He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.
Christmas is great for a whole host of reasons: good food, mulled wine, Christmas markets, time spent with friends and family, presents (of course!), but best of all — the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Incarnation is a marvelous mystery. There is the “How” — how could the infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent God come down to Earth and take on finite, weak, human flesh? How could a mere baby, lying in a manger, uphold the universe by the word of his power (Heb 1:1-3; cf Col 1:15-17)?
For me, however, the more poignant question has always been the “Why” — why would the perfect Son of God empty himself and take the form of a servant, born in human likeness (cf Phil 2:7)? Why would he enter our fallen world full of decay, suffering, pain and death — not least his own humiliating death on the cross of Calvary?
The latter question has been especially striking for me this year. 2017 has been a trying year: friends of mine in their prime diagnosed with life-changing illness; the shocking, sudden death of the sister of a colleague; and horrific acts of violence and terror, both close to home and further afield.
2017 also saw a close relationship of mine come to an end, caused primarily by my own sin. The sense of loss and regret has been palpable: I have at times felt an anguish like never before — a sustained bout of crushing pain in my chest (I suppose) like the onset of a cardiac arrest — and at other times a seething self-loathing.
For each of us, the world in which we live has the fingerprints of the Fall — decay, suffering, pain, and death. Things fall apart.
Which begs the question: why? Why would the perfect Son of God leave his throne of glory in Heaven to come to Earth, to enter our stricken, sin-infected world?
There are a number of reasons, but here is one which is of great comfort to me: he came down to identify with his people whom he saves.
[Jesus is not] unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but [he] in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15–16)
Jesus sympathises with my weakness. He knows the frustrations of living in a fallen world. He knew sickness and pain. He knew the death of loved ones (Lazarus). He knew the anguish of betrayal by his closest friends (the Twelve). He knew loneliness and abandonment. And he knew the pain of death — his own, excruciating death, nailed to the cross.
He came down to die in our place, as our substitute. And in order to do this he had to — and chose to — come down in human form and lay his life down for his beloved. All this to save us to a glorious new future with him where there will no longer be any death, nor crying, nor pain any more (cf Rev 21:1-3).
When I feel acutely the frustrations of living in a fallen world, this truth is a bulwark against the waves of despair. I do not trust in a distant, impersonal god. Rather, he came down and entered my fallen world; he was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3); he knows what I’m going through. Indeed, he endured far worse than I ever will.
Because of this I can draw near to his throne of grace and receive mercy and grace to help when I am in need (which is often!). And I can look forward with hope to the future, when he will return to restore everything.
You can too, because of Christmas.
For he is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.