The Most Wonderful Time of the YearBy Marty Duren
December 18, 2020
Christmas has long been my favorite time of year. Like most children, I longed for Christmas morning when I could wake up my sister and parents and find—in the words of young Calvin—all the “loot” Santa had brought.
That’s Calvin and Hobbes, not John.
My parents had a stereo turntable and a stack of Christmas albums three inches high. We’d stack a bunch of records on the spindle, play through all the Side 1s then flip the whole heap and play the Side 2s all the while decorating the tree or playing games. I still play Christmas music periodically throughout the year.
As I aged into Christmas giving up its most intimate secrets, I did not lose the excitement of the day. I could not wait to dive into presents whether on Christmas morning or some other time with family and friends. In time, I learned to love giving gifts as well. The light in someone’s eyes as they either received what they wanted or were pleasantly surprised.
These experiences may well be reasons why the Incarnation is my favorite theological truth. The sheer audacity of it: that God would become a human being. He came not like the mythological gods who disguised themselves as humans on occasion, but God—as a living, breathing, tiring, sleeping, weeping, aching, bleeding human. The eternal Son of God, sniveling and crying, bundled in a homemade baby-wrap, laid in a cattle trough.
His mother’s recitation of praise, the Magnificat, not only captures her understanding that God “has looked with favor on the humble condition of his servant” (Luke 1:48) but sheds light on her son’s reality, too: he who “assumed the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity” (Phil. 2:7). So deep was this step from throne to town, from eternity to time, from angelic announcement to barnyard odor, it is well described by the kenosis: “he emptied himself.”
I think about Jesus walking around in first-century Palestine, rubbing shoulders with ordinary people, trekking along manure-dotted roads in sandaled feet (there was a legitimate reason for foot washing, after all), sweating in the summer sun, rubbing sore muscles after a long day of carpentry, or helping with household responsibilities. Jesus was so human that even after a career of working miracles in the natural realm, healing the sick, and raising the dead, that when it came time for his arrest the Romans needed a sign (a kiss) to pick him out of a crowd. Jesus did not hover over the ground as he went from place to place. In his earthly sojourn, he was a fully human Jewish man. He was a man, yet he was God.
When we recall from John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son,” that love was the basis for the giving and love the basis for the coming, we are drawn ever-deeper into incarnational mystery. Mystery is exactly how Paul framed it. “How great is the mystery of godliness, that God was manifested [made known] in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). It was this mystery that flummoxed the religious leaders of his day, leading them to conclude Jesus was blaspheming when he was merely telling the truth: “I am God.” This mystery confused his own disciples so that on the night of his betrayal he would ask them, “Have I been among you all this time and you still don’t know me, Phillip? If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9, paraphrase, emphasis added).
And yet it was in this mystery that God’s love was revealed. Those who would believe in Jesus, the ones whom God favors, the ones who accept the good news of great joy, find themselves as not merely the recipients of some emotionally-untethered, undefined love, but that which draws them into the very family of God. As John tells us, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (John 3:1, NIV).
No gift ever given from king, queen, or prince, from millionaire or billionaire, can approach the indescribable gift of Jesus. He is God’s “glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One” (Ephesians 3:1). Overshadowing our trees, tinsel, turkeys, roasts, carols, and spiced cider, in Christmas we see Jesus through love joining the human family so we through faith could join his. Truly, it is the most wonderful time of the year.