The Saviour, who is Christ, the Lord

Bible believers have mixed feelings about Christmas. On the one hand, we relish any opportunity to rejoice in the reminder of the advent of our Lord Jesus and to bring his story into the public arena. Christmas and Easter are arguably the best opportunities to invite people to come to church and hear the gospel. The nativity accounts are precious, and whether or not we agree with the validity of December 25th, it’s a great opportunity to share them with our family and friends. It’s also a chance to expand the common fellowship of our families to embrace others, to ensure that we are inclusive and caring and generous to the lonely and the poor among us. But Bible believers also have reservations. We see the materialism and greed, the excuse for consumption, the questionable behaviour at office parties and other break-ups. We see the man in the red suit dispensing trinkets, displacing the Man in the red-stained robe, mocked and bleeding, dispensing life.

If we want to be technical, we could point out all the ways the Christmas message has been distorted, even as it has been sincerely portrayed. Christ was probably not born in the depths of winter, given the flocks on the hillside overnight. The stable was almost certainly not a separate building but part of the house set aside for the animals. Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem to be with family, so they would not have been alone in a barn with the animals, but in an overcrowded family home. The wise men from the east (however many of them there were) weren’t contemporaneous with the shepherds, but probably arrived some months later when the family was living in a house and Jesus was a young child (Matt 2:11). And it’s only an assumption (although a perfectly reasonable one) that Mary rode on a donkey. Are these reasons to reject the popular portrayal of Christmas, with it’s decidedly Anglo-European flavour? I suggest that apart from those who reject Christmas altogether (as if such legalism wold be attractive to non-Christians!) most Christians are content with the idea that what matters is that “in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed,” and in that we rejoice (Phil 1:18). To whatever extent a Christian decides to embrace the season of Christmas, it is surely a matter of conscience.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honour of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honour of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honour of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14: 4–8).

The Gospel of the Lord tells us that we are not saved by what we do or don’t do, but by his grace, through faith in him. we are not our own, we are bought with a price (Eph 2:8–10;1 Cor 6:20). Whatever our decision about Christmas, the honouring of the Lord should be uppermost. We must each make a decision about the face of Christianity that we present to our family, our friends, our neighbours and how they will perceive Christ through us. If their impression of Christians is of dour, negative legalists who suck all joy out of a season that is “meant” to celebrate their Saviour, perhaps we aren’t abstaining “in honour of the Lord” (1 Cor 9:20–23; 10:30–33) Conversely, if their impression is that we are no different from everyone else in how we appear to celebrate the season, in our eating and drinking and spending, if we are not proclaiming the Lord then perhaps we do not observe the day to the honour of the Lord (Ezek 16:49; Luke 14:12–14; 17:26–30).

The baby at the centre of Christmas is the Saviour, Christ the Lord. He was worshiped (Heb 1:6; Matt 1:11). As the lovely carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful, proclaims (except in the Christadelphian hymnbook, which omits this significant scriptural quote because of its implications) “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing” (John 1:1–2, 14). The birth of Jesus was significant,  not only because of who Jesus grew up to be and what he came to do. It goes far beyond the recognition of the birthday of a monarch or other great person. The birth of Christ signifies that the Word, who was with God and who was God for all eternity, became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the import, not only of John’s message in his prologue, but of Luke’s account as well. The angel Gabriel told Mary Who her child would be.

’He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God’” (Luke 1:32–35)

The conception of Jesus was unique. The Son who was with the Father laid aside his glory, humbled himself in taking on flesh, becoming fully human (Phil 2:5–8; Matt 20:28). We don’t need to grapple with how the Holy Spirit accomplished this, but we know with certainty that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us. (1 John 1:1–2) and God was manifest (appeared) in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16).

The God of the universe, eternal Creator, Lord and Saviour became flesh for us, because sin for us who knew no sin (2 Cor 5:21). He came in flesh, in the “likeness” of sinful flesh — for he never actually sinned — to redeem us (Rom 8:3). He took our sins and put them to death on the cross, even as he put sin to death in his life, every day from the moment of his birth (Isa 53:5–6). For one of the greatest testimonies that Jesus was not merely a man who had special divine help to overcome temptation, but was himself divine, is what happened next. Or rather, what didn’t happen next. We know very little about the infancy, childhood and adolescence of Jesus. One thing we can be sure of was that this toddler, this school-age child, this adolescent, this young adult never sinned, even as he was still growing, maturing in wisdom and strength (Luke 2:40, 51). No selfish tantrums, no fighting with his numerous siblings, no answering back, no disobedience or thoughtlessness. No sly pinching, poking or ridicule. No sullen adolescent grunting, no complaints, no foolish or impure thoughts or speech as his body matured. There are only two possible explanations for Jesus’ sinlessness. Either he had such divine constraint imposed upon him to overcome his human sinful tendencies while learning what it meant to be God’s Son, in which case his humanity was completely quashed, with no true victory over sin, or he was as Scripture tells us, the perfect blend of divine and human so that conquering sin was truly his own achievement.

And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’” (Luke 2:10–11).

When the angels proclaimed to the shepherds exactly Who had been born in Bethlehem, the news was astounding. We have heard it so often, we can take it for granted and miss the significance. Virtually any first century Palestinian Jew would have known the import of the three titles; Saviour, Christ, Lord. Their God YHWH was Israel’s only Saviour (Psa 106:21; Isa 43:1; 45:21) “But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no saviour” (Hos 13:4). The only God was the only Saviour. This proclamation doesn’t refute that, does not introduce another saviour, but his own arm brought salvation (Isa 63:5) and there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12).

The Saviour is also Christ, Messiah, the anointed one. Three types of people were anointed in the traditions of Israel; prophets, priests and kings. Jesus is the only man to hold all three titles. There may be symbolic reference to these roles in the three gifts brought later by the magi, but we don’t have to resort to allegory to make the point. Matthew’s account of the nativity is full of prophetic allusions. Simeon warned Mary of the sword that would pierce her soul as her son accomplished his great mediating work and the overt references to Christ inheriting David’s throne are numerous.

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad” (Psa 45:6–8; Heb 1:8–9).

Furthermore, this anointed Saviour was no less than the LORD. John the Baptist was to proclaim this in fulfilment of the words of Isaiah;

A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’” (Isa 40:3–5). “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isa 40:9–11).

“I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior” (Isa 43:11). “The Lord is my shepherd,” proclaimed David, and his greater Son would be his Lord and shepherd (Psa 110:1; Luke 20:41–44).

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:2–4).

Israel expected the coming of the Lord, the Shepherd and King of Israel. The Lord himself would be their Shepherd, he who is their only Saviour, the Lord who alone is God and who will not share his glory with another. The Word made flesh, who dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. The Lord himself would come, and so he did. Into the humblest of circumstances, taking the form of a servant, bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming peace on earth between heaven and men, reconciling by his death in the cross. This is the message of Christmas. This is our hope and joy.

 

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!” [Luke 2:14]
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled [Rom 5:10]
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored: [Heb 1:6]
Christ, the everlasting Lord; [Heb 1:8; 13:8; Rev 1:8; 21:13]
Late in time behold him come, [Gal 4:4]
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb. [Matt 1:20 25]
Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see; [John 1:1–2, 14; 20:28; 1 John 3:2]
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel! [Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23; John 1:14]
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail! the heav’n born Prince of peace! [Isa 9:6]
Hail! the Son of Righteousness! [Rom 3:21–28]
Light and life to all he brings, [John 1:4–12]
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by, [John 17:5; 1 Cor 2:7–8;Eph 1:12; Isa 42:8; 60:1–3; Phil 2:6–11]
Born that man no more may die: [John 3:16; 11:25–26]
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!

 

Many beautiful traditional carols are altered, edited or omitted from the Christadelphian hymn book because they are perceived as trinitarian, yet the verses are paraphrases and direct quotes from Scripture.

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