Christmas can do strange things to people. For about one month every winter, many Christians and churches shift gears and enter frantic holiday mode. Decorations go up, radio stations churn out the same 25 songs ad nauseam, to-do lists grow longer, credit cards get maxed out, turkeys are stuffed, gifts are exchanged, sparkly dresses are donned, and grand parties are hosted.
Somewhere in all the clamor and commotion, we may hear Jesus’ name or catch a glimmer of His glory. It’s not that He is absent; sometimes His presence is simply difficult to perceive amid all the distractions.
Ironically, the essence of Christmas is just that—Jesus’ presence. We sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and remember that this name, uttered by Isaiah 700 years before the Savior’s birth, means “God with us.” The prophet foretold the arrival of a virgin-born child who would live on earth as God incarnate and then die to pay our penalty for sin (7:14; 53:5), making it possible for man to enjoy His presence eternally. We should recognize, however, that God’s interest in relationship with humanity was not limited to a brief period that occurred 2,000 years ago. The Bible shows that this divine focus extends far beyond the Savior’s 33 years on earth—from creation through eternity.
• Genesis 16:6-14; Genesis 22:9-18. Starting in the first chapter of the Bible (Gen. 1:28), God made Himself known to man in a variety of ways, including audible voice, inspiration, dreams, and visions. In addition, Scripture describes visible appearances of God, known as “theophanies”: Abraham’s visitor, who foretold Sarah’s miraculous pregnancy, and Jacob’s wrestling partner appeared as men but were clearly divine (Gen. 18:13-14, Gen. 32:29-30). Likewise, the man Joshua encountered before leading the Jericho campaign is identified as “commander of the Lord’s army,” who, notably, did not refuse Joshua’s reverence or prostration. In fact, he instructed Joshua to remove his sandals, just as Moses was told to do in front of the burning bush (Josh. 5:15 NIV).
Other passages speak about “the angel of the Lord” appearing to men and women. Scholars tell us that this particular wording in the Old Testament—with the definite article the—indicates not an ordinary angel but, rather, the pre-incarnate Christ. Genesis 16 supports this idea, as “the angel” had power to multiply Hagar’s descendants (v. 10), and she acknowledged Him as God (v. 13). A few chapters later, when He shows up again to prevent Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, He refers to Himself as the Lord (22:11-12, 16).
• John 1:1-5, 9-14. The opening words of John’s gospel are not traditionally read at Christmas services because they don’t specifically mention Jesus’ birth. Yet they articulate beautifully God’s move to live among His beloved creatures, as well as His motive: to give those who believe in Him the right to be called His children.
• Matthew 28:20; John 14:1-4, 15-18; Acts 2:1-4. Both before and after the crucifixion, Jesus assured the disciples that He would always be with His followers. Not only would He provide His Holy Spirit as an ever-present teacher, counselor, and friend to indwell children of God for the duration of earthly life; He was also going to prepare a place in heaven, where believers will enjoy eternity in His presence.
• Revelation 21:1-8. In the last two chapters of the Bible—Revelation 21 and 22—John describes this eternal home in vivid detail. Verses 3 and 4 of chapter 21 are especially poignant. They indicate that heaven isn’t simply a reward for those who faithfully follow Christ. Nor is it solely for the believer’s enjoyment; it is also for God’s. His desire for relationship with us will ultimately be fulfilled when His dwelling place becomes ours and we experience true, lasting joy.
• Why does Jesus’ incarnation matter? What do these passages indicate about the significance of His birth? Matthew 4:1-11; Romans 3:21-25 and Romans 5:19; Philippians 2:5-8; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 Peter 2:21-24
• How has Jesus’ incarnation made a difference in your own life? What are some specific ways He has revealed Himself to you or touched your life?
As Christmas approaches, consider how reflecting on why Jesus was born—instead of only on how or where—can make a difference in your celebrations.
• List some ways you can experience a deeper connection with Jesus—God with us—this year.
• Strive to share that passion with family and others with whom you fellowship.
• Pray that the Lord will make Himself known to you in a special way this Christmas and in the new year.
• Instead of merely humming or singing familiar Christmas carols, take time to read them—without music—and reflect on the messages. A few suggestions:
• O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (try to find the original seven-stanza version)
• God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
• Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
• Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
• If you have a to-do list for Christmas, be sure to include specific things you will do to stay connected with the Lord, such as meditating on Scripture, pausing to worship, or praying with a loved one. Schedule these “tasks” into your calendar so that they will get done. If you begin to feel overwhelmed with how much you need to do, prayerfully cross off your list any non-essentials that compete with God for your attention.