Accepting Our Condition
The baby in the manger came to tell us the worst news ever, because until we accept the worst news ever, we’ll never want the best news ever.
The birth of Jesus was bad news. It wasn’t just your typical piece of bad news; it was the worst news ever. Maybe you’re thinking right now, “Paul, what in the world are you talking about? How could there be any better news than the coming of the Messiah to earth?” Well, you need to understand that there are two parts of the Christmas story, and you need both parts to make proper sense out of the whole story. The part of the story that tends to get the big billing (and it should) is the amazing, miraculous narrative of God putting on human flesh and coming to earth in the form of a baby. How amazing it is to think that God lay in that manger. God was suckled by Mary. God grew up in Mary and Joseph’s house. God walked the dusty streets of Palestine. God endured hunger, rejection, physical pain, injustice, and yes, even death. Remember, the miracle of Jesus’s birth is that he was fully God and fully man. God gave himself to us in outrageous redemptive love. God exposed himself to what we all face in this terribly broken and dysfunctional world. This story is so amazing, so beyond our normal categories for making sense of things, and so beautiful that it is hard to wrap the thoughts of your brain and the emotions of your heart around it. God has come to earth. Could there ever be better news than this? God has to invade our world in the person of Jesus because there was simply no other way.
The Good News
But there is a second part of the story that makes God’s shocking work of intervention make sense. Why would God do such a thing? What would motivate him to go to such an unthinkable extent? Whenever you see people do the unexpected or the unusual, it is natural to ask yourself why they thought that their radical action was necessary. This is where the Christmas story is the worst news ever. I’m going to ask you to humbly open your heart to this second part, the bad news part of the Christmas story. God has to invade our world in the person of Jesus because there was simply no other way. And why was there no other way? Prepare for the bad news. There was no other way because our big problem in life is not familial or historical or societal or political or relational or ecclesiastical or financial. The biggest, darkest thing that all of us have to face, and that somehow, someway influences everything we think, say, and do, isn’t outside us; it’s inside. If you had none of the above problems in your life, you would still be in grave danger, because of the danger you are to yourself. If the only thing human beings needed were a little external tweaking of their life circumstances, then the coming of Jesus to earth wouldn’t make any sense. But if the greatest danger to all of us lives inside us and not outside us, then the radical intervention of the incarnation of Jesus is our only hope.
Sure, you can run from a bad relationship, you can quit a bad job, you can move from a dangerous neighborhood, and you can leave a dysfunctional church, but you have no ability whatsoever to escape yourself. You and I simply have no ability to rescue ourselves from the greatest danger in our lives. This means that without the birth of Jesus, we are doomed to be destroyed by the danger that lurks inside us from the moment of our first breath.
The Joy of Christmas
You don’t need to look far in the Bible to know what this danger is. Its stain is on every page of Scripture. Romans 3:23 exposes this danger with a few simple words: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sin is the bad news of the Christmas story. Jesus didn’t come to earth to do a preaching tour or to hang out with us for a while; he came on a radical mission of moral rescue. He came to rescue us because he knew that we couldn’t rescue ourselves. He knew that sin separates us from God and leaves us guilty before him. He knew that sin makes us active enemies against God, and what he says is good, right, and true. He knew that sin blinds us to the gravity of our condition and our dire need for help. He knew that sin causes us to replace worship of God with an unending catalog of created things that capture the deepest allegiances of our hearts. He knew that sin renders all of us unable to live as we were designed to live. And he knew that sin was the final terminal disease that, without help, would kill us all.
But the Christmas story tells us something more. It tells us that Jesus knew that even if we were aware of the great danger within us, in our own wisdom and strength we could not help ourselves. To every human being, sin is the ultimate undefeatable enemy. It captures and controls us all, and there is nothing we can do. It is either the height of arrogance or the depth of delusion to think that you are okay. None of us is okay apart from the invasion of grace that is the core purpose for the coming of Jesus.
Now, if you’re like me, you have trouble believing this bad news. When you do something wrong, you probably try to blame it on stress or sickness, a bad boss, a troublesome spouse, a nerve-racking child, or just the generic pressures of life. When others come to you to point out a wrong, your initial response is probably not to be thankful. If you’re like me, you jump to your own defense, because it’s hard to believe that you’re the sinner that they’re describing.
So I want to encourage you today in a fresh way to accept the bad news of the Christmas story because, if you do, the good news becomes all the more comforting and glorious. The Christmas story tells you that you have been freed forever from denying or minimizing the danger that lives inside you because Jesus came to rescue you, forgive you, transform you, and ultimately to deliver you. That baby in the manger carried with him to earth everything that sinners need. It’s only when you admit the need that you will be able to fully celebrate the solution that is Jesus.