It is that time of the year when Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians turn to the first chapters of the Gospel narratives to remind themselves of the birth of Christ. Churches have advent sermons focusing on the marvel of the incarnation. Special services are often held on the twenty-fifth December to celebrate the birth of the Saviour. An air of festivity revolving around the coming of Christ usually grips the hearts of most Christians during this season. This focus on Christ and his birth is good. However, we should not focus on Christ’s birth in isolation from other aspects of His person and work. To do so would result in a myopic view of Christ. So, in order to enrich your meditation on the birth of Christ during this season, I suggest that you worship the whole Christ during this season. Here are a few ways in which that can be done.
Focus Not Only on the Birth of Christ, But on the Incarnation
I distinguish between focusing on the birth of Jesus Christ and his incarnation. During this season, Christians usually tend to focus on events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ, such as the proclamation by angel Gabriel to Mary, the birth of Jesus Christ in the manger, the visit of the shepherds, the visit of the three wise men from the East and various other truths recorded in the first chapters of the Gospels.
While this focus is very beneficial, it would also be equally beneficial to focus on the miracle of the incarnation. Incarnation is the act by which the very God of very God – Jesus Christ – added a human nature to his divine nature and yet did not change. He united two natures in one person and so was and continues to remain this way forever. Isn’t that a stupendous truth? How can God become human like us? How can the Eternal Unchangeable One assume the nature of a finite changing creature? It is this truth which the Apostle John teases out in the first chapter of his Gospel when he presents Jesus Christ as the Eternal Word and then proclaims, “The Word became flesh” (Jn. 1:14). The verse is more pregnant with meaning than sometimes we acknowledge.
Hence it is a very good idea during this season to concentrate on the theology of the incarnation. You could begin by meditating on John 1. You could turn to the Chalcedonian Creed which sets forth the orthodox doctrine of the one-person and two-natures of Christ. You could read a book on the doctrine of Christ such as the Meditations on the Glory of Christ by John Owen.
Learn to meditate deeply on Christ by focusing on his incarnation.
Focus Not Only on the Birth of Christ, But on His Death
Focusing on the birth of Christ is good. But, we must not divorce the birth of Christ from his death and resurrection, and indeed from his ascension, session (his sitting at the right hand of the Father), and his eventual return. We must understand that Jesus’ birth was part of the whole package. We cannot parcel out the package and taste only a slice. We must feast on the whole Christ.
To feast on the whole Christ necessitates that we connect the birth of Christ to other aspects of Christ’s life. The Westminster Shorter Catechism is so helpful in this regard. In question 27, it is asked, “Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?” And the answer:
Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.
Notice that the Catechism considers the birth of Christ as part of his humiliation. We usually think of Christ’s birth as a glorious event – an event to be celebrated. While that is true from our point of view, it is also equally true that Jesus Christ was undergoing humiliation by being born in a sinful world. He who was praised by his holy angels from all eternity had to enter into a world, which far from praising him would hurl upon him insults upon insults. Christ’s birth was merely the beginning of his humiliation. His humiliation was to reach its lowest point in him being crucified by sinful men.
When we see Christ’s birth as part of his humiliation, we cannot but think of Christ’s gruesome death. Hence this season which is called “Christmas” can never be separated from the season called “Good Friday” and “Easter”. For this reason, it is good not to be too taken up by this season, but to focus on the whole Christ week after week on the Lord’s Day.
Focus Not Only on the Birth of Christ, But on His Resurrection
And finally, no meditation on Christ is complete without meditating on his resurrection. Jesus Christ’s birth, suffering, and death would have been useless if he was not declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). Today, Jesus is no longer a babe in a manger, but the King in power. He has ascended to the right hand of the Father and is ruling and reigning over all nations until all his enemies are put under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25).
Jesus himself connected his birth with his resurrection. We read in John 18:37, Pilate therefore said to him, “Are you a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (Emphasis mine).
Jesus was born so that he might declare himself to be the King one day. We no longer worship an “infant Jesus,” but the King of kings and the Lord of lords. May our meditation of Christ’s birth (an aspect of his humiliation) always lead us to a meditation on his resurrection and ascension (aspects of his exaltation). And may we await his return eagerly.
Let me conclude with a confession. The church where I serve does not observe Christmas. Neither do I personally. However, I have no qualms if others choose to meditate on the birth of Christ during this season. Focused meditation on certain aspects of Christ’s person and work is good and necessary. These meditations should not be confined to certain times of the year alone. They should be meditated upon very often especially on the Lord’s Day and during other seasons of our life as well. May God give us grace.
Venkatesh Gopalakrishnan serves as the pastor of Anugraha Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bengaluru, Karnataka. He is married to Sarmishta and they have a son.