Why Did Christmas Have to Happen?–Part 1

Johannes Pflaum

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). 

The days of Advent and Christmas have a special appeal. The ambient lights, especially in the middle of the darkest season, can warm your heart. And when you add snow, the atmosphere becomes even more beautiful. If it snows in the weeks around the holiday, we can see wonderful winter landscapes that make us marvel at the beauty of God’s creation.

Of course, Christmastime isn’t the only time that special places and events appeal to us; consider the mountains, or the seaside in the summer. Even on the plains, spring or autumn has a unique beauty. That’s why people travel to desirable places at different times of the year. People are willing to pay to spend their holidays someplace special if possible, and sometimes we secretly wish that we could live there year-round. There are so many attractive and pleasant places on earth. And for many people, their own home is one of those special and endearing places.

In John 3:16, we find the familiar passage about God’s vast love for the world. When we consider the earth and its many beautiful places, it’s easy to assume that God would obviously love it. Whether it’s a fairytale snow-covered mountain range in winter, or a breathtaking sunset at the beach, we love it too. After all, this world is God’s creation that He made. Doesn’t He have every reason to love it, just as a master carpenter loves his masterpiece? Yet if we’re thinking along these lines, we’re missing the true essence of the Christmas event.

If we consider this verse carefully, it becomes clear that God’s incredible love for the world is anything but inevitable. The love that John 3:16 is speaking of isn’t related to magnificent landscapes, or to any of the inventions or achievements that humans take pride in. Rather, it is an incredible miracle, a love so immense that we neither understand nor deserve it. Just why did Christmas have to happen? For the salvation of the world. I’d like to examine this subject using three Christmas miracles.

The First Christmas Miracle: God Loves the World
To recognize the miracle, let’s first ask ourselves what the Bible means by “world” in this context. The Greek word kosmos is actually used in some places to mean the beauty of creation. The word “cosmetics” comes from this root. “World” can therefore refer to creation in its God-given and -ordered beauty. (Think again about certain places that you particularly love, such as a dreamlike winter landscape.) When “world” is used in this context, the transience of the fallen creation also resonates along with it, rightly filling us with nostalgia. 

However, the Gospel of John also uses the term “world” with a different focus, one that doesn’t refer to beautiful landscapes or fascinating natural ambiance. In these cases, “world” means humanity as a whole, and thus each individual human being: the true state of mankind from God’s perspective. And it is anything but good, despite the beautiful mountain ranges and sunsets. It is the opposite of good and orderly. Humanity is in a catastrophic state from the divine perspective.

In our part of the world, Christmas falls during the darkest part of the year. This makes us love the corresponding romantic meaning all the more. But this darkness can also be very depressing. In the Bible, the prophet Isaiah describes our human condition this way: “For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people” (Isa 60:2a). This isn’t a visual of how a storm can cause momentary darkness. Rather, this spiritual darkness pervades human history through the millennia. Great inventions or outward prosperity cannot hide it. This catastrophic state began with the great catastrophe that befell the first two humans, Adam and Eve. And it was no random event or supposed act of nature, that humans were powerless to oppose. It was caused and triggered by us humans.

The Bible calls this catastrophe the Fall: secession from God, inextricably linked with rebellion against Him. Adam and Eve believed Satan’s lie that they could be like God, knowing good and evil independently of Him. In doing so, they not only plunged humanity into ruin, but also all of creation as well.

The Bible tells us that death entered the world through sin. All of creation has been subject to mortality since the Fall. We see this in the plant world, the animals, all the way up to humans. And it’s more than just a physical death; we are alienated from the life of God. As Paul explains, man is separated from God and dead in sin (Eph 2:1ff.). Even if you feel great, are enjoying the best of health, or are successful in all you do, it doesn’t change this fact. To be dead in sin means a life apart from God. It will end in God’s judgment, eternally separated from Him.

We humans are unfit for fellowship with God due to the Fall. Since that catastrophe, human history has been one long saga of humanity asserting himself against the living God. This can manifest itself in different ways. One way this happens is mankind openly rebels against God and His will: “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (Ps 2:3). Man wants to throw off the Lord, His will, and His commandments.

On the flip side of the coin, humanity rejects God’s incorruptible judgment by trying to prove how good and noble he is; perhaps even by living a religious, outwardly Christian lifestyle. But the Apostle Paul says: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Rom 2:1).

This is reality as God sees it. Even outwardly good actions won’t change the heart’s evil thoughts, whether those actions are motivated by hatred and jealousy, or arrogance and pride. Either way, the rebellion against God is always the same.

“For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people.” This is the sad reality of human history through the millennia. Looking back, the history of humanity is one of pride, selfishness, and arrogance. It is a tale of conflict, war, blood and tears, full of collapses and setbacks. All the markers of external progress and prosperity can’t change that. And when man thinks he can gain freedom by rebelling against God and His will, he destroys himself. An example: 100 years ago, English ethnologist J. D. Unwin used examples from history to show that free and limitless sexual expression, ultimately led to the decline of advanced civilizations.

Eleonore Fürstin von Reuss expressed what a life far from God is like in her song, “I Went Through the World”:

I’ve watched the people,
They search morning and night,
They labor, they come and go,
And their life is work and toil!
They’re seeking what can’t be found 
In love and honor and happiness,
And they return,
Burdened by sin and unsatisfied.

Since the catastrophic Fall of man, he has continually tried to rid himself of God. Human history has in large part been, not only a story of our flight from God, but also of rebellion against Him. We don’t want to see ourselves as God does. We don’t want to agree with His incorruptible verdict. Our lost condition is so profound, that even God’s judgment doesn’t bring about repentance.

The very first pages of the Bible make this clear. Even when mankind was in its infancy, it was so full of iniquity that God sent the great Flood as judgment. Only eight people were saved in the Ark. You’d think that mankind would have caught on. But what was the result? Renewed rebellion against God in the Tower of Babel. Humanity wanted to create paradise on earth himself, without God. And once again, God had to intervene.

It wasn’t any different after two catastrophic world wars. Despite catchy slogans like, “We can do it!” and, “The sky’s the limit!” anything we think we can achieve without or against the living God, will only lead to the next catastrophe eventually. God’s verdict is upon all of it: “For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people.”

History concretely shows that mankind learns nothing from his past. The Gospel of John summarizes the whole tragedy in a way that could also apply to individual lives: “And men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19b).

This is the world, humanity, as God sees it. Not dreamy winter landscapes, sentimental Christmas traditions, or vivid sunsets. He sees a world that turns its back on its Creator, that flees from Him, that doesn’t want to know anything about Him. The humanity that rebels against Him in repeated surges, like wave after wave pounding the shore of a stormy sea. This gives just a glimpse of the miracle that is God’s love for the world. He doesn’t love a humanity that obeys Him or wants Him. To the contrary: God so loved separated-from-Him humanity … We could also say that God so loved repeatedly-rebelling-against-Him humanity.

He loved you and me that much, even when we were utterly indifferent to Him and brushed Him off. Your rebellion and resistance, and mine, can’t change anything about His love. And that brings us to the second miracle of Christmas: God gives His Son!

The Second Christmas Miracle: God Gives His Son
Many people confuse love with specific feelings or a certain emotional state. When the feelings evaporate, love is gone as well. There’s no question that love involves feelings. But it’s about much more than that.

What this world and humanity deserves for his detachment from God, is His just judgment. But when we look at John 3:16’s second Christmas miracle, God’s incomprehensible love becomes clear: He gave His only begotten Son. He sent Him “into the world” (v. 17). This giving includes the broader aspect of sending, although the two are inseparable. First, let’s delve into the sending.

The heart of the Christmas event is the sending of the Son. That’s when God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world. Jesus Christ appeared on earth as a small, helpless infant. He entered a humanity that hadn’t been expecting or pleading for Him, but instead turned their backs on Him and treated Him with hostility, thereby rejecting God.

“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:10-11).

Two aspects resonate from “world.” The first is creation as a whole. It was made by Him (that is, by Jesus; cf. Col 1:15-17). God brought all of creation into existence through Him. Everything exists through Him. We are now, for example, able to describe certain natural laws (such as the gravitational forces that keep the planets and other celestial bodies in motion), but we don’t know where they come from or why they work. The Bible says that all of this is only in Christ, through Christ, and to Christ. All of creation is His property. And fallen man and Satan try to challenge His supremacy over it.

On the other hand, “world” also means a mankind that has been detached from God. God created man as the crown of creation, in His own image. But, as already mentioned, mankind has turned his back on God since the Fall. This means that Christmas is about God’s Son being sent to a humanity that is hostile to Him.

When He sent His only begotten Son, God the Father wasn’t nurturing any false expectations that were disappointed in the end, as we sometimes do. He knew that His property—mankind—would overwhelmingly reject and eventually kill His Son. And yet He sent Him anyway. Even back when Jesus was on earth, this sentiment was expressed in the cry, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14b).

That hasn’t changed to this day. People want to decide for themselves what they think is right and follow their own gut feelings. Whether spirituality, religiosity, agnosticism, or atheism, everything is simply a tool for self-determination. And when terrible catastrophes recur, disasters that humanity himself has caused, then mankind screams out against God and accuses Him. We fail to see that all of this is just a result of our separation from and rebellion against God. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”

Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, was ready to walk this path out of God’s glory and into our godless world. He knew what awaited Him. As the true God, He had every divine privilege with His Father. And yet He wanted to become human, to leave behind all of His divine privileges and enter a humanity that was dark, rejecting, and opposed to God. His only concern was honoring His heavenly Father. He did this out of love for those who were hostile to Him.

Midnight Call - 12/2022

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