1st Week of Advent
Before cell phones and GPS, my wife and I were driving to a pediatric speech therapist because our son had not started to talk well past the age children normally speak. To encourage him to talk, Vicki would often pull items out of the glove box and tell him what it was. That morning Vicki pulled out some items from the glove box and would say what it was to our son. The flashlight was “light,” and there was a book and maybe even a glove. When she pulled out a large folded paper map, our son repeated aloud the word “map.” He was right. The first words of most children are “momma” or “dada.” Our son is unique. His first word was “map.” I’ve always wanted to tell that story and this Advent Bible study provides the perfect opportunity.
Some people these days don’t even know how to read a map. They just type a few numbers and letters into their cell phone and a digital voice begins to tell them where to turn. Maps are incredibly effective tools for driving. Today, I would like for you to point at your Bible and think “map.”
The first part of navigating a map is to find what is called the “Title.” It will read: “A Map of…” and it tells you what the map is about. You don’t just grab a map at a store to find your way around the state without first checking the “Title.” You may find you are trying to locate a town in Colorado when you are looking at a map of Kansas.
Let’s open up our Bible maps and get started on our journey. Like any journey, we start at the beginning. For centuries, forecasting the arrival of the Messiah (or Christ in Greek) was recorded in different Old Testament books. There are many prophecies that are a part of our Bible map. That the Messiah would come to the world was never in question. Several times God sent out announcements of His coming.
Only two of the three synoptic Gospels carry the story of the birth of Jesus: Matthew and Luke. Mark just jumps into the ministry of Jesus by introducing Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Matthew begins with a genealogy, while Luke waits until the end of the third chapter to provide the lineage of Jesus.
Like most people, when you read: “In the beginning,” you will immediately think of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Every destination has a starting point. For the believer, it is Genesis 1:1. This is when it all started. This is when God’s plan began. However, it took centuries to unfold this plan (kind of like unfolding an old-fashioned paper map). It was the apostle John who turned this phrase into a time-stamp. He writes at the start of his gospel, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning (John 1:1).
Who was with God in the beginning? John described him as “the Word.” This “Word” also created all things. Furthermore John proclaimed: “In him was life, and that life was the light…” (vs. 1:4 summarizes the creation). And then John seals the deal with these words: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (1:14). John also affirms this by saying that he and the other disciples were living witnesses to this. In other words, they saw, believed, and lived with the Word of God who was from the beginning.
So often, the gospel of John is overlooked in terms of the birth of Jesus. To write, “the Word became flesh” is exactly what happened on the day he was laid in a manger. Jesus is the Word of God and is God. Jesus is God incarnate: God in flesh, or as Pastor Nathan put it, “God with skin.” My old college dictionary offers a definition of “incarnation” in this way: 1a) endowment with a human body, and, b) the taking on of human form and nature by Jesus conceived of as the Son of God.*
I love the gospel of John. John does not simply mimic the other gospel writers who were writing to describe what Jesus said or did. John’s gospel explains that whatever Jesus said or did had a purpose. For John, the purpose of Jesus defines who he truly is. For example, the most famous verse all around the world is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [Please read verse 17 as well… and the rest of the gospel while you’re at it!].
The phrase “God gave” reveals God’s love. From the beginning, God’s plan was conceived by love. The manger is just an object that held God’s love on the night he was born. It is John who tells us this Jesus is “the one and only Son.” Jesus was with God in the beginning, and he is in the manger at the beginning of his life in the flesh.
Join all ye joyful nations
Th’ acclaiming hosts of heaven!
This happy morn
A child is born
To us a Son is given…
The joy of every nation,
Jesus his name,
With God the same,
The Lord of all creation.**
On the night Jesus was born, Mary gently laid God’s Son in a manger. And so it began!
* Webster’s New World Dictionary, The World Publishing Company, 1968.
** Charles Wesley, Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord. London: [Strahan], 1745.
Advent is described as the time of preparing for the arrival of the Messiah. Although we know that Jesus was not born on December 25th of the year 0000, he was born with a human body and grew into the man who taught and healed and proclaimed God’s Kingdom until his death on the cross. We also know that he was raised from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. Salvation is based solely by faith in who Jesus is: the Messiah, or, in Greek, the Christ.
That Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins (every single sin) and that he was raised from the dead is truly what sets Christianity apart from other religions. If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
Why then, do we cast so much attention on Christmas trees and bright colored lights, on packages and bows and lots of goodies to eat, on Santa Claus and reindeer, and whether we say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays?” Don’t get me wrong. I celebrate in these ways as well. Our God wants us to enjoy life, and these things are enjoyable. He also wants us to revere his name above all else. “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness” (Psalm 29:2).
This is the reason I begin this Advent series with Genesis 1 and John 1. From the very beginning, God knew what he was doing. The account of Jesus’ birth is not just a cute story for us to read before we read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The miracle of the manger is the incarnation of God… God in flesh. Ancient cultures never really recorded events around a person’s birth. They celebrated their life’s accomplishments by writing about their deaths, but a birth was insignificant since it was unknown who that child would become. However, in the case of Christmas, it is not a matter of who the baby in the manger will become, but of who he already is: God!
By coming to earth in human form, God was able to move among us, live with us, be a part of us: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). It demonstrates how our “Almighty God” humbled himself by stepping down from the throne and becoming fully human. Paul wrote of Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8).
Jesus is 100% God and 100% human. When he was placed in the manger, he gave up his right to be God by taking on his human nature. Therefore, he is able to identify with us… and we with him. May this Advent be filled with the joy of the season, and joy in knowing who Jesus is, even while lying in a manger.
– Write a statement, in your own words, expressing who Jesus is to you and to the world.
If you are having trouble with the concept of Jesus being God, consider the following verses as well:
24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe.”
30 “…I and the Father are one.”
31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
36 “…what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?
38 “…even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”
This encounter with his fellow Jews happened while in the temple. They asked if he was the Messiah. He said he already told them so, yet they did not believe him. At the end of his discussion about miracles he plainly said, “I and the Father are one.” Verse 31 called some of this crowd “his Jewish opponents.” They opposed Jesus, as well as not believing him. They then wanted to stone him to death and gave the reason for stoning him by saying, “…because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” The conversation ended with Jesus reaffirming, “the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”
Even those who opposed Jesus understood his claim to be God. They felt they had every right to stone Jesus to death because they saw him only as “a mere man,” and not as God. Jesus made it so evident to them that he is God, they wanted to be rid of him. Jesus made it so clear to those who opposed him that they understood what he meant, and were willing to stone him to death for saying he is God.
– Jesus, being God the Creator, came to us as a tiny baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. How would you write that as a Christmas letter to family and friends?