It’s been said many times before that when telling a story there is no better place to start than the beginning. And so, when we talk about Christmas we always start with birth of Christ. This event is, after all, why we celebrate Christmas. However, in the grand scheme of the story of Jesus’ birth, we tend to lose the most amazing part. This story contains miraculous sightings of angels on at least two occasions. The inclusion of societal outcasts and a humble setting that harkens back to ancient hero narratives. And, last but certainly not least, the birth of a child to a virgin mother. There is a lot going on here!
The real meaning of this narrative though, I think, is found much later in the life of Christ. In Matthew, Mark and Luke we find at least a mention of an event that would kick off Jesus’ ministry on earth; His temptation by Satan in the desert. Mark spends only a few sentences describing the event, while Matthew and Luke dedicate a larger chunk of text to this story. In short, the story goes like this: Jesus wanders in the desert on a fast when Satan comes to tempt Him. Satan first tries to get Him to perform a miracle so that He will end his fast and eat after wandering for 40 days. Jesus refuses but is tempted yet again by being transported to the top of a temple where Satan asks Him to test God, thereby testing His (Jesus’) own faith. And, lastly, Satan offers Jesus reign over all of the nations of the earth in return for Jesus’ worship of Satan. Jesus refuses and is tended to by angels upon Satan’s departure.
The amazing part of the encounter between Jesus and Satan (at least to me) is not Jesus’ resilience or His ability to quote scripture at Satan but that Jesus faced down the same temptations that you and I face in our everyday lives. He rejected simple temptations like hunger. He weathered the temptation to test God and ultimately rejected an offer of world dominance which few could pass. And, He did all of this as a man.
The point of the Nativity story is so much less about the events of the story and more about the meaning of the birth of Christ. The real miracle of Jesus’ birth has more to do with God’s grace and His willingness to come to us than it does about angels, wise men or virgin births. When God came down to earth in the form of a man He extended an olive branch and a testament to what faith could do for us. Christmas is so much more than a baby and the fulfillment of ancient prophecy, it is a peace offering from a God who owed us nothing! In a relationship that involved the continuous breaking of covenants, promises and creeds, God reached down and offered Himself as one last gesture of hope and reconciliation to a world that deserved nothing. No other faith worships a God who was willing to come down off of His thrown and not only forgive all but offer up Himself as the necessary sacrifice. He experienced the world in the same way you and I do, and in that way provided us as believers with a relationship that is more personal, more loving and more gracious than any other we could ever experience.
JAMES DODSON | SPIRITUAL FORMATION PASTOR