The first words of Holy Scripture describe the story’s opening drama of creation, creation by God speaking forth light into the dark abyss. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…and darkness was over the face of the deep…And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light’” (Gen 1:1, 3). Bruce Waltke recognizes the Bible’s theme here and expresses it as “God irrupting into chaos to establish his rule over everything.” The creation account emphasizes the God who speaks light into darkness and breaks the silence with the power of his voice.
Although for many the Christmas story has been relegated to a warm and cute nativity scene, the narrative of Jesus’ birth reflects the drama, mystery, suspense, and hope that the creation account provided. It had been four hundred years since the last of God’s prophets, and not only had the Biblical narrative seemingly paused, or abruptly ended, but Israel had become a spiritually dead people. It is against this backdrop of hopelessness, silence from God, and spiritual darkness that the Christmas story occurs.
John’s prologue (1:1-18) parallels the creation account since it’s at this very time of silence and darkness we again see “God irrupting into chaos to establish his rule over everything.” Notice John’s echo of Genesis 1, now introducing the God-man Jesus Christ to the biblical story. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).
John integrates the stories of creation and redemption so we understand they are not unrelated. The Word who is God and was with God created all things, including the human beings he designed to know and live in a joyous relationship with Him. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). When the baby Jesus is born to the virgin Mary in the small town of Bethlehem, he is the eternal God who humbles himself by becoming a human being. As those nativity scenes seen everywhere each December illustrate, Jesus is born of flesh and blood as a baby. Yet, this one who is fully man is at the same time fully God, the God who spoke light into darkness. And the wonder of the Christmas story is that God comes and dwells among us (Immanuel), and he enters the darkness and silence over the earth so he can do what no one before him was able to do. He came with the name of Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
Each year during the holiday season people decorate with nativity scenes and many retell the story. They love the manger scene with Mary and Joseph in the barn with their little baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. They also like the angelic proclamation “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14, KJV). They even are fond of the wise men following a star leading them to the newborn child they shower with gifts. All of that together is a great picture and part of the Christmas story, but as John reminds us the birth of Jesus is but one snapshot of the larger story.
It is with the backdrop of spiritual darkness and silence over the earth, and the seeming absence of God from his creation and his own people, Jesus enters into the storyline. The shock and wonder of redemption is that the God who created man and then humbles himself to become man is rejected by man. His own creation not only rejects him but mocks, tortures, and puts him to death in one of the most painful ways imagined. His own people, the Jews, are the very ones who hate and kill him. John’s prologue describes this sad irony. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10-12).
As astonishing and tragic as that sounds, Jesus was born into the world for this very purpose. He came to be the sinless Savior who was both God and man, and therefore could die as the one mediator between God and man. In his death he took mankind’s sins upon himself and bore the wrath of God. Even worse than the pain of torture and death, worse than the humility of the Creator being mocked by his creatures was the agony of being the Son forsaken by the Father when he died as the sin-bearing substitute. Some think of the Christmas story as boring and some think of it as a nice, heart-warming story. However, with the drama of God becoming a man, and then being put to death by men, all while doing so to accomplish atonement and salvation for men, it is anything but boring or cozy.
And though he died as the mediator between God and men, being put to death to atone for sins, he was resurrected and vindicated so we may in him and through him have forgiveness of sins and newness of life. The theme of creation is no different than the theme of redemption, for in both we see “God irrupting into chaos to establish his rule over everything.” John clarifies for us the good news behind the whole holiday celebration. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
The Christmas story is the greatest story ever told because it is the message of salvation for sinners. Jesus, as Creator and Redeemer, calls us to live as new people under his rule. This is what we were created to be and this is what we can now become as those who receive him.
Remember this season that the birth of Jesus is part of the overarching biblical plot with its meaning tied to what came before and what comes after in the story. And consider also that the birth of Christ is not simply a nice story we give homage to once a year, but that it’s the message of the reality that Jesus Christ is the God-man who has established his rule over everything. It’s the story reminding us that darkness (including your dark days) sets the stage for God to enter in, bringing light and life like only he can.