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~ The Christmas Calling ~

Indeed, “Unto us a Savior is born.” We celebrate the “birth” of Jesus Christ. Those words, “born” and “birth” connote new life. I think of the birth of baby animals, humans and even plants. In awe we behold beings that are new to us and to the world. The Christ, however, does not quite fit into this image or meaning.

Christ always existed. He is life itself, not new life or old life, but timeless, eternal life. “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17, NIV). Thus it seems a bit strange to me to think of Christmas as the celebration of Christ’s “birth.” (And I definitely don’t think it’s cute when some parents teach their children to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, which is bad theology.)

“Incarnation” is a better term, I think. “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:11). “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people’” (2 Corinthians 6:16b). “Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me’” (Hebrews 10:5). Christ was “made flesh and lived among us.” What an exquisite and mind boggling reality to contemplate!

The Creator of all things humbled Himself to live in the womb of a human in the person of Christ. Such love is lost on most of us, or at least incomprehensible. God became like us so we may become like Him.

Just before Christ’s crucifixion, He told His disciples He had to leave His incarnate body so He could transcend space and time, living within us in Spirit. Christ assured us, “I am always with you.”

So I’m compelled to compare Christ’s life on earth in the flesh with His life on earth in the Spirit. The Virgin Mary said, “Yes, let it be done as you say” to the angelic messenger who declared to her God’s incredible intention. To be born of the Spirit requires that same “Yes” to Christ’s knock at the doors of our hearts and souls. In that way, we participate in the Christmas as Mary did. The privilege offered to Mary is extended to us. Yet so many people do not say “Yes” to it.

During Christ’s time on earth in body, most people in the world did not know of Him, did not know of this Christmas miracle. Those that did and wanted to engage Jesus had to do it in time and space. They had to connect with Him physically.

Sometimes I fantasize about being one of those shepherds who watched the sky explode with a myriad of angels, ethereal colors and sounds. Then to make my way to where the baby Jesus was and feel the rapture of gazing upon the Incarnation of God! But those  Bethlehem shepherds probably never saw Him again. Those who wanted to needed to press their way through crowds, climb trees and cut rooftops apart to get to Him.

My fantasy of living during Jesus’ days doesn’t stack up to the reality of today. If I lived during His physical days on earth, and if I somehow could get to meet with Him, I know I would be healed of my afflictions, that He would bless me and my life would be transformed, and I could prostrate myself before Him in worship.

Yet we have a great advantage over those who did live while Christ was physically on earth: He is now accessible everywhere at every moment. What He would have done for me in a physical meeting He can still do today. And I don’t have to trek days through deserts and mountains and crowds to meet with Him. Christ wishes to be intimately infused in our bodies, souls and spirits in even a more magnificent way than when He grew within Mary’s womb for nine months!

Christmas is the celebration of the coming of Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” Celebrating Christmas as a historical event is a blessed, joyful experience for most. Both those who say “Yes” to His call to “make my home within you” and those who are still saying “No” or “I’m thinking about it” can celebrate Christmas and have a great, meaningful time.

But when I celebrate a person’s birthday, I do not celebrate a historical event in the past, but rather the blessing of his or her life in the present. Christmas is about celebrating, honoring, embracing a present event, a transcendent mystery, the incarnation of the Christ, not in a woman’s womb, but in me, in my loved ones, in the world, making us brothers and sisters with Him forever!

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.

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