The story of birth in a Bethlehem stable holds for many of us the transformational news that God has become one of us. John spoke of this moment as the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. The great wonder of this incarnational act is that the Creator entered this world not because the Creation clamored for deliverance, but because that creation was basically at war with its Creator. If one considers sin an act of war against God, one cannot help but wonder why God acted as God did through the incarnation of Christ. Certainly it would have made sense to find the Creator acting in retribution, punishing a sinful, rebellious creation, and yet, the Bethlehem story paints with broad strokes a very different picture.
John tells us that love motivated this story of incarnation; “for God so loved the world that He gave…”
Paul echoes this theme of God’s uncommon love and humankind`s persistence in sin as he writes in Romans 5:6-8, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (TNIV) This is what sets the Bethlehem story apart from any other birth…well, that and birth announcements delivered by an angelic choir, a caravan of itinerant Magi, and a virginal birth mother just to name a few. The baby Jesus was born into a world of anger, frustration, abuse, and despair. While many descendants of Israel were awaiting the coming of the Messiah, few, if any would have looked to the humble birthplace of this baby nor expected him to later walk among them, calling them to repentance and a new way of living. The Christ did not come in human form, you see, to fulfill human expectation, but to fulfill a heavenly plan the likes of which no human mind could comprehend… “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Our world still struggles to understand this incarnation of God. Sin continues to wage war against the Creator, seen in places where integrity seems overcome by expediency, generosity by greed, peace by the violence of war, and innocence by the senseless devaluation of every life. From Wall Street to D.C., Afghanistan to North Korea, Columbine to Newtown, Connecticut, evidence of this struggle is played out again and again. And yet, Paul writes, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This is the good news of Bethlehem…love overcomes sin, light overcomes darkness, and life overcomes death.
The war still may seem to be waged all around us, and yet, according to scripture, the victory has already been won. Bethlehem has ensured that. And so, with Paul, we can say with hope and great expectation, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Dr. Jim Abernathy