The Good News of Christmas

I was reading the Christmas story in Luke last night in the New American Standard Bible translation, and came across verse 14, one of the most quoted verses at Christmas. But when I read, “And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased,” it seemed wrong theologically.

I was reading it as saying God was pleased with men on earth, which was obviously incorrect. If God was pleased with man on earth, there would be no need for the Christmas story at all. Jesus’ birth was a foreshadowing of His death, which was necessary because man was enslaved to sin and in active rebellion against God.

So, I immediately went to the commentaries and different translations, and I discovered that while the New American Standard Bible was the more literal translation, what the angels were actually saying is there will be peace amongst those on whom His favor rests. Now, this does not sound as good on Christmas cards, but Truth isn’t determined by its marketability.

Think about it though, angels appear to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, and the angels are excited because they know the plan, they can see down the road where all this headed, and in their excited utterance of praise, they say two things. First, they praise God for what He is doing through the incarnation, and rightly so. And second, when they turn to man, they don’t mention salvation, and they don’t mention eternal life; they mention peace. They were excited because there could now be peace on earth among those who were favored by God to be redeemed through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Part of the role of an angel is to comfort and protect those on earth. See Luke 22:43; Psalm 91:11; Daniel 6:22. So many people suffer from anxiety, fear, depression, and despair. Also, so much of the harm that comes to people on earth is the result of interpersonal conflict. I can only imagine what the work of angels was like in a world where none were redeemed or even partially sanctified.

But with the incarnation, once people were born-again, they would enjoy an inner peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit and set out on the path of sanctification, taking on God’s character. The more they became like Jesus, the more peace they would enjoy internally and in their relationships, which meant the less angels would have to do to comforting and protecting man.

What God did at Christmas then, not only benefited man, it benefited the angels as well, and it was reason not only for us, but for them to say as well, “Glory to God in the highest!”

Merry Christmas. GS

The Sovereignty of God in the Christmas Story

“Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth…And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.” Luke 1:1,3.

Caesar Augustus was the most powerful man in the world at the time of the events we will celebrate tomorrow. He ruled the known world, was beholden to no man, and was a pagan who would later be deified by his people upon his death in 14 A.D. I’m confident he was not a man who spent time in prayer seeking the will of the God of Israel.

Yet, by the sovereignty of God, Augustus issued a decree that a census be taken that required Joseph and Mary return to their home town, ensuring Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, in accordance with the prophecy in Micah 5:2 (“. . . Bethlehem . . . though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel…”).

That Luke notes Caesar August issued this decree has special significance for us this Christmas, a Christmas in which many are unable or, not unreasonably, unwilling to travel to be with loved ones because of the rapid spread of the COVID variant, Omicron, at a time when it seems to many there is no end in sight of the pandemic that has killed over 800,000 in the U.S. and many millions more around the world.

But God’s sovereignty is not diminished by our circumstances; to the contrary, it is difficult circumstances that give rise to the need for His sovereignty. So, this Christmas, rather than looking eagerly for the end of the pandemic, let’s look expectantly for the exercise of His sovereignty, which is in keeping with the best tradition of the Christmas spirit. GS

What You Missed By Not Reading A Christmas Carol

The Wife and I have been watching a different Christmas movie each evening in the run-up to Christmas.

In the midst of a party-less pandemic, it is the next best thing.

We started the first night with A Christmas Carol (the George C. Scott version), followed by How the Grinch Stole Christmas, then the next night, my favorite, The Bishop’s Wife.

Then last night we watched a movie neither of us had ever seen, The Man Who Invented Christmas, a loose biopic on Charles Dickens’s writing of A Christmas Carol. The movie is as much fiction as fact, but it led me to a realization: I had never actually read the story Dickens wrote. I had seen several versions of the movie, and my wife and I go every year to the local theatre to see the play, but I had never read the actual words Dickens wrote.

After the movie, I went to my study to do some writing, and while there I noticed one of the temperamental track lights on the mezzanine in our library had flickered off again, so I scurried up the spiral staircase to tinker with it. My tinkering brought light, and when I looked down on the bookshelf where the light shone I noticed on top of a row of vertically stacked books a thin leather-bound book, with gold embossed pages, and gilded lettering on the cover:

A Christmas Carol 

Charles Dickens

I then remembered the book was a gift from my wife, but I had not yet read it.

Continue reading “What You Missed By Not Reading A Christmas Carol”

The Meaning of the Manger

One of the most common tools of filmmakers used to convey the message of the movie is the symbol.

In Sam Mendes’s American Beauty, the first scene shows the two main characters behind a picket fence and mullion windows to convey that these two feel trapped in their marriage.

In Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors the protagonist who secretly commits adultery and murder and realizes there will be no earthly punishment for sin is an ophthalmologist. He helps us see, you see.

What filmmakers do with fantasy and script, God does with reality and history, and God did with the birth of Jesus.

“And she gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was not room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7. Jesus was not born in a hotel room; a hotel room is too small and bounded. Jesus was born outside, where walls do not hide or inhibit.

Continue reading “The Meaning of the Manger”

The Kingdom in the Christmas Story

This is, first and foremost, a blog about the kingdom of God.

This blog is rooted in the firm belief the word “Kingdom” is not merely a contentless adjective for Christians to use to sound more spiritual in their religious conversations but is in fact an administration with territory, earthly and spiritual, with people, including citizens and enemies, with a purpose, along with a rival kingdom opposing that purpose, and most importantly, with  a King.

I was reading the Christmas story in the first chapter of Luke yesterday and saw something I’m sure I had seen before but had not fully registered. When Gabriel spoke to Mary and described for the first time the child she would give birth to and His purpose, he said this, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Luke 1:32-33. Continue reading “The Kingdom in the Christmas Story”