A tiny baby is born into a manger. His parents stand in silent adoration. Shepherds hurry from their fields to see the child. A special star arises to show his location. Nobility from the east travel to bring him presents. A local king sees the threat and attempts to kill him, but not before his parents hear wind of it and escape.
The Christmas story has been told and retold so many times, it’s easy to miss the depth of its significance. The story in itself is so unexpected, so captivating, so fraught with irony but of a beautiful kind, it’s no wonder it’s become a classic in the truest sense: both a timeless and timely tale that resonates with generations.
But it’s more than that. More than a heartwarming story to get lost in and forget our problems, this story alone holds the resolution to the greatest problem of mankind. In other words, the purpose of Christmas is not to numb, but to make us feel again. Not to escape but to face reality. Not to get lost but to find for ourselves meaning, purpose, life itself.
For at the heart of this story is the essence of the gospel, the ‘good news’ that alone holds the solution to humanity’s problems — and the healing for our own brokenness.
It’s hard to not stop and explain this glorious good news right now. How the baby we celebrate at Christmas was God, come in the flesh, to live the perfect life we could not live and die in our place, so that God the Judge would consider to our account the perfect standard of His Son and place the wrath and judgment we deserved on him in our place.
This advent our goal is to explore this message — so simple yet so abounding with intricacies it will take eternity to fully explore. If you’ve been to a symphony or taken a music class, you’ve probably noticed the greatest classical works (think Beethoven’s Fifth) are typically made up of a theme, then the development of that theme, and eventually, the recapitulation (or revisiting) of that same theme. Far from boring us, the repetition of what’s often a simple theme triggers us to recognize and delight our senses as every aspect of that theme is explored to its fullness.
So it is with the central theme of Christmas: the gospel. Like a symphony, the goal of advent is for us to explore and re-explore every aspect of the simple theme of Christmas — the gospel — until we’ve come to experience the depth of joy and peace it offers us.
For much of my growing up years (and most of my Christian life), I considered the gospel to be important for conversion but something I didn’t really need for my ongoing Christian life. Kind of like the ABCs. You have to learn them, and they build a foundation for reading and writing, but you don’t really think about them after elementary school. I’d heard the gospel from before I could remember, accepted Jesus into my heart, and then moved on to try to grow in my Christian life. It was like I’d accepted the beautifully wrapped Christmas gift and then put it aside to admire the wrapping without ever fully opening it and enjoying it for its intended use.
But that’s not how the gospel works. It’s not merely the starting point for the Christian life, it is the sum and substance of the Christian life.
If the gospel is indeed so essential to fully living into all God has given us, then it is fully worth setting aside this advent season to meditate on it! Without this “development,” this turning over the gospel in our minds, exploring and relishing each aspect, it becomes mundane. Boring. Elementary.
Instead, as we delve into the beauties of the gospel, our hearts will be slowly warmed. As if the stress and busyness of this world has put our hearts into a slumber, and we must be reawakened to see and experience and treasure the beauty of the gift we’ve been given. But slowly, let us rub our eyes and look around, exploring every aspect of this gospel until it becomes sweeter. The more we taste it, the sweeter it becomes. Will you join me?