by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
If you were to ask the average person on the street, "What is Christmas all about?" you would receive a variety of answers.
- "Christmas is getting together with family and friends."
- "Christmas is about giving."
- "Christmas is about trees and ornaments.
- "Christmas is about Santa Claus and toys."
- "Christmas is about Rudolph with his nose so bright."
- "Christmas is about last minute shopping in stores with long lines and full parking lots."
But so many miss the real meaning of Christmas. Christmas is about Jesus and the multiple miracles of Jesus' birth.
The Miracle of Birth
Birth itself is a flesh-and-blood miracle.
The umbilical cord is cut, the baby's mouth cleared, and he lets out a cry -- sometimes a loud and very persistent squall -- that lets the world know he has arrived. Then he is given to his mother. And all around, even veteran obstetricians, experienced labour nurses, and wizened old midwives, smile and enjoy the moment, and think to themselves,
"What an amazing miracle birth is, the beginning of a brand new human life!"
The birth of Jesus of Nazareth is a miracle on a number of fronts, first and foremost, I suppose, that here is another healthy baby boy born to an exhausted young mother and a father so proud he can burst with joy. Jesus has those tiny little fingers and toes -- ten of each -- and wisps of jet black hair on his scalp, still a bit misshapen from its traverse down the birth canal.
The Miracle of the Virgin Mother
It is a miracle, of course, that Mary, the infant's mother, is a virgin.
The New Testament account is very specific. Mary and her fiancé have not yet slept together as husband and wife. But an angel of the Lord, Gabriel by name, announces to Mary that she will be the mother of the Messiah, that her son will be called the Son of the Highest, and that this son will be conceived in her not by human means but by the Holy Spirit of God himself.
In a very real, physical sense, Jesus is the Son of God. Christmas is about the miracle of the Virgin Mother.
The Miracle of Joseph's Dream
It is a miracle, too, that Joseph believes Mary.
A man, even a man in love, finds it hard to understand how a fiancée can be pregnant without him. Jealous creatures, men are inclined to believe the worst. But Joseph, too, is visited by an angel who tells him that the boy will be called Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Joseph's continued love for Mary and her child is a Christmas miracle in itself.
The Miracle of Bethlehem
It is a miracle of sorts that he is born in Bethlehem.
His parents, after all, are residents of Nazareth, four days journey to the north. The only thing that could have brought about such a last minute journey is a court order. And that's what Joseph has received, a summons from the royal court of Augustus Caesar to appear in his ancestor's birthplace for a census. Since Joseph is a direct descendent of King David, he returns to the town where David had been born and cared for sheep on the surrounding hillsides.
"But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"
(Matthew 2:4-6; quoting Micah 5:2)
And so God arranges a trip for Mary and Joseph -- a rather inconvenient trip for a woman nearly full term -- a trip to fulfil a prophecy.
The Miracle of Angel Heralds
It is a miracle that on this birth night, shepherds from those very hillsides file into the stable where a baby and mother now rest. The shepherds tell of a heavenly visitation:
"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." (Luke 2:10-12)
The shepherds view the stone cattle manger where the baby lies sleeping, as the angel has told them.
And they recall for Mary and Joseph the close of their visitation, when not just one, but a huge army of angels, rank upon rank, thousands upon thousands, join in a heavenly chorus singing, yes, shouting the words:
"Glory to God in the highest, And peace on earth, goodwill to men." (Luke 2:14)
The Miracle of the Manger
That Jesus was first laid in a manger is a miracle, too, when you think about it. The swaddling clothes that enfold the baby Jesus are not unique, but the manger is. It is a vivid symbol of the poverty of the baby's parents, and their poor accommodations. The crude manger sends an astounding message that God is willing to humble himself from the height of glory, not just to kings' palaces, but to descend to -- and become -- the poorest of the poor.
The miracle of the manger is in God's unfathomed humility.
The Miracle of the Star
It is a miracle that when the Jesus-baby is born, his star appears boldly in the winter sky.
That wise men from the East saw it and know that it signifies the birth of the King of the Jews. It is a miracle that these wise men and their servants travel on camel-back nearly 1,000 miles to see the Child. That they bring gold and frankincense and myrrh. That the star leads them to the very house in which the Holy Family is living. That these wealthy princes prostrate themselves on the dirt floor before the young Child. These are miracles of the star.
The Miracle of Incarnation
But the greatest miracle of Christmas is that this squalling, tight-fisted tiny newborn is God himself entering the human plane.
Women always knew it, but a whole generation of fathers now understand, too, that birth -- especially the birth of one's first child -- is a pretty gutsy affair. There is the prolonged labor, the transition phase, where rational women lose their composure, and then, usually through great exertion, the baby is expelled from his mother's womb. The baby's head crowns, and then a slightly blue face appears, followed quickly by shoulders, and the baby emerges, slick and slightly bloody. And precious, very precious.
Birth is primitive and human, the final product of the human reproductive system. It is skin upon skin, and attended with stress and pain. The child is no store-bought doll but flesh and blood, very much alive, and, at the most basic level, a new journeyer on earth.
The miracle of Christmas is that the God of infinite glory and radiance should become human -- should even WANT to bind himself by bodily limitations. But this is the truly remarkable miracle of this flesh-and-blood Christmas.
The Apostle Paul puts it this way:
"[Christ Jesus], who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." (Philippians 2:6-7)
Christian thinkers have been very clear about this:
- Jesus isn't a human pretending to be God,
- Nor God pretending to be human,
- But Jesus is fully divine AND fully human,
- Jesus is the God-Man.
So when we view the newborn Christ Child seeking nourishment at his mother's breast, we are viewing God himself in human flesh. It is an awesome miracle, a miracle that brought amazement long ago to both Mary and Joseph, participants in the miracle.
And in this newborn, flesh-and-blood baby boy we view the miracle of miracles, God becoming flesh, as theologians would say, God becoming "incarnate" -- literally, "in flesh," from the Latin word carne.
We even know the purpose of this miracle of incarnation. The angel has told Joseph: "You shall call his name Jesus, FOR he shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).
It is only by becoming human that God can offer himself as a fitting atonement for sins committed by very human sinners.
The Christmas story continues.
This flesh-and-blood baby grows to be a flesh-and-blood man.
And on the night before he is betrayed he takes bread and blesses it, and says it is his flesh. He takes wine and blesses it, and says it is his blood. And the very next day his flesh is torn and his blood is shed to save us, his people, from our sins.
What is Christmas all about?
It is about Jesus, and that amazing day when God himself came among us humans as a flesh-and-blood baby boy.