Monday, December 19, 2016

WORSHIPING THE BABY CHRIST CHILD


Whether or not the date is an accurate one, or despite the way in which the church arrived at the date, Christmas has long been the time of the year when we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ. It is true that in our churches, we celebrate Christ often throughout the year. As a church family, we gather to celebrate Jesus at least once a week. In many of our homes, we celebrate him every day. However, for very many people, the only time that Jesus is actually celebrated is twice a year – at Christmas and at Easter. For most of the year, people are so busy with their lives that they have very little time to think about Jesus. Because of this, it is good to have a celebration like Christmas to remind us of the Messiah. However, the celebration of Christmas is not without some dangers. 

The Dangers of Christmas

Christmas, along with Easter, are the big religious holidays of the year. As I mentioned, for many people, these holidays are really the only times of the year when they think about Jesus. Because of this, these people have come to have a distorted view of who Jesus is. If you think about it, you can see why.  At Christmas, we see Jesus as a little baby lying in a manger in the crèche. He is a helpless infant and totally in need of his mother’s protection and care.

Likewise, at Easter, we again see a Jesus that appears helpless. This time we see him beaten and bloodied and hanging on a cross. This is especially true in many church traditions where the emphasis is placed strongly on the suffering of Jesus, yet the fact of the resurrection sometimes almost goes uncelebrated. This becomes a danger when so much is made of the crucifixion and less is made of the coming back to life of Jesus.
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During holy week in villages and cities throughout many parts of the world, Jesus is depicted only as scourged and defeated, hanging on a cross and paraded through the streets. He is seen not necessarily as a Savior who rescues us, but as a defeated man who only deserves our pity. I have been in churches where they have a coffin made of glass that contains the representation of a pallid, dead and emaciated body of Jesus, while standing over him is a radiant, victorious (and, by implication, resurrected) figure of Mary.

How is it that we have twisted the good news of the Bible to come to this completely false teaching? For many, the only image that they have of Jesus is someone in need of protection. He is either the helpless baby Jesus, or he is to be pitied as he hangs dead on a cross. People with only these two perspectives do not see the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is no wonder that for many, Jesus has no power in their lives. How can they expect Jesus to have power in their lives when they do not know him as a person of power? 

A Time of High Emotion

Many people like the thought of the little baby Jesus at Christmas time because it is something that gives us emotional satisfaction. Who does not love the thought of the little baby in its mother’s arms? It is a time of great joy. At Christmas we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”

Interestingly, the celebration that surrounds holy week at Easter is also a time of very high emotion. In this commemoration, there is the crucifixion. Here the high emotion is the great sorrow that we experience at the death of Jesus. It is the other extreme in our emotional gamut to the joy of the birth of Jesus.

It is true that we are people of emotion. It would be foolish to deny that emotion is important to us. However, it is also dangerous to allow ourselves to be ruled too much by our feelings. We all know that emotions can carry us to the heights of elation, but they can also plunge us to the depths of depression. We also know that our sentiments are not always based on reality. In the end we must say, our emotions are not good indicators of what is truly essential.

I think that this is especially important to remember at Christmas, because at this time, it is not only the joy of the Christ child that we celebrate. Christmas has also become a time of celebration of family. In this time of year, we try to get together as families. We hug sons and daughters whom we have not been able to see for a long time. We have special dishes that we prepare for our Christmas meal. Perhaps we all go over to Grandpa and Grandma’s house to enjoy, once again, our family traditions. Many of our Christmas songs involve family customs. “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go. The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the wide and drifted snow.”

However, to allow Christmas be a time of such high emotion can be a dangerous thing. Some have family members that cannot come home. Some are from families where a loved one has died earlier in the year, and this Christmas will be much different from the ones in the past. This year, along with the cup of joy, there will also be a bitter cup. Without any doubt, Christmas is a time of intense emotions. For the Christian however, these emotions can never change the reality of what God has promised. Our Savior has come! 

Do We Come Adore or to Worship?

If we are wise, we will ask the same questions that the wise men from the east asked. These men, while studying the heavens, saw a star. In their tradition, this particular star was a sign that a great king had been born. Thus, they traveled westward seeking this small child. However, they did not come seeking a little infant so that they could remark how cute he looked and pinch his chubby little cheek. Instead they asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? We have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

The journey of the wise men was not an emotional journey; it was a pilgrimage. They did not come to adore a little baby. They came to worship a King.

And so, we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the Christ child. But we must be wise in our worship. Emotionally, we think of a little baby Jesus wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger. We think of mother Mary and Joseph, who, although he was not the father of Jesus, this night had the role of a father. To adore the baby Christ child is an emotional part of our worship and it can be good, but if we are wise, we will also worship the King. 

Progression of Worship

While we may conclude that it is a good thing to remember the birth of Jesus, we must also recognize how different our celebration of the birth of Jesus is from other birthday celebrations that we have. When we celebrate the birthdays of our own children, we think of the time when they were born, but we also know that in reality, they do not remain infants. With each birthday, our children have become more mature. We talk about how much they have grown and we celebrate the things that they have accomplished in the past year. Every year there is another candle on the cake. In the days of birthday spankings, there is one extra slap every year (I do not know if families still do this, but we did when I was growing up and we did it with our boys – it was all in good fun).

I do not wish to take away from the wonder of the fact of Christ’s birth and remembering the night that he came to us. It is a miracle that defies our understanding. The birth of Jesus is the infinite being born into the finite. It is the creator born into creation. In the miracle of the incarnation, Jesus was born to a mother whom he, himself had created. This, we cannot understand, and it is because of this that we can never cease to marvel at his birth.

However, we must also separate ourselves from the pure emotion of the season. We do not come to see a little baby to remark how cute he is and to congratulate the parents. We come to worship a king. We ask, “Where is He who is born to be the king?”  

Recognizing the Reality

With these thoughts, I would like to turn to one of the best biblical passages on the incarnation, and one that is not often read in relation to Christmas. In Philippians 2:6-11, we find these words by the Apostle Paul:  

...Although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men (NAS). 

This is what we celebrate at Christmas time. It is the infinite being born into the finite. It is the Creator being born into the creation. This is something that we cannot understand. It is beyond our ability to comprehend, and yet, it was because of his love for us and his desire to redeem us that Jesus was born a man. Paul continues in this passage: 
 
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (NAS). 

Here is the crucifixion. This is what we commemorate during holy week. Thus, in this passage we have the two major Christian holidays of the year. In these verses, we see Jesus as a newborn infant and the suffering crucified Messiah. However, if we stop with these two images, we make a terrible error because we have neglected the most important of all. If we stop here, we are in danger of being carried away by our emotions only. That is why Paul continues: 

Therefore, also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (NAS). 

Simeon’s Testimony

This is what Simeon saw. Simeon was the old man in the temple who was there the day that Mary and Joseph came to present Jesus in the temple when Jesus was only a few weeks old. As Simeon took the infant in his arms, he did not remark how cute the baby was and kiss his chubby little cheek. Rather, Simeon lifted his eyes and said to the Lord, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel (Luke 2:30-32 NAS). This old man had the same perspective as did the kings from the east who would come some two years later. When they came, they asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? We have come to worship him.”

Simeon and the wise men from the east both recognized heavenly royalty in the infant and child Jesus. Although that royal line was not apparent in Jesus to anyone but the wisest of people, it will one day become obvious to all. One day everyone, friend and foe alike, will see and understand without question or doubt the royal nobility of Jesus. The following is from a vision that the Apostle John had concerning a future coming of Jesus to the earth: 

And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. And His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems; and He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself. And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 

And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.

And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16 NAS). 

Two millennia ago, the wise men, both those who traveled to see him and the wise man Simeon in the temple, sought to worship the King. How is it today that so many only seek an infant? The One whom we celebrate today is not an infant in a manger, but He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

 

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