One of the best nights of the year on the annual church calendar is the children's Christmas pageant. It is the opportunity for children to recount the story that changed the world. Each year, children become Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, stars, wisemen, a donkey or some other animals of the stable. They dress in bathrobes, sandals, animal costumes and lots of other angel glitter. And then the fun begins.
One year, as young parents, we were asked if we would be willing to have our 4-month-old son, Nathan, play the role of baby Jesus. Throughout the rehearsals scenes were practiced using a small doll and we were told to make the discreet switcheroo on Christmas Eve. My wife agreed and proceeded to bring him onto the stage during a scene change and handed him to the young lady that was playing Mary. On cue, she gently laid him in the makeshift manger. One of the younger kids, dressed as a sheep, was bored and began to be distracted as the baby began to move, and make... well... baby noises. He was no longer concerned about the script, his lines, or the music cues. He left his mark on stage and came even closer and sat beside Mary on a bale of hay and was now hovering over the manger. He stared at the child and then turned to the audience and shouted spontaneously, "Hey everybody, that's a real baby in there! Is that he baby Jesus?" With his outburst, pandemonium ensued as the entire group of animals, stars, shepherds, wisemen all rushed to toward the stable and began to adore the child. Mary then lifted the baby and held him up for the entire congregation to see. An impromptu cheer erupted; Jesus had made his entrance.
The historic, real-life, earth-changing, momentous occasion had been scripted in heaven, foretold, prophesied for generations, was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, announced by angelic chorus, and, at just the perfect time, He arrived.
Philippians 2:5-8 (MSG) describes the miracle of that exact moment of this central doctrine of the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus left the wonder of heaven, and entered our messy world, fully God, fully man. His entrance was the beginning of a divine reconciliation plan and mission to redeem mankind:
"Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human, It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then dies a selfless, obedient death - and the worst kind of death at that - a crucifixion."
The incarnation is always connected to the resurrection. I recall leading a discipleship conversation with a young man who, without any church background, shared an incredible insight: "I just out it together," he exclaimed. "The baby at Christmas and the guy coming out the tomb at Easter are the same person! It is one story, it is all connected!" "You got it, my friend." I smiled as the Jesus story came alive to him!
Through the centuries since, that first advent, writers, artists, musicians, sculptors, and more in all media platforms have sought to capture and portray this nativity scene of Jesus' incarnation. And yet still it is doubtlessly scripture itself which says it best, "So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness," John 1:14 (NLT).
Even at that first advent, prophetic anticipation filled one senior citizen at the temple, Simeon. God had promised him that he'd see not just any person, but the Son of God. In Luke 2:29-32 (NLT), "Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!" Simeon calls Jesus "a light" that will fulfill the plan to reveal salvation to the entire globe. He saw the cross and the gospel going to all people through the Christ child that he held in his hands at His presentation at the temple. This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, "I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth," (Isaiah 49:6b, NIV).
Jesus Christ is the light for all people. Without Jesus, we are dead in the darkness of sin and death, consumed with self, without real meaning, hope or direction in life. Jesus declared in John 8:12 (NIV), "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." As Mark Batterson said, "When He came, there was no light. When He left, there was no darkness."
We all come to the story in our own way. For some, it's brand new. For others, it's full of family pain or loss, or clouded in tradition or consumerism. While others, it's mundane, and its significance is missed. Yet some embraces the full story and understand the deep eternal significance of the occasion.
What will your response be? Perhaps it will be like that of a child in a sheep costume, seeing and exclaiming. "That's a real baby in there...could it be Jesus?"
Advent reflections shared by Brian Egert, Mission Canada Director and Assistant to the General Superintendent.