Everyone remembers the good old days. The truth is, of course, that the best thing about those "good old days" is that they are securely in the past. We tend to edit out the rough parts, forget our discomforts and the pains of daily life then, and just recall the good stuff. That is a good thing. It makes memory much more enjoyable. Even when we do recall the bad with the good, we give it a sort of golden sheen that makes the bad stuff better, we like to remember it, and we can even laugh at some of it. The pains may be remembered, but they are history, not our present moment-to-moment reality. The most horrible things we can recall are safely locked in the past, and if we are fairly well adjusted, we can look at them and not fall apart internally or externally. History is good, particularly if it remains "history".
One of the sad features of that reality is that we can never celebrate Christmas (or any other festival) the same way twice. People constantly yearn for one of those good-old-Christmases, but they can never quite get there. Mom and Dad, if they still live, are not the same people. They look different. They think differently. And we are no longer children. We look differently, we think differently, and we perceive differently. If I could go back and celebrate Christmas again with both Grandmas and Grandpas, with Mom and Dad (now gone for a decade or two) and with my brothers and sisters as children . . . I wouldn't.
First, there is no way to return to now except to live through those forty-five (or more) years again, and it isn't worth that price. I would love to smell the smells, and hear the laughter, and see those faces once again — and feel that child-like delight. But it would come with the pains and frustrations and fears and disappointments that memory has silenced, but which I recall enough of that I could hardly wait to grow up and be an adult, and be my own boss (ha, ha, ha). No thanks. God had a good idea keeping us limited to the present moment. It is just one of those many things that we sometimes chafe against in our sin.
Christmas celebrations are really never the same twice, no matter how hard we try. Sometimes the next year is better, and sometimes it is not. Sometimes we have a tradition so well rehearsed that it seems almost the same from year to year - and that can be good - but it is never exactly the same, because we are never exactly the same as we celebrate. The world around us changes each year, too. The people we celebrate with change, and, now and then, the cast of characters must change also, due to births, and deaths, and graduations, and jobs, and all such.
But Christmas is always the same! I memorized the nativity account from Luke in Sunday School, for annual Christmas pageants the like of which I have not seen for almost fifty years. I learned a piece one year, and another piece the next until I knew the whole thing by heart. Now-a-days it is not the style to use the King James version, but it is still the one in my head, and, except for the linguistic changes in the modern translations, the story hasn't changed. The tax - now a census or enrollment - is decreed. Cyrenius has changed his name to Quirinius, but he still governs. Mary and Joseph make the trip to Bethlehem, where there is no room in the inn, so they shelter in a stable (presumably) and Mary lays her new-born son in a hay-trough (which we like to call a manger). Angels sing about the wondrous event and shepherds make haste to see this thing, which the Lord has made known to them. They still tell everyone what they have seen and heard as they return to their flocks, causing their hearers some amazement, and Mary still treasures up all these things and ponders them in her heart.
Hidden in plain sight in the account are the wonders of Christmas: the Incarnation, the fulfillment of prophecy both wonderful and horrible, the helplessness of human power in the face of the divine plan, the wonder of God manipulating the most powerful man in the world of that day, without his knowledge of it to be sure, to make sure everything goes just as it should at just the right moment. God sent His Son to take on human nature and human flesh and blood in a specific male Child. God worked the impossible, repeatedly. God became a man, and In Him all the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in bodily form. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. He also managed to work parthenogenesis, the birth of a child without the involvement of a man, virgin birth, AND the child was a boy, technically and physically impossible even if one could figure out how to get a child out of a virgin. A woman simply does not have the genes to create a male child all by herself.
Christmas is about God doing the unthinkable. Oh, sure, you can think about it now because He has done it, but what He has done could not have been imagined before the fact, and, frankly, there are a lot of people, even some who call themselves Christian, who cannot wrap their minds around it today. The plan is literally as old as time. God worked it out before the foundation of the world. Once He determined to create, He knew what Adam and Eve would do and how it would reverberate throughout time in His new creation. You or I would likely have cancelled the project with the realization of that knowledge, but not God. Once He determined to create, He was not going to turn back. He just had to work out the plan of salvation, to rescue those whom He would create because of His great love. He determined to create and He loved us, those whom He would create.
He even determined how to take what our sin had spoiled and use it to advantage. Our minds would not be able to calculate the total number of benefits and blessings that He created around and through sin, but we can catch a glimpse of it. The Bible tells us that we are each known to God before the foundation of the world, and that He has planned us, and for us, and saved us in particular. But very few of us, if any, would exist if there had not been war and upheaval. None of us are of a pure national heritage. Man's sin created conditions that drove our ancestors, many times over the millennia I would guess, to move and mingle with others. My family can count its background nationalities: French, German, Polish, Scottish, Dutch, Irish, and English. My sons add Sicilian to that count. Those mingled bloodlines were the result of divine mixing since at least the time of the tower of Babel. Almost all of that mixing came due to wars and famines and upheavals that no one wanted but sin forced upon us, and God, while hating sins and being holy, used them all, or some of their effects, to produce us. Without that mixing, I would guess that none of us would exist as the people we are.
God saw us, planned us, and foreknew us, each and individually. He worked around sin and used its consequences to bring us into being, and to save us. That includes how sin was used to bring about the crucifixion of Jesus. In saving us, He made more of us than we would have been if there had been no sin. What the differences are, precisely, I cannot even estimate, but now that God has taken on human form and human nature in the Personal Union, He tells us that we are adopted into His household, and that we shall be like Jesus for we shall see Him as He is.
The Personal Union is another thing that God did that most people cannot fathom. God united Himself to the man, the human nature and the very flesh and blood of man, in Jesus Christ. That is part of Christmas that never changes. Theologians of a certain stripe will tell you that it is not possible. The finite is not capable of containing or even bearing the infinite, so the Savior who died for us must have been different than the Scriptures teach. That is at least part of the reason that so many have trouble accepting the Lord's Supper as the true body and blood of our Lord. They see Jesus as a disembodied spirit, more or less, with His human nature in storage (sort of) in heaven, while the spirit part goes about the business of being the Second Person of the Trinity.
But the truth is that where the man Jesus is, there God is in all of His glory, and where the human nature and flesh and blood of Jesus is not, there God is also absent. Anywhere we may say that God is, there is Jesus also, fully and truly human just as He is also fully and truly God. He never gave up being true man, He simply stopped restricting Himself to normal human limitations after the resurrection. He can be here without our being able to sense His presence, and He is capable of being present in more than one place at a time. Theologians have coined the phrase, "illocal presence", to identify how that works. It just means that Jesus is present without the limitation of location. You or I must be here or there, but we cannot be both here and there. Jesus can, even according to His human nature, because He is God.
It is good that Jesus is still fully human and fully divine. If He gave up either nature, He would cease to be the one that redeemed us. Our salvation would be undone because the One who saved us would then have ceased to be, and that would end the saving effect, for just as the existence of the One who redeems us and atones for our sins would then be less than eternal and all-encompassing, so would the redemption and atonement which He purchased with His death be less than eternal and all-encompassing. We were not redeemed by only the divine nature, but by the human nature in concert with the divine in the single Person of Jesus Christ, as the Bible says, "the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin." Spirits do not bleed.
The divine economy of salvation, that is the plan of God for our salvation, took all of this and much more into account. God was doing what human reason said could not be done, upholding the justice of the decree that sin brings death, and yet saving the sinners from the just consequences of their sin. Someone had to die, and God cannot, at least not according to His divine nature. In Christ, God could die. He could die the same sort of death that you and I die, a human death, the separation of body and soul. He needed the human nature in Christ for earning life where man had earned death in order to make the exchange. He needed a man who could die, but who was of such great value that His death would substitute for all of us justly. He needed what He got when He worked the personal union of God and Man in Jesus Christ.
That plan did not begin on Christmas. Even the personal union began nine months before the angels sang to the shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. What happened at Christmas was that God was born, wrapped in flesh and truly human, and laid in a manger. The plan became public. It wasn't fully comprehended by many, if any, right away. I cannot say with certainty that anyone fully comprehends it even now. But on that day, God showed us that He was doing what no one had ever really imagined, and which many still insist is impossible. He was dealing, at long last, with sin and death. He was taking the step that would crush the head of the serpent who killed Adam and Eve, and every one of their descendants.
We often hear children sing about the donkey ride or the animals in the stable. We picture three Magi coming to the stable that night. We wonder about the star. Sometimes those images crowd out the wonder of what really happened, and sometimes people get lost in playful fantasies like the "right jolly old elf" whose name is a mispronunciation of the name and title of a fourth century Bishop, St. Nicholas. In regards to those fables and stories and uncertain things (such as, were there animals in the stable, and how many Wise Men were there really?), the public celebration of Christmas is always changing, but Christmas itself does not. It is still about the baby, who is God doing something unique, and wonderful, and almost incomprehensible - except that He revealed what He was doing both before and after the fact.
So, nostalgia is wonderful fun. Memories are often personal treasures. Still, we cannot go back. But we still have the one thing that makes Christmas Christmas. We have Christ, and the forgiveness of sins, resurrection from the dead and eternal life as God's gift to us, and the wonder of God doing what no one could have imagined until He did it, and explained it to us. Our celebrations are just not the same because we are not the same, but Christmas is, because God - and His great love for us - is always unchanging!
Yours in the Lord,
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