December 23, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Isaiah 9:2, 6
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined…
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
How could the God who created heaven and earth be the God who lies in a manger? How could our Redeemer be a tiny baby? In fact, how could his being a tiny baby—experiencing everything in life that we experience, yet without sin—be part of what makes him our Redeemer? No matter how many words I say about this marvelous fact, they all fall short of explaining it.
While Christmas Eve services can be among the most beautiful services to preach in the whole Christian year, they are—for me—some of the most difficult to preach.
The Christmas story isn’t some obscure text that only comes around once every three years: everybody knows the story. And yet, though we know it, we find it difficult to grasp. How could the God who created heaven and earth be the God who lies in a manger? How could our Redeemer be a tiny baby? In fact, how could his being a tiny baby—experiencing everything in life that we experience, yet without sin—be part of what makes him our Redeemer? No matter how many words I say about this marvelous fact, they all fall short of explaining it.
At this time, I often turn to the words of two Christians from the past. Protestant reformer Martin Luther was, perhaps, at his best when he preached about the Incarnation—his own experience as a very hands-on father surely helped here—and every Christmas Eve I read to my congregation an excerpt from Martin Luther’s Christmas Book, edited by Roland Bainton:
She “wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger.” Why not in a cradle, on a bench, or on the ground? Because they had no cradle, bench, table, board, nor anything whatever except the manger, the hay box, of the oxen. That was the first throne of the King. There in a stable lay the Creator of all the world. And there was the girl of fifteen years bringing forth her first-born without water, fire, light, or pan, a sight for tears. What Mary and Joseph did next, nobody knows. The scholars say they adored. They must have marveled that this Child was the Son of God. He was also a real human being. He was a true baby, with flesh, blood, hands and legs. He slept, cried, and did everything else that a baby does only without sin. . .
Mary was the mother of the Lord. With trembling and reverence, before nestling him to herself, she laid him down, because her faith said to her, “He will be the Son of the Highest.”
Let us, then, meditate upon the Nativity just as we see it happening with our own babies. I would not have you contemplate the deity of Christ, the majesty of Christ, but rather his humanity. Look upon the Baby Jesus. Divinity may terrify man. Inexpressible majesty will crush him. That is why Christ took on our humanity, except for sin, that he should not terrify us but rather that with love and favor he should console and confirm.
The other Christian writer whose words often speak for me at Christmas is a man named Christopher Smart. You can read about his life here, though it’s at times difficult reading: he set out to become a great poet, but was plagued by debt and insanity and became estranged from his family. In the middle of all that, though, he composed some of the 18th-century’s truly great religious lyrics, including this poem, still sung as a hymn today:
Where is this stupendous stranger?
Prophets, shepherds, kings, advise;
Lead me to my Master’s manger,
Show me where my Savior lies.
O most mighty, O most holy,
Far beyond the seraph’s thought,
Art Thou then so weak and lowly
As unheeded prophets taught?
O the magnitude of meekness!
Worth from worth immortal sprung,
O the strength of infant weakness,
If eternal is so young!
God all bounteous, all creative,
Whom no ills from good dissuade,
Is incarnate and a native
Of the very world He made.
Indeed he is. Merry Christmas.
What does it mean that God became flesh?
What does it mean for you that God became flesh?
Listen to “Where is This Stupendous Stranger?” and contemplate the miracle and the mystery of the Incarnation.
(Taken from a prayer for Christmas Eve in the Book of Common Prayer) O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Banner image by Chad Madden on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Peace and Prosperity (Isaiah 9ff.).
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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Thank you, Jennifer. This devotion was perfect for Christmas Day. Merry Christmas.