When does Christmas start for you? Tree up? First song played on the speakers in a mall?
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The Catholic Church sets aside certain days and seasons of each year to recall and celebrate various events in the life of Christ. In its Roman Rite the liturgical year begins with Advent, the time of preparation for both the celebration of Jesus’ birth, and his expected second coming at the end of time. This is a season of expectancy, echoing the longing for the Messiah to come and deliver the people; but it is also a season for longing for the second coming of Jesus. In the broader story of God, though, I would like to suggest that the nativity started much earlier than November 29th, much earlier than the church has pegged it on the calendar, much earlier than even 4 AD. I believe we have to go back to the beginning, to the very beginning of creation because even then the incarnation was in God’s mind. God knew that His creation of humanity would result in sin and separation from Himself. God knew redemption would be needed, and in His providence He planned the incarnation before the foundations of the world because of His great love for us.
The Bible contains for us the Story of God – He is the main character. Some people mistakenly think they are the center of the universe, but they are not – God is. The story of God is the story of His interaction with humanity from start to finish. Recognize that there is a prologue – John 1:1 says that in the beginning, before time and space, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus is the Word, and we see at the nativity much more clearly what the middle chapters of this story is all about. But let’s not jump ahead. We are going to divide the story of God into four segments for this Advent season and see how the nativity story is connected to this broader story. The four segments are Creation, Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Second Coming. We know the creation story – 6 days God created, humanity His ultimate creation made in His own image. When the baby Jesus is born, He literally is God’s image, for He is God. Let’s step back and represent creation by this marble.
Listen to this quote by James Irwin, made in response to his Apollo Mission 15, during 1971. ”The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.” James Irwin was a Christian and understood that this marble called earth was vitally connected to its Creator.
At creation and the nativities we see angels exalting and praising God. We see God stepping out of the infinite into time and space. We see God at work creating – a universe in the beginning, and a baby in the nativity. We see the stars at work in both stories. We also see a man and woman in partnership interacting with God, responding to His initiative.
Jesus is called the second Adam (Romans 5)
• Adam was “born” as a fully grown man, and Christ as a baby.
• Through Adam death entered the world and through Christ, life.
• Adam was tempted and succumbed to temptation. Christ was tempted and prevailed.
• Adam was bound to death. Christ broke the bonds of death.
“You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we’re in—first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death. That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses. So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses. Even those who didn’t sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God. But Adam, who got us into this, also points ahead to the One who will get us out of it.
Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?
Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.” Romans 5:12-19
At creation we see physical life for the first time. In the nativity we see spiritual life for the first time. This incarnation is an invasion of this world by the Son of God. Because of the nativity we see sin, Satan, and death defeated – what was done at creation – the fall of humanity, death and suffering – is restored and renewed in Jesus. In Jesus, we are called a new creation.
When you read the first several chapters of Genesis you discover that all of creation was made for humanity. Humanity wasn’t just the end of the process, it was the reason for the process. God wanted Adam and Eve to live in this wonderful creation and find satisfaction in caring for it, in being the ones responsible for its upkeep. How that creation has been marred. Many of the astronauts talked about how the earth seemed so fragile when they looked at it from space. There is no back-up; there is no resupply – it is complete, hanging in the emptiness of space. And the earth groans under the weight of sin. It longs for the peace among men that was promised by the angels. And so do we. We live in this fallen world, with imperfect attitudes and struggle not just to love our neighbour as our self, but to love God with everything we have.
In the nativity we see the grace of God towards His creation, towards us. I said earlier that in Genesis we see physical life created, and in the nativity we see spiritual life created. With the incarnation came the solution to the sin problem. The possibility of spiritual life became possible, and the mystery of what to do about sin was finally solved. God did a new thing, and this Christmas God is saying to you to be recreated by Him, in Him. This marble will remind me that I am being recreated just like the earth was. Out of nothing He makes something. The image I was made in that was marred by sin and the stuff of this world is being renewed daily as I trust in Him and walk in step with the Spirit. Let the joy of a new born babe swathed in clothes and laying in a manger be the promise to you this Christmas of the Creator God in you – Emmanuel.