s good creation into anticipated decay and ongoing corruption (see Romans 8:20). From Gen. 3:15 onward in the Old Testament, God promised a reversal of this curse. The incarnation was for the purpose of fulfillment of God’s promises to redeem a people for himself not so much to fulfill our every life demand.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal. 4:4)

But this presentation kind of  echoes the overall vibe of Christmas in secular culture, right? Christmas is a magical time full of wish fulfillment and happiness. This kind of thinking can easily slip into the church especially with the influence of the soft prosperity message: tangible rewards are a sign of God’s favor upon your life. What better time than Christmas to get this message out, turning the birth of our Savior into offspring of our best life now.

When Christ chose to come into lowly circumstances for us according to the Father’s will and offer himself up as a sacrifice for our sins, that doesn’t mean we are going to always experience goodness in this life. We honor him at Christmas time for the gift of himself because it is only through him that we can be reconciled to the Father who created us for this purpose. The Advent/Christmas season is a time of awe at the wonderous gift of Jesus just because of who he is and what he came to do in fulfillment of promises.

But on the flip side, in repudiation of a sentimental type of Christmas that turns Jesus’ birth into some kind of ‘God want everyone to be happy and fulfilled’ holiday, we can go to opposite extreme and only make the event of the incarnation about our sin condition and the acts of Christ for us. As a wrote about a few years ago here, we can dehumanize Christianity by making it about a set of propositions that doesn’t touch our humanity and treats us as widgets who just need to believe, say, and do the right thing.

Little else demonstrated this than this exchange here.

Now I’m not a fan of how Keller put this. But the response is as if God sending forth his Son had no bearing on the relational aspect of Jesus’ condescension to us. Yet, in his earthly ministry, he demonstrated just the opposite. His death, burial and resurrection was for the express purpose of translating us out of the kingdom of darkness into his for fellowship with God, as Dr. Douglas Kelly at RTS Charlotte put so succinctly put it;

The incarnate Word is the revelation of both grace and truth, and so of the character of the Lord himself. He was made flesh, so that by this gracious condescension we might know who God truly is.

And this gets to the title of this post. I think the Nicene Creed so aptly captures the rich Christology of the meaning of Christmas without neglecting our humanity;

For us and our salvation he came down from heaven

Yes, he came to rescue us from our sin and we need to acknowledge that in our presentations and remembrance of Christmas. But that sin condition has impacted our humanity in so many ways. Christmas is not a happy, wish fulfilling kind of day for everybody. There is loneliness and grief and suffering loss of loved ones and family dysfunction and broken circumstances, and the list goes on. But the God who sees and cares has sent his Son for us, and his Spirit to give us comfort and joy. And he has gathered a visible church so his offspring can be nourished and  “being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph. 2:21). That holy temple in whom the Lord dwells is meant to provide us with tangible means in which we experience God’s care for us. We are meant to experience some closeness to the Lord are we not?

We won’t always experience the best of times. And Jesus did say that in this world we will have trouble. But we can always experience the God who is near by knowing his Son. We don’t come to Christ for the goodies he brings. He is the gift. We can have God’s best by recognizing that he came both for us AND our salvation.

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