Everyone loves a good story. There are very few things in the world I enjoy as much as curling up with a good book and finding myself lost in a great tale. While everyone may not share my affinity for reading, most will appreciate a story well told. There is something compelling about being drawn into a narrative, seeing the plot develop, and longing for its final resolution.
So to celebrate the holidays this year, I want to talk about a story: the Christmas story. Now before you turn the page thinking you’ve heard this one before, I would encourage you to hear it again today, but perhaps in a new light. Behind the awe and wonder of that first Christmas is a shocking reality, one you may have never heard or considered before. The brutal reality is this: our story is one of hopelessness. Or so it was until that one Christmas day…
In the Beginning… A Christmas Story?
In the beginning God created everything and it was good. He created man and woman in His own image and they were very good. He would place the man and woman in the garden and commission them to multiply His image and His glory to the ends of the earth (Gen 1:28). But it would take only three chapters for everything to unravel.
Perhaps you are familiar with this part of the story. The serpent came to Adam and Eve in the garden, speaking lies and blinding them with the promise of a better life. However, the bold exclamation of the serpent that they “would not die” could not have been further from the truth. From the very first bite of that forbidden fruit, the world would never be the same. The disobedience of Adam and Eve unleashed the pervasive effect of sin on everything in the created order (Rom 5:12). And so the hope that one “would not die” resulted in death for all.
The world would never be the same again. This beautiful creation, which God deemed good, would now be subjected to corruption longing to be restored.
Both Scripture and experience testify to our complete and utter inability to fix this problem on our own. You and I have been caught up into a story in which every road leads to one inevitable destination: death. This is the pulse of the first five chapters of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. In his very thorough and brilliant exposition of our present situation, he highlights the comprehensive problem of sin for all people (Rom 3:23). But not only have we sinned and rightly deserve to die, he goes on to assert that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, you or I can do about it. That’s right, you could spend the rest of your life, every waking moment, completely devoted to working as hard as possible to rectify the sin problem and you would still fall infinitely short of what is required.
And it is for this very reason that our story is one of great hopelessness. Our story is one of creation, fall, and death, nothing more. That’s our story.
Glimpse of Hope
Yet even in the midst of sin’s reign there was a glimmer of hope much like the long awaited ray of light at the end of a long dark tunnel. Woven throughout this horrific story of death is the ever present promise of life. Even in the curse of Genesis 3 is a glimpse of the hope of all things made right once again (Gen 3:15).
But where does our hope come from? Not from us.
Our culture would tell you that hope comes from within yourself. Just take a trip to your local bookstore and check out the ever growing “self-help” section of literature. There seems to be unanimous agreement that something is indeed wrong and there appears to be an equally impressive number of proposed solutions. Yet every remedy this world suggests is nothing more than a simple band aid on a life-threatening wound.
Bethlehem… Two Thousand Years Ago
And so we come back to that first Christmas two thousand years ago. There is much that can and has been written about the significance of the events in the small town of Bethlehem that evening. It’s very easy to get caught up in some of the smaller details of the story like finding no room in the inn or being born in a manger, and miss what’s really happening: God became a man!
The glorious complexity of the incarnation is well worth our great consideration. Here we have the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present God wrapping himself in human flesh through the sending of His own Son. Wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, we see the “fullness of God” (Col 1:19) pleased to dwell in this little baby boy.
The Crossroads of Two Stories
In our story of hopelessness hope has arrived! But make no mistake on where it has come from. You see, this is not the story of man reaching some enlightened state and figuring things out on his own. Nor is this an example of man working really hard to earn the favor of the Father above. No, what we see in this Christmas story is actually the intersection of two stories. Here in the incarnation of Christ we see God invade our story, and in so doing bring hope to all mankind.
God himself injected hope into our hopelessness by sending his Son into our sinfulness. He could have easily written us off as a people doomed to their own self-destruction. The path in which we walk is a road that leads to death (Prov 14:12). But God graciously intervened on that first Christmas Eve.
As the story continues, we learn that this baby boy became a man. He would live a life of sinless perfection and inaugurate the Kingdom of God here on earth through his sacrificial death on a Roman cross. On that old rugged cross he would take upon Himself the sin of all who were to believe in Him and endure the wrath of God in their place. And so the great exchange took place as He who “knew no sin” became sin on our behalf. As a result, we might become the very righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21).
Invading the Kingdom
With the Christmas season upon us once more, I would encourage you to remember the real hope of the holidays. In the midst of utter and complete hopelessness, God burst into our story and made us a part of His great story of redeeming a people for Himself. The birth of Jesus Christ is a picture of God invading the kingdom of darkness and rescuing His people through the work of His Son. It is a story of what He has done for us. It is a story of rescue in a broken and fallen world. And, ultimately, it is a story of hope.