Why God Became a Child at Christmastime

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Title: Why God Became a Child at Christmastime

Text: Matthew 1:20, 21; 2:13-14

Time: December 4th, 2013

We’re into the Christmas season 2013, and it’s time again to think about the Nativity or birth of Jesus Christ. If you’ve been a Christian for a while then you’ve heard many messages about it, thought some about it, and pretty much covered all the different angles of it in some way through the years. But what’s great about the Christian faith is that you never run out of ways to appreciate the Lord through reading and studying the Bible. It always produces something fresh and new if we come at it with eyes of faith. It’s the same this year as well. I’ll be reading a familiar Christmas passage, but hopefully you’ll learn something new, and more important, you’ll be inspired anew. Today, I’d like to talk about the reason why God the Son, Second Person of the Holy Trinity, became man – or more accurately at Christmas, why he became a child. I could talk about the life of Jesus, but I don’t have time for that today. I’ll just talk about his early stage of life. First, the Christmas account describes the conception of Jesus. Second, the Nativity story talks about the birth of Jesus. And finally, third, it speaks of the childhood of Jesus. So then, why did Jesus go through childhood? Why did the Messiah come as a child, when clearly, he could have come as a fully-formed adult in order to die on the cross for our sins? Was the early stage of Jesus’ life necessary? Was the virgin conception of Mary necessary? Did the birth of Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem have to take place? Was the drama of Jesus, Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod required in order for the salvation of the world? When we look at the life of Jesus, when we think about how he won our salvation, the cross – his atoning sacrifice for our sins – seems the absolute essential part. But was all the other necessary, especially the early stage, the conception, the birth and infancy? At Christmas we celebrate and remember the early stage of the life of Christ, but are we emphasizing something that really isn’t essential? In truth, I believe, it was essential, not in the same way as his death on the cross, but in a different way. It cemented his total and absolute identification with humanity.  Now why is identifying with the human race so important? Because on the cross, the man Jesus died for us humans. But in order to die for us as our sacrifice, in our place, he has to be one with humanity. In other words, he had to be fully human, not one-half human, not partially human, but totally, 100% human in order for the substitutionary death to have its beneficial effect for us. If he wasn’t fully human, if he wasn’t a total and absolute substitute for our humanity, he couldn’t be our atoning sacrifice. So it was essential that Christ be everything we are, including being conceived, born and growing up as a child. It’s part of the incarnation. But let me explain further, and hopefully we’ll be able to appreciate Christmas more in the process. I’ll examine a few New Testament passages related to Christ identifying with us in life.

First, Christmas reminds us of Christ identifying with us in his conception. Matthew 1:20, “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’” Every one of us was conceived at some point, that is, we first became an individual through the combination of our father’s sperm and our mother’s egg. We became a unique individual for the first time at conception. And so too, Jesus Christ became human at his conception, only his father was God the Father through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Now why did Jesus need to be conceived? Why not simply appear as a child? Because conception is the first mark of being human, and so Jesus needed to identify himself with humanity and be conceived. All humans have a point of conception, so too, the humanity of Jesus needed to have a conception moment also, in order to fully qualify as totally human. There were other things that Jesus didn’t share with most people. For example, Jesus was never married. But marriage isn’t something that is absolutely essential to being human. But conception is something that every human must start at or begin with in their journey through life. So too, Jesus identifies with us from the very beginning of our human existence with his conception. That’s why the Christmas story is so important. It isn’t just an account of a sentimental, romantic scene. It’s the description of an important and essential aspect of Christ’s life. Jesus needed to identify with us in our humanity by being conceived. And so the biblical Christmas account gives us the description of Christ’s conception. Granted, it was an unusual conception. His mother Mary was still a virgin. That’s very rare, very unusual, not typical. But it must be that while being conceived is essential to being human, being conceived in the usual way is not essential for being human. Otherwise the Christmas account would be different. We need to thank God for his willingness to identify with us so closely. He’s willing to be conceived as a human in the womb of a woman to qualify as human in order to provide a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. That’s a pretty drastic solution to the problem of sin. That shows us how much of a problem sin is, based on how serious the solution was to deal with it. So God Almighty, the greatest Being of all time, was willing to humble himself and be conceived in order to save us through identifying with us as humans. It had to be that way, but God didn’t have to do it. He did it out of love, he went to that extreme because he loved us. But that’s not all.

Second, Christmas reminds us of Christ identifying with us in his birth. Matthew 1:21, “She (Mary) will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Here’s a short summary of the main purpose of Christ’s birth – to save his people from their sins. But isn’t the cross when Christ saved us from our sins? Yes, but in order for the cross to have any effect or to produce the salvation result, Jesus had to be both God and man. He had to be God, a being without any sin, since if the sacrifice was sinful that would itself require a sacrifice for salvation. But only God could be without sin and thus not need saving himself, so that he could save others by his sacrifice for them. But he also needed to be human, because the sacrifice is for humanity. If Christ wasn’t fully human, than he might die on the cross and provide atonement, but it couldn’t be applied to us humans, unless Christ was human. Only a human could die for humanity. So Jesus needed to be fully human. The Christmas account of Christ’s birth shows that he was fully human by identifying with all of us at birth. We’ve all been born. And so Jesus too was born. That’s one of the essential characteristics of being human, being born. We’re all conceived at some point, and we’re all born at one point. So too, Jesus experienced these things as well as a mark of identification with us in our humanity. In the early church there was a group of believers, who called themselves Christians, who felt that it wasn’t important that Jesus be human, only that he was divine. They minimized or even denied his humanity. The early church rightly judged this to be heresy and condemned it. Jesus had to be both divine and human in order to save us by his sacrifice on the cross. Now the incarnation is a deep topic, so we can’t possibly explain it all today, but we can get a glimpse of how important it was for Jesus to be born.  A lot of people think that the Nativity scene is more for sentimental reasons than anything else. That’s not true. While the quiet, manger scene is very pleasing – the animals gathered round, the shepherds coming by, the wise men dropping by, and everything else. That’s a memorable scene, but it’s not the heart of the Christmas story. The heart of Christmas is the birth of Jesus in order to identify with us humans. God became a baby in order to relate to us, and in order to ultimately so identify with us that he could be our substitute on the cross for sin. It had to be that way. If you take away the incarnation from Christ, you have no basis for atonement. If you take away the atonement you have no basis for salvation. Christmas is essential for Easter, not just because you have to have Jesus born before you can have him die, but because you have to have Jesus identify with humanity before he can serve as a substitute for their sins. It all fits together. I hope we can all appreciate it.

Third, Christmas reminds us of Christ identifying with us in his childhood. Matthew 2:13-14, “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.” The New Testament clearly describes Jesus here and in other places as a child. In fact, The familiar Nativity scene, at least the part with the wise men, is about the child Jesus, not necessarily about the newborn baby Jesus. If you remember, after Jesus, Mary and Joseph left for Egypt, Herod sent soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all the boys two years or younger, based on when the star appeared to the magi. So the star could have appeared two years before signaling the birth of Jesus two years before the magi visited Herod, and two years before they arrived to worship Jesus. We don’t know the exact chronology or time frame for all the events, but it could be that by the time the magi arrived Jesus was two years old, a child, not a baby. Although it could be that the magi saw the star a year or less before they talked with Herod, but the king was so paranoid that he gave the soldiers orders to kill the boys two years old just for safe measure. We don’t know how old Jesus was when the magi visited. And it could be that by the time the magi visited, the shepherds had been long gone, because the Bible seems to say that they came right immediately after the birth, not a while after. We tend to put the two groups together during the Christmas celebrations, the shepherds and the wise men arriving about the same time, or shortly after one another. It could have been a long while apart in reality. But the point is Jesus identifies with us in our humanity by being conceived, by being born, and by going through childhood, just like us. Jesus experienced childhood. Now this is really amazing, incredible. God Almighty was a kid, a child, a youngster. We can more easily imagine God going through conception and birth, because these are moments, events, over quickly. But it’s harder to imagine, at least for me, God Almighty becoming a child and experiencing childhood over many years. The Savior and Lord being raised by human parents. Did they ever have to spank or discipline him? Is that even a legitimate question to ask in respect to God? Did they potty train God? I mean there are all kinds of questions that come to mind. That’s why, for me, it’s hard to imagine God becoming a child, than God becoming man. But God became a child in order to fully and totally identify with us in our humanity. It had to be or else he couldn’t be our substitute for sin on the cross. He had to be fully human in order for the substitute to work. That means he had to go through all the stages of humanity, just like we go through.

Now are you getting a better understanding of the importance of Christmas? Doesn’t it now mean a lot more than just the manger scene? I think the beauty of the Nativity scene can almost keep us from thinking deeper about it because we all tend to stop and enjoy the quiet beauty of the mother and child, the animals gathered, the shepherds and wise men coming by, and so forth. But if you back up and stop to think, “Why did Jesus have to go through the conception, birth and childhood, as the Christmas account shows?” The answer will be – because he was identifying with us in our humanity. He was working out the full implications of the incarnation. God became man in Jesus Christ, but he first became baby and child before he became man. After he became baby and child, he became teenager, then he became young adult. God traced all the essential stages of humanity in order to so identify with us that he could offer substitutionary atonement for our sins on the cross. Now somebody might say, “Well, he didn’t reach his senior years, so he can’t identify with older adults.” True, he never reached his senior years because he was crucified before he became that old, but then again, lots of other people, fully human people, never make it to senior adulthood. Would you say they weren’t fully human? No. Jesus covered all the basic and essential stages of life. He was conceived, he was born, he became a child, he became a teenager, and he became an adult. Middle-aged adult and senior adult are just sub-classifications of adulthood, and Jesus experienced adulthood. That’s good enough to cover all the bases, it’s good enough in order to identify with us in our humanity, and die in our place of the cross for our sins. I know it’s hard to picture Jesus as a child or even as a baby. When we think of Jesus we mostly think of him teaching and preaching, and especially dying on the cross and rising from the dead. But we’ve also got to leave room for his humanity, his childhood, and his fully identifying with us in life. This really makes me feel a bond with Jesus even more when I think about the fact that he was a kid just like me. I was a baby once, and so was Jesus. I was a teenager once, just like Jesus. Jesus can identify with me; he knows what my life is about; he knows what I go through. God isn’t someone who is off somewhere detached from my life. He experienced life as a human. He knows what it’s like to struggle, to hurt, frustration, fear, weakness, and so forth. Christmas is a great time to reflect on the humanity of Jesus, just as much as Easter resurrection Sunday is great time to celebrate the divinity of Christ. I hope you take the time this year to think about how you are related to Jesus – he’s related to you.

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