Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us. It is a miracle of massive proportions, but after a lifetime of celebrating the birth of Jesus, sometimes the meaning of exactly what he did for us gets lost among gifts, cookies, cards and parties.
Jesus changed everything for us.
It may be difficult for those of us who grew up in Sunday school when “Jesus saved me from my sins” was the ready answer to just about any question to understand exactly what we are saved from. We are saved from facing a powerful and holy God who cannot tolerate sin, any sin. We are saved from eternal distance from everything good. We are saved from fear.
I didn’t realize my desperate need for a Savior back in my Sunday school days, but now when I read of the Israelites’ reactions to an all powerful God it becomes clearer.
For example, Exodus 19 tells of the Lord planning to communicate with his people whom he had just miraculously brought out of slavery. He gave instructions for their consecration and warned that anyone who got too close to the Holy God or the mountain upon which he descended would die.
It was frightening. These were God’s people, and they were terrified. The Israelites asked, after observing the thunder, lightening, and the voice of God, if Moses could (please!) communicate with God for them. They were afraid to get close to God. He was too powerful, too glorious, and too holy for them to approach.
About 1500 years later, a baby, fully God and fully man, was born in humble circumstances in Bethlehem.
The God of Exodus, who brought plagues to Egypt, the Passover to Israel, and caused the Israelites to tremble in fear at the base of a mountain, is the same God who was born as a helpless baby in a stable on the first Christmas.
How can that be?
God is holy and powerful and thunderous in his judgment. He is the creator and ruler of all that exists. He is also kind, generous, compassionate, merciful and gracious. God’s grace and mercy are featured in the Old Testament, and his holiness and judgment are on display in the New Testament. He is the same God. There is no incongruity.
In the Old Testament, God desired to be with his people just as sincerely as he does now, but before the Savior it had to be through different means. Sacrifices to temporarily cover their sin brought worshipers close to God.
Jesus changed that.
Jesus covered all of our sins with his one perfect sacrifice. He makes it possible for sinful human beings to be forgiven, washed clean, and made holy and blameless so we can stand before God with confidence.
Fully God, he lived a perfect life, and fully man, he experienced all the joys, temptations and frustrations that you and I face. He showed us how to live unselfishly, graciously, lovingly, and powerfully, and he showed us how to die sacrificially. Through faith in Jesus, we can “draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”
Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for sin, once for all. There is no need for animal sacrifices as in the days of the Israelites of old. No more trembling or fear. No more veil between the Most Holy Place and sinful men and women. Instead, we are welcomed into his presence.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:10-14
We have seen his glory, and that which was once frightening is now empowering and comforting. Jesus invites us all to come to him and see his glory.
By faith in Jesus Christ, born of a virgin on the first Christmas, lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised again because death couldn’t keep him, we have the gift of intimate relationship with a holy and awesome God.
That changes everything.