by Mike Halpin —
*Adapted from a message given at Lion and Lamb’s annual Lessons and Carols service on Dec. 24, 2020.
It is my hope that this Christmas in our corporate remembering and celebrating of Jesus’ birth, we are particularly heartened and encouraged, as we come to the end of this very tumultuous and challenging year.
Because of a new virus the world as we knew it shifted almost overnight, and most of us are still grappling in our attempts to make sense of what we’ve lost and what might lie ahead.
Christmas and our intentional remembering and celebration of God the Son’s incarnation, is a great reminder that there is nothing more calming than God’s presence with us; nothing more peaceful than the Prince of Peace beside us; and nothing more joyful than the joy Jesus gives.
To know that we’re not alone in our challenges, that we walk the path of life with Someone who’s gone through the same things successfully, and is with us every moment, is wonderfully heartening.
There is nothing we face today or tomorrow that Jesus of Nazareth hasn’t faced successfully, for our benefit. And Christ is with us in our challenges today.
Mandates are nothing new; Jesus was born under a government mandate.
Caesar Augustus didn’t care about the confusion and discomfort, loss of income, or disruption to life his census mandate caused. He ruled from his throne in Rome and had little care for carpenters and shepherds in Israel. Joseph and Mary couldn’t stay in their hometown of Nazareth for Jesus’ birth, but were required under Roman mandate to travel the arduous miles south to Bethlehem where both their ancestors were from.
Caesar’s mandate, of course, was part of God’s plan to have his Son born in the city of David, the place the prophet Micah foretold as the place from which God’s ruler would come.
Jesus birth was constrained by government mandate. His bed was an animal trough instead of a crib because of government mandate. And yet that government mandate was all part of God’s sovereign plans.
Many of us and those we love have known levels of isolation never imagined before Covid-19.
Elderly parents and friends have been shut out from most of life by being shut in, unable to see loved ones face to face, or to hear their voices in person.
Jesus knew something of isolation too. For forty days Jesus was isolated in the desert with no other human to interact with. Not only in isolation but drained of physical strength by weeks without food. And when company did arrive it was his enemy, come to tempt him to take matters into his own hands, deny his father’s sovereign will, take back life on his own terms.
But how could Jesus become our sympathetic high priest were he not tempted like we are, loneliness and isolation included.
Masks have become common, the image characteristic of our day, in our attempts to breathe virus free air.
Helpful or not they have a dehumanizing effect. We may see each other eye to eye but not face to face. We may not even recognize family or friend as faces are hidden, veiled behind the masks we wear. We’re still there, but it’s harder to see who we are.
Jesus was hard to recognize too, behind the mask of black and blue, red and purple bruises and cuts he wore, inflicted by Roman soldiers. His was a painful mask, not softly donned and easily taken off, but applied by bruising blows and furious fists.
Jesus was marred more than any other, his face obscured, ultimately so we could see God face to face; so the veil that separated God from man could be ripped away; so we could hear God’s loving voice.
Social distancing has become a lamentable mantra, reminding us not to draw too close to others for fear of catching the virus they may, or may not have, or giving it away ourselves.
Proximity is seen as a threat, not a friendly encounter.
In the Incarnation Jesus chose to draw near to us, and not just near, he chose to become one of us and so fully identify with us, so fully embraced us and all that we are, that he took on himself the unholy and deadly virus of our sin.
If Jesus hadn’t willingly taken our sin, didn’t die with our deadly disease, didn’t suffer in isolation on the cross, we would have to bear that sin and death forever. Jesus drew near to us in our sin so we could draw near to God in his holiness.
Vaccines now make their way across land and sea, miracle drugs meant to keep us from sickness and death.
Shots are given that we hope will stave off agony in sickness and premature death. Medications are giving the world hope again for life and liberty.
Jesus provides something better. He rose from the dead, never to die again, conquering sin and death. And Jesus now offers the world the antidote to sin and death, a vaccine that saves us from eternal death and endless isolation. Jesus offers us in himself the lifesaving remedy to our mortal affliction. No appointment necessary; no needles required. Our antidote to death is received painlessly in the hands of faith by simply trusting the Lord Jesus to save us.
If you haven’t trusted in Jesus Christ to save you from your deadly sin, to forgive you and give you eternal life, what are you waiting for? Entrust yourself to Jesus and He will save you forever.
For those who have received the Christmas gift of Christ himself, and in Christ, life forever, what a wonderful, encouraging reminder in these challenging days is Christmas, God with us, now and forever, in Christ.