|In 2006 BT (Before Twilight), director Catherine Hardwicke gave moviegoers The Nativity Story, a reverent feature that attempted to breathe new life into historical figures involved in the first Christmas. Mary. Joseph. The three kings from the East. Along with screenwriter Mike Rich, Hardwicke strove to depict them as flesh-and-blood people grappling with real fears and faith—not porcelain saints nestled in a crèche. |
Nevertheless, one of my favorite Christmas traditions is setting out a manger scene that has been in our family for generations. My niece is always eager to come and help arrange the figures, carefully studying the placement of every angel and shepherd, frequently stepping back to evaluate her work. This ritual never fails to prompt questions. "Did the baby Jesus get cold in the manger?" she will ask. "Did Mary and Joseph have a blanket to cover Him, or were the swaddling clothes warm enough?" But one Christmas my niece asked her most profound question yet: "Uncle Alex, why did Jesus come?"
"That's a great question," I said, "a really great question." When we pause to think about the reasons why Jesus came, Christmas becomes all the more meaningful. And while I was impressed with The Nativity Story's attempt to do justice to the historical account (Hardwicke told Plugged In, "We tried to make it as close to the Gospels as possible"), no Hollywood narrative could possibly tell the whole story. So allow me to flesh it out a bit:
Fulfilling prophecy and changing history.
The Messiah's coming had been promised by God through the Jewish Scriptures, and was a hope cherished by humanity for centuries. In fact, the first chapter of Matthew includes a lengthy list of Jesus' ancestors, validating His miraculous, messianic pedigree as "Son of David." Jesus taught that His life was the theme and fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures (Luke 24:27; John 5:39), while 1 Corinthians 10:11 calls the life, death and resurrection of Christ "the fulfillment of the ages."
Displaying the person of God.
A man was asked by Jesus, "Do you believe on the Son of God?" The man answered as millions might today, "Who is he, Lord that I might believe on him?" Jesus said to the man, "You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you" (John 9: 35-37). The man then offered Him a gesture reserved for God alone. He worshipped Jesus, and Jesus received the worship. Christ also assured us, "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).
Paying for our sin.
Jesus was born to die. He was designated to be the perfect sacrificial Lamb who would go to the altar for all of humanity. In 1 Peter 1:19 it says Jesus was "a lamb without blemish or defect." Jesus came to atone and pay for my sin and yours (see also Isaiah 53:7, John 1:29 and Revelation 5:6).
Giving us victory over death.
Way back in the garden, God had warned Adam and Eve that their disobedience would yield a bitter outcome: mortality (Genesis 2:16). The fruit of sin—death—is seen in Scripture, throughout history and in your morning newspaper. But Jesus came to give life and destroy death (John 10:10; Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 26). Jesus alone could conquer sin and its results.
It's no wonder Satan worked through human operatives in a futile ploy to destroy the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18). At least to some degree, the fallen angel knew that Jesus' birth signaled his ultimate destruction. As 1 John 3:8 says, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." And He'll finish the job at the second coming.
Christmas is about an individual and an event: Jesus Christ and His entrance into history. Scripture teaches that the manger held not just another baby, but God clothed in human flesh—Immanuel, "God with us." The Messiah entered actual time and space to resolve a real condition. The condition is sin. And the remedy is found in the One whom Scripture calls "Savior."
My young niece now knows that Jesus came for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was to show love to you and me. By humbly entering this world that night in Bethlehem, God thoroughly identified with humanity, and continued to do so as our sinless Savior endured greater temptations, agonies and challenges than any of us will ever face (Heb. 4:14-16). Much of the world now opts to celebrate an undefined observance called "the holidays." But Christians celebrate Christ—a divine person born for a holy purpose.
Alex McFarland is Plugged In's teen apologetics expert. For more on his ministry and speaking schedule, visit alexmcfarland.com.
Published December 2010
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