Christmas in a Word

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“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-3,14)

The God Who Speaks

I would like to share with you the story of Christmas. And I would like to start at the beginning. According to the Scriptures, the story of Christmas does not begin in Bethlehem. It does not even begin with Mary and Joseph or the angelic announcements. The story of Christmas begins long ago, long before the world was even created. The story of Christmas begins with a word. Not a word, but the Word – the Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

We read in Genesis that in the beginning, God spoke. And so one of the first things we learn about God in the Bible is that our God is a God who speaks. God spoke and the world was created. God said let there be light, and there was light. God said let there be sky, and there was sky. God spoke and the dry land appeared and brought forth vegetation. He spoke again and the sun, moon and stars appeared in joyful obedience to his command. Again the voice of God thundered forth and the waters teemed with living creatures, and birds flew above the earth in the sky. On the sixth day God spoke again and created the wild animals, the livestock, and all the creatures that move along the ground.

We read in Numbers 23:19 – “Does God speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” When God speaks, it happens. God spoke, and creation came to be. That is the power of God’s Word. That is the power of He who is called the Word of God. Light, sky, water, land, sun, moon, and stars, creatures in the sea, creatures in the air, creatures on the land – all of creation was brought forth by the powerful, creative, sustaining Word of God. Psalm 33:6 says: “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” John 1 says: “In the beginning was the Word . . . 3 through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

And yet as we read the opening chapters of Genesis we discover that God worked differently when it came to creating humans. Yes, he still spoke. God said: “Let us make man.” (Genesis 1:26) But then we also read that “the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and breathed life into him.” (Genesis 2:7) When God created man, He got personal. God, who is spirit, He who has no form or body got his hands dirty and fashioned man out of the dust of the ground. Instead of the Word of God simply speaking, we see He who is the Word getting into the physical dust of our universe to create man. This is perhaps the first clue, the very faintest foreshadowing of the incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas.

God’s Good Gift of Speech

From Genesis we also learn that the God who speaks created man in his own image. Out of all God’s earthly creation, only man speaks. Other animals make sounds and noises, but only man was given the gift of spoken language. We find man’s first recorded words in Genesis 2:23 when God presents Eve to Adam. Adam speaks: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” Man’s first recorded words are words of peace and unity and harmony. They are words which reflect a time when there truly was peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

But all this changed after the fall. Man’s first words after the fall are recorded for us in Genesis chapter 3. And now man speaks words that are weighted with guilt and shame, with blame and accusation. Yet even after man’s terrible act of sin and rebellion, God continued to speak words of grace and comfort and hope. Even as God cursed the serpent for tempting the man and the woman, He spoke forth the promise of a Savior. The LORD God said to the serpent, “I will put hatred between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) And so God promised a Savior who would come to redeem mankind from the curse of the fall and to defeat the power of Satan in this world.

Meanwhile sin, which was unleashed into the world after the fall, began to twist and pervert the words of men. The good gift of language was quickly put to evil ends. In the very next chapter of Genesis, chapter 4, we hear words of falsehood: “I do not know where my brother Abel is.” (Genesis 4:9) We hear words of despair: “My punishment is more than I can bear.” (Genesis 4:13) We hear words of violence and pride: “I have killed a man for wounding me; And a boy for striking me; 24 If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” (Genesis 4:23-24) And yet we also read at the end of chapter 4 that “men began to call on the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:26) All of human speech was corrupted by the fall. And yet some in their brokenness used the good gift of speech to call upon the name of the Lord, to call upon the One who had promised us a Savior.

God’s Continued Promise of the Savior

Men called on the name of the Lord, and the Lord responded. God continued to speak to man. He spoke to Noah who found favor in God’s eyes. He spoke to Abraham and promised him a son in his old age. He spoke to Moses and gave him the law. In fact it is on Mount Sinai that we find the first instance of God’s spoken word being written down. We read in Exodus 23:4 that Moses “wrote down everything the LORD had said.” It is on Mount Sinai also that God himself inscribed the Ten Commandments into the tablets of stone.

And so the spoken word became a written word, a direct revelation from God written for all men, for all time. This word continues to speak to us even today whenever we read God’s Word, the Bible. Hebrew 4:12 says: “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

God continued to speak through the prophets at many times and in various ways. In the book of Exodus God gave the pattern for the tabernacle and the priesthood, both of which foreshadowed the work of Christ on the cross. In the book of Leviticus God gave instructions concerning sacrifice and purification in anticipation of Christ’s great sacrifice for us. In the book of Numbers God spoke of a star who would come out of Jacob, a scepter who would rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17) In Deuteronomy God spoke to Israel of a great prophet like unto Moses whom he would raise up from among their brothers. (Deuteronomy 18:15,18) Onward throughout the Old Testament revelation, again and again, the prophets proclaim the coming of the anointed one – the great prophet, the faithful priest, the exalted king, the coming Messiah of God.

The Old Testament revelation also records a number of miraculous births. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is barren, and yet God gives Abraham and Sarah a promised son, Isaac, in their old age. Isaac’s wife, Rebecca, is barren, but Isaac prays to the Lord, and Rebecca gives birth to Jacob and Esau. Manoah’s wife is barren. The angel of the Lord appears to her and promises her a son. She gives birth to a champion, a deliverer for the Israelites named Samson. Hannah is barren and cries out to the Lord in the bitterness of her soul. God answers her prayer, and she gives birth to the prophet Samuel.

As the prophets reveal more and more about the Messiah to come, we learn that his also will be a miraculous birth. However, his miraculous birth would go far beyond the opening of a closed womb. The birth of Messiah will be unique, like no other; he will be born of a virgin. Isaiah prophesied, “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” (Isaiah 7:14) Isaiah goes on to describe this child in terms of deity: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given . . . And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace . . . He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom . . . forever.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

The Long Silence

And so God continued to speak through the prophets of the promised, coming Savior. In fact the Old Testament contains over 300 prophecies which speak directly of Christ and his coming. Some of these prophecies were crystal clear in their implications. Others remained hidden in meaning until Christ came into the world. All of them are fascinating and together present a powerful testimony to the inspiration of Scripture. 1 Peter 1:12 tells us that even the angels long to look into these things.

Finally, about 400 years before the birth of Christ, Malachi gave his prophecy concerning the messenger of the covenant who would come and prepare the way for the Lord – the prophet Elijah who “will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” (Malachi 4:5-6)

And then, the unimaginable happened. The God who speaks – stopped speaking. There were no more prophecies. There was no further revelation from God. The prophet Amos had proclaimed: “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land — not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12) After Malachi’s final prophecy, the famine began. The promises remained for those who would read, study and believe them. But for four long centuries the Word of God remained silent. God finished the Old Testament with a long and emphatic period.

The Silence is Broken

Fast forward now to the time of Christ. We read in the gospel of Luke that a priest named Zechariah went into the temple to burn incense before the Lord. Luke tells us that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth “were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” (Luke 1:6) They were also both well along in years, and, you guessed it, Elizabeth was barren. The angel Gabriel suddenly appeared to Zechariah in the temple. Zechariah was startled and gripped with fear. Remember, God had not spoken for four hundred years. And now the silence was broken.

Gabriel spoke a word from God to Zechariah. “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” (Luke 1:13). Gabriel then quoted from the final verses of Malachi, the very last words God had spoken over 400 years before: “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)

Zechariah, not believing this word from the Lord, asked for a sign. In response Gabriel removed Zechariah’s ability to speak. God had broken silence, and Zechariah did not believe. Now Zechariah would remain silent until the word God had spoken was fulfilled in the birth of John the Baptist.

Six months later, God spoke again. This time God sent Gabriel to Mary, a young virgin pledged to be married to Joseph, a descendant of David. Gabriel spoke God’s word to her: “Mary, you will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33). The language was unmistakable. This child-to-be was the long-awaited Savior. He was the anointed one, the promised Messiah of God.

Mary did not respond with unbelief like Zechariah but rather with wonder and awe. She asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

It is interesting to note the reactions of the various parents involved in the miraculous births of Scripture. Abraham and Sarah laughed when God told them about Isaac. Hannah sang praises to God, but only after baby Samuel was born. Zechariah doubted God’s word and was struck speechless. And Mary’s reaction? Mary humbly responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38) Mary also sang a song of praise, reminiscent of Hannah’s song, but Mary sang her song before her son was born. She is a wonderful example of humble, trusting faith in God’s promises.

The Word Became Flesh

And so Christ came into this world at Christmas as a tiny baby. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) The eternal and living Word who spoke all of creation into being now lay helpless and speechless himself in the arms of his mother, Mary. Yet as he grew to be a man he would speak once again – words of power and wisdom, words of grace and truth which revealed his glory.

He would speak to demons, and the demons would flee. He would speak to the elements, multiplying bread and turning water into wine. He would speak to the wind and the rain, and the storm would obey his voice. He would speak to illness and bring health. He would speak to death and bring resurrection and life.

Matthew tells us: “The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matthew 7:28-29) When the temple guards who were sent to arrest him came back empty handed, the chief priest and the Pharisees asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared. (John 7:45-46)

“In the past God spoke . . . through the prophets . . ., but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2) The songwriter, Michael Card, put it this way:

God spoke the incarnation, and so then was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.
   – Michael Card, “The Final Word”

The long awaited Savior had finally come. The Word of God became flesh.

Christmas in a Word

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:10-13)

The eternal Son of God came into the world as a child to die for us that we might become children of God by believing on his name. Thirty-three years after his birth, Jesus died on the cross. Yet not even death could silence him. He rose again and ascended into heaven. One day he will return again. At his second coming he will come not as a helpless baby, but as the conquering king, ready to redeem his people and to judge the world.

The closing chapters of Revelation describe his return in this way. The apostle John writes: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.” (Revelation 19:11-13)

You see, the story of Christmas begins and ends in a word. Not a word, but the Word, the living, eternal Word of God made flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-3,14)

That is the wonder, the joy and the majesty of Christmas – the Word of God made flesh for the salvation of all who believe. Christmas in a word, is Jesus.

© Ray Fowler

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