And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The baby in the feeding trough, surrounded by smelly farm animals and adored by a small crowd including a soft-faced young mother, strong bewildered father, common shepherds and majestic kings makes for a sweet, albeit often overlooked, tableau. If noticed at all, its significance evaporates in clouds of sentimentality. How precious!
Do you not see! The Creator of heaven and earth reduced to a helpless, needy, human infant boy. The Owner and Master of all Creation presented to the world through the birth canal of a young virgin girl. The conception itself made an object of ridicule and shame; conceived outside the “knowledge” of a poor carpenter willing to accept the ridicule of the town’s people, and adopt someone else’s child. The engineer and designer of a finely tuned universe born in a dirty cave allotted to animals rather than a fine palace suitable for the King of the Universe. Rather than a reception by kings, dignitaries, and nobles, the first to greet Him were the low-class, detestable shepherds that kept the sheep for the Temple sacrifices.
This was “God With Us,” Emmanuel. God wrapped up in human flesh. Who could conceive of such a thing! The Jews expected a Messiah to turn Israel into a superpower; but Messiah was a man, not God in the flesh even though Isaiah had predicted, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). “And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel” (Isaiah 8:8).
No religion in the world envisions a god condescending to the level of mankind. The Greek gods occasionally mated with humans to produce demigods, yet they remained aloof from humanity. Islam has a god that demands absolute submission of his creation and even perfection (if that were possible) is subject to rejection according to his whim. Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism picture god as some nebulous ether of which all the universe is made and of which we are all part, and the human must achieve an unknowable level of perfection in order to be joined to that undefinable “oneness.”
Only the Bible – both Old and New Testaments – brings the Creator down to the lowest level of humankind in order to elevate humanity to a place near equal to God Himself. (The created thing can NEVER be equal to its creator.) The thought is incomprehensible. The method seems too extreme. If God is so great – omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc. – could He not come up with a more sensible plan? Surely, some kind of merit system to earn a place at His side would be more appropriate. At least, that is what every other world religion offers. Man must do certain things – pray five times a day while facing Mecca, crawl ten miles over sharp rocks to light a candle for a saint, disassociate oneself from all worldly things, etc. – to appease the gods. However, that is not what the God of the Bible does (or did). He took extreme measures to rescue His fallen creation.
Man severed the intimate bond he had with his Creator at the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6-7). Love is an act of the will. It is always an act of the will. It cannot be imposed. It cannot be coerced. It must be offered and accepted freely and willingly, otherwise it is not love. Therefore, God placed only one stipulation on the man He created. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2:16-17, emphasis mine). The man chose wrongly, and all of mankind, along with the whole of creation, suffered the curse of that choice. God introduced temporary measures to cover for human shortcomings – He shed the blood of innocent animals to cover (atone) their nakedness (Genesis 3:21), He accepted the sacrifice of innocent animals for the sins of man (Genesis 4:4; 8:20-21), and He institutionalized the sacrificial system shedding innocent animal blood to atone for sins (Exodus 12) – but this was insufficient. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Animals, while innocent of any wrongdoing, are not responsible for the fall of man. The sentence for the infraction was death for the guilty party – the man. Therefore, the only reasonable and adequate sacrifice must be that of an innocent man, but there are none. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
What then! God took extreme measures to resolve the problem. God, Himself, put on human flesh. Through an act possible only for the omniscient, omnipotent, Creator God created a single-cell human zygote, in the pure virgin womb of a young Jewish maiden that developed as a normal human embryo. “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Galatians 4:4). God was born like any normal human baby. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8, emphasis mine).
Only the blood of a perfectly sinless, innocent man could suffice to pay the “wages of sin” (Romans 6:23). God took extreme measures to buy back His fallen creation. There was no other way to solve the sin problem. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6, emphasis mine).
The next time you view a nativity scene, look beyond the sweet baby in the manger and see the cross. Two trees still grow in God’s garden, the Tree of Life, i.e. the Cross of Christ, and the worldly tree of man’s perverted “knowledge of good and evil.” One tree gives eternal life, the other eternal death, i.e. eternal separation from the Creator. The choice is yours.