O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
Out of the political confusion, spiritual darkness and devotional dissolution, the prophet Isaiah looks forward to the ultimate day of redemption, when God rescues His people Israel, leads them to victory and ushers in an era of perfect rule. This, he prophesies, will be the eschatological climax of history: from the chaos of ‘In the beginning..’ we come to a form of government and a time of peace of which there shall be no end: the Throne of David will be inviolable, and the Kingdom ordered with justice and peace for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
And still Israel awaits this zeal, little knowing that its Messiah came almost 2000 years ago, not as victorious warrior of power and might, but as a defenseless baby clinging to his mother’s breast, subordinate to the forces of nature, exposed as tender flesh and a bundle of love.
God became flesh.
What a wonder!
And His parents weren’t invited to the palace in a chauffeur-driven chariot to dine with the great and the good. They weren’t lauded by the media, honoured by the local synagogue or awarded the OBE for services to messianic propagation. She carried on cooking and cleaning and he banged nails into wood, while the Son of God did what little boys do in space and time: they eat, grow, learn, laugh and cry. The Word became flesh and played with his mates. He got things wrong and grazed his knees, like all little boys. He made things and broke them; He built things and knocked them down; He changed things, because things had to change.
You can try to ignore babies, but it’s not possible for long. If you’re not seduced by cuteness and clean hands, you’re ambushed by constant blubbering and interminable wailing. Innocence looks a bit different through tears.
And you can try to ignore this baby, which is entirely possible, if not wholly recommended by a world which increasingly sidesteps what is essential and passes over all that it true, beautiful and meaningful. The Christ-child is certainly cute, sleeping in His manger all meek and mild, neatly wrapped in Daz-white swaddling clothes. But this baby’s tears are for a world of pain: they change things because things must change.
There is on this birthday an eternity of expectation wrapped up in a straw crèche: some see the power; others feel the love. But most haven’t got a clue what to think or believe. A baby God? What pathetic weakness. Born to give us second birth? Don’t make me laugh. Foolishness to the Greeks? You might as well be speaking Klingon. O little town of Bethlehem? It’s a turbulent marketplace of historical conflict, theological anguish and perpetual injustice.
What can a baby in a manger say to save those many thousands of His followers who are paying for their faith in Him with their lives? What can a baby in a manger do to end the misery of their suffering and unimaginable distress? Anything? Nothing?
The God who emptied Himself to save us is the One who calls us to a life of self-emptying brokenness and sacrifice. He came that we might have eternal life, and we are called to witness to that light even though the darkness of the world will hate us for it. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us in order that we might know the peace that passes understanding. He told us to take up our cross, faithfully and daily; not to lie wrapped up nightly in a lukewarm duvet of cosy compromise and spiritual neutrality.
Christmas is about a baby, but it’s a baby born to redeem the world. If you glimpse Him through the tinsel and fairy lights, you might just see the tear He sheds for the Church of the Martyrs. If you wait to hear Him cry, you will find your destiny.
The richest of blessings to all His Grace’s readers and communicants as we remember the birth of Our Saviour, and rejoice together in the wonder of the coming of the promised Messiah.