Talk about incredible journeys. A few years ago a woman crossed the Atlantic by herself in a rowboat. When I was a boy a man named Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he became the first human to step foot on the moon. Hannibal, the Carthaginian General, surprised the Romans when he crossed the Alps in 217 B.C. with 26,000 troops, 6,000 horses and his special weapon, elephants, which were used to shatter enemy lines, like modern day tanks. Incredible!
But there’s no doubt that the greatest journey, the most incredible of all, was the journey that God took in the person of Jesus Christ. He went from heaven to earth. From Spirit to flesh. From eternity to time. From glory to servanthood.
In his devotional, “Solid Joys,” John Piper wrote that his favorite advent text is Hebrews 2:14-15: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” This text, Piper said, clearly connects the beginning and the end of Jesus’ life on earth, the incarnation and the crucifixion. “These two verses make clear why Jesus came; namely, to die. They would be great to use with an unbelieving friend or family member to walk them step-by-step through your Christian view of Christmas.” It teaches us that Christ existed before the incarnation. He took on flesh and blood, becoming fully man while remaining fully God. Why? “…that through death…” The reason Jesus took on human flesh was to die. He could not die for sinners as God, but he could as man. Piper writes, “Therefore he had to be born human. (And) he was born to die. Good Friday is the purpose for Christmas.”
He came as Immanuel, and Christ came as Lord. As the prophet Isaiah said, “For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulders.” Then the angel said the same to Mary: “And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then to the shepherds, “…for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
What was the best present you have ever gotten for Christmas? Maybe you got it this year! Anybody get a Mr. Potato-Head? In 1952, the world was introduced to it, the first toy to ever be advertised on TV. Back then, kids stuck plastic eyes, ears and a mouth onto an actual potato and it wasn’t until 1964 that a plastic body was included with the toy. That was one of the best presents in the 1950’s. This year, I read that some of the hottest toys were the Ada Twist Lab Doll with sounds, the Purrble Calming Toy with Dynamic Heartbeat and Soothing Purr, and of course, “Gotta Go Turdle,” who, and I am not making this up, “eats, sings, dances, and talks…” while going potty.
I read in World magazine that 200 years ago if a kid got a piece of candy in his stocking he considered himself very fortunate. If there was an orange in there as well, he was the luckiest kid in the world. His mother would usually get a handkerchief. And the breadwinner, the father, got nothing. It was not considered good form for him to get a Christmas present.
The angel announces that for Christmas, God sent us HIMSELF. “Christ the Lord.” Our greatest Christmas gift ever. Jesus. That pretty much puts Mr. Potato Head and the “Gotta Go Turdle” in perspective, doesn’t it?
I hope you got some nice things this Christmas. But let’s not let this season pass by without reminding each other of the most extravagant gift that anybody ever gave anybody at any time. He spared no expense. He did not count the cost. He simply gave. And the angel said it clearly: to everyone who will receive Him, God gave the Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
I hope you have unwrapped that gift for yourself. He is yours, by faith.
I heard Frank Turek say at Elon several years ago that the greatest miracle ever performed was creation, because God made something out of nothing. Others say the greatest miracle of all time was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Still others cast their vote for the incarnation. Wayne Grudem wrote, “It is by far the most amazing miracle of the entire Bible. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become a man and join Himself to a human nature forever so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.” We can disagree about which of the three events in history is the greatest miracle, but the incarnation is amazing and glorious and worthy of our study and attention. May I say also that I take issue with those Christians who refuse to acknowledge Christmas because of all the arguments they muster: Dec. 25 is not the actual day Jesus was born, there are pagan celebrations connected with Christmas, it’s gotten too commercial, or any number of other reasons. We understand those arguments, but we also understand that the incarnation is a fact, a real event, and we celebrate that! It is the birth of the Messiah, the coming of our Savior that we celebrate on Christmas.
Philippians 2:6-11 is considered by many to be the greatest doctrinal statement in the Bible relative to the person of Christ. It is called the “kenosis” passage because of the word used in verse 7: He “emptied himself.” I wish we could really grasp with our understanding how high he was and how low he came. But there’s no way we can. It’s like asking your dog to understand Shakespeare, when you’re still working on trying to make him understand “no.” Or, “be quiet.” But there is much we can know, even with our limited, finite minds, and the plain truth in the Bible is that Jesus, who always was and is co-equal with God, took on human flesh in order to die for us on the cross.
It is precisely because the incarnation is essential to our faith that it has been in the cross-hairs of heresy from the third century. Arius proposed in 320 A.D. that only God the Father was eternal and that He produced Jesus Christ out of nothing as his “first great creation.” This heresy was refuted by the Council of Nicaea that produced the Nicene Creed, and which states in part, We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.
Sadly, the heresy of Arianism lives on today with people who practice the Unitarian, Mormon, and Jehovah’s Witness religions, among others who deny that Jesus was and is co-eternal with God.
Why is this important? Because the incarnation of Christ is essential to our salvation. And because the understanding of what Jesus did by leaving glory and becoming a man is essential to our own humility. Jesus was equal with God. But he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” He laid aside the independent exercise of His divine attributes and was born in a manger.
“Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”
That’s why we celebrate.
When Mom was born on a bitter winter’s day in 1935, the doctor gave her no chance to live. She was two and a half months premature and weighed barely 5 pounds, but her mother waved him off. “Oh, yes she will,” she told the inebriated physician who had come to the house from a Christmas party. Nana wrapped Mom tight in swaddling clothes and laid her in a basket. Borrowing from the iron will of her mother, and leaning into the grace of a merciful God, Tommye Blakley lived.
Tommye and Ed were classmates for twelve years at Old Town School. Every year, every class. In 1954 the cheerleader and the center on the basketball team graduated, and a few months later, they got married, and raised three sons.
Dad taught us how to work hard, to be a man of integrity, and to greet everyone you meet. Dad would talk to anyone. Mom taught us how to love people. She demonstrated how important words of affirmation are. She encouraged us to be the men God created us to be. She also taught us how to tell a good story, and how to laugh and enjoy each moment.
Since 2006, when my dad died, Mom has taught me how to suffer. Since 2016, when her oldest son died, and since 2018 when her youngest son died, Mom has taught me how to take care of her. Even though she could be fiercely independent, she needed me to step in where my older brother had served. I cherish every phone call, every Tuesday visit with Chick Fil-A in hand, every hug, every opportunity to love my sweet Mom.
For the past 15 years, Mom has shown all who knew her how to live with a single purpose. I read these words of Jesus on the morning of Mom’s funeral, and they made me smile. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” The harvest is always plentiful. The Lord is always able. But people who are willing to work the fields? They can be hard to find. Mom worked the fields. Everywhere she went, she talked about Jesus. Nearly everyone she met was asked, “Do you have a church home?” If they said they did not, she followed with, “Would you come to my church this Sunday and sit with me?” Many did. It didn’t stop there. She found out what their needs were and tried to help. Every time she heard from a friend, a family member, or a fellow church member who needed something, Mom was there. She loved and she served, and all who knew Mom are better people because of it.
Since November 17, Mom has taught me how to die well. She fell that day, and during surgery to repair her hip, Mom had a stroke. It was in the neuro-ICU that Mom told me, “Mark, I am ready to go home. Please don’t worry about me. I am going to heaven, and it doesn’t get any better than that.” Every person who visited her in the hospital would testify that Mom was only concerned with one thing–how they were doing. I am going to die one day. We all are. Mom showed me the best way to do that. She died just as she lived, putting love for the Lord and for others first.
Every Monday for years I would call mom and she would answer with, “Hey, sweet boy!” And I would answer with “Hey sweet Mama! How are you today?”
Hey, sweet mama. I know how you are today. Better than you have ever been. Better than we could ever imagine. I miss you. See you soon.