On the calendar of Christ’s Church, the season of Advent follows Thanksgiving and precedes Christmas. Many people think of the Advent season as the beginning of Christmas, but Advent is actually the four weeks preceding Christmas. Advent is preparatory, anticipatory, the season that prepares us for our annual celebration of the birth of the Christ Child. The Christmas season begins December 25th, which is not the actual day or date of the birth of Jesus, but the day on the church’s calendar that has been set aside to rejoice his birth. “In the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), according to God’s own perfect timing, not “calendar time”, not the kind of time we can measure or predict, but at the time predetermined by God from his eternal perspective, the pre-existent Christ, the unique and solitary “Son of God” (John 3:16), became the “Son of Man”. The One who was both fully man and fully God, the One in whom all “the fullness of God dwelt bodily” (the God-man; from the time of his birth, and forever the same — Colossians 2:9, and Hebrews 13:8; the unchanging Christ) emptied himself. He took the form of a servant (the extreme limit of self denial), he became the Suffering Servant (translated from the Greek word “doulos”, or more literally “a slave”) — it is the greatest of all miracles!
This is what we celebrate during the Advent season, and continue celebrating during the Christmas season. The word “advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus,” which means arrival. J.B. Phillips called Earth “the visited planet.” Yes, God visited this planet, of all the planets in God’s whole order of creation. I have been fascinated with the thought of space travel since I was a teenager, and when man set foot on the moon for the first time, I was thrilled by the telecasts. I look forward to future reports about the possibility of visiting Mars and revisiting the moon. However, I hope I never become so “moonstruck,” or so excited about future space exploration, that I forget that it was on this planet, the planet that is our home, that the baby was born. It was on this planet that our Lord walked and taught. It was on this planet that he grew to manhood, suffered and died on a cross for our salvation. It was from a hole (a tomb) on this planet that he was raised from the dead that we might have everlasting life, and know that “nothing in life or in death will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:17-19). It was from a mountain on this planet that he ascended into heaven. And it is to this planet that he will return in power and glory to consummate his reign as “Lord of heaven and earth,” the very “same Jesus” (Acts 1:10-11 — not some other Jesus, not some other Christ, not some other Messiah, but the same Jesus) — and then, it will be on this “visited planet” that “every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
We do not know how many planets there are. We do not know how many galaxies there are. We do not know how many universes there are. Scientists tell us that there are other universes, and I cannot wrap my mind around that scientific conclusion. Most people believe scientists when they tell us that space has no beginning and no ending, and yet many of the same people will say they have difficulty believing what the Bible tells us, that God is an eternal being, with no beginning and no end, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, who actually visited us on this planet as one of us, sharing our humanity — that the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith are one and the same, the One who was “…in the beginning with God” the Word that “…was God” (John 1:1); the Word is a person, the person of God in human form, sharing our emotions, our temptations, and doing the works of God — God in action, creating, redeeming, healing, delivering, re-creating — and reaching out to us (Psalm 107:20).
Christ Jesus, the Living Word, “dwelt among us full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) — teaching us, correcting us, so we could know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, calling us to follow him. But Jesus was more than the voice of God calling out to us. He was the mind of God thinking out to us, the heart of God throbbing out to us, the very person of God clothed in the garment of human flesh, experiencing our human feelings and limitations as God in human form. He was not acting (pretending to be a real man living in this physical and material world), and yet never ceased to be “fully God” as well as “fully human.” In his incarnation as a human, he could only be in one place at one time. He could not go long without water; Jesus experienced thirst. He shared our sorrows; Jesus wept. He grew tired and needed rest. He shared our temptations, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15-16, 7:26-27). He suffered rejection, betrayal, loneliness, hostility. He endured it all as God in human form — and he did it for us, that we might experience God’s strength in our weakness, God’s presence in our loneliness, God’s comfort in our sorrows — that we might experience God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance (Hebrews 2:10, 17-18), finally taking our sins upon himself, as the spotless “Lamb of God”, that he might “take our sins away” (John 1:29) — something only God could do!
This is a great mystery, the most extraordinary happening since the creation of the heavens and the earth. Greater than the Exodus. The most amazing of all the mighty acts of God recorded in biblical history— when the One who was the agent of God in creation, the Cosmic Christ, the One by whom all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible (John 1:14) was made flesh.
What an amazing juxtaposition of the divine and the human. Martin Buber called this “an amazing astonishment,” G.K. Chesterton called this “that incredible interruption” — (when referring to Jesus himself, Chesterton calls him “the one enormous exception”) — GOD IN HUMAN FORM. This is the message Christmas brings, a “down to earth” message: the God we believe in as Christians is a down to earth God — not a god who is far above and beyond us, a god who is hard to find, but God in human form who came to earth, to find us.