Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

(John 20:30-31, ESV)

Few books of the Bible have explicit purpose statements. John’s Gospel is a rare exception. John summarizes the intent of his Spirit-guided revelation around three specifics: a selection of content, the identification of Christ, and an expression of the Christian life. We could say John summarized the whole of the Christian life in three words.

First, Christianity is all about a book. In this context, it is the selection of biblical revelation the Spirit led John to include in his book. By extended application, we would say Christianity is all about the Book—our Bible. Both John and the rest of the Bible point us to Christ.

Second, Christianity is all about a person, and that person is Jesus. Specifically, in this passage, He is identified by two titles central to John’s theology—Messiah and Son of God. The Son of God became the Son of Man so that He could be both the Messiah of Israel (John 1:41) and the Savior of the world (John 4:42). Jesus’s identity is central to the truth one believes in order to be a Christian. The signs which authenticated Jesus’s message were selected to lead the reader “to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”

Third, Christianity is all about an experience. That experience is eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. His name represents all that is true of His character and role as God’s only provision for our salvation. Eternal life is a central theme of the Gospel of John and the entire Bible. It is Jesus, the Bread of Life, that has come from heaven to give eternal life to all who will believe in Him (John 6:58). Have you read the Book? Do you know the Person? Are you experiencing the quality of life that only Jesus can give?  These three may be a great way to share the essence of Christmas with your family this year.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

(Isaiah 9:6, NIV)

Christmas brings surprises. A favorite is big packages with tiny gifts, unwrapped to the laughter of family. But small packages with big gifts are more rare—and more treasured. Perhaps an engagement ring. For the well-to-do, maybe a key to a new car. The small can conceal the immense.

Referring to the coming of the Son of God at the Incarnation, Sóren Kierkegaard called Jesus the “incognito God.” For so He was. Appearing clandestinely—“a shoot from the stump of Jesse” on whom rested the sevenfold Spirit of God (Isaiah 1 1:1–3)—our Savior “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (53:2). The Jewish people expected far more: a Royal Son, a Regal Ruler. (And that will yet come.)

Within the milieu of messianic expectations at the time of Jesus, many presumed the Promised One would be human, the Davidic conqueror king. Others argued He would be the divine, heavenly “Son of Man” (Daniel 7:13), one coming on the clouds and worshiped by all nations. Or, again, as some Jewish rabbinical scholars today recognize, others believed the Messiah must be both human and divine.

For all the Christmas wonder packed into Isaiah 9:6, the most astonishing title ascribed to the “child born” exalts Him as “Mighty God” (Heb. El Gibbor). The term “mighty” (gibbor) portrays a lion, a powerful warrior, an elite combatant. Sometimes the same term describes God as a great hero, the all-powerful one. But the exact phrase “Mighty God” only occurs one more time in all the Old Testament, this in Isaiah 10:21 where unmistakably the LORD Himself is “Mighty God.”

Here is the wonder of the tiny gift and the true meaning of Christmas: Jesus is both “a child born” and “Mighty God.” Because He is both God and man, He is able to save all who trust Him. And He will establish His kingdom, caring for His people as the greatest of kings do, as a father forever and ever. Merry, merry Christmas.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.

(Matthew 2:11, NIV)

Matthew 2 shows the first responses to the arrival of Jesus on earth. The three responses in this chapter are instructive, because they’re the same ones we see today. The initial response was the antagonism of Herod who was threatened by the presence of the true King and would do anything to protect his throne. Christmas is still a threat to those who want to stay on the throne.

The next response is the apathy of the Jewish leaders. Matthew reveals that they knew all the answers but were filled with cold, shallow indifference. They wouldn’t travel five miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to see if their Messiah had come. What a pitiful scene. They knew the Scripture but had no interest in the Savior. Christ and Christmas meant little or nothing to them.

The final response is the adoration of the wise men. They brought costly gifts and fell on their faces to worship Him. The Jewish leaders wouldn’t travel five miles to see Him, but these Gentiles traveled eight hundred miles to worship the King.

In Growing Deep in the Christian Life, Charles Swindoll tells the story of a large department store that carried a special doll at Christmas in the form of the baby Jesus. It was advertised as being unbreakable, washable, and cuddly. It was packaged in straw with a satin crib, plastic surroundings, and appropriate biblical texts added here and there to make the scene complete. The dolls didn’t sell. The manager of one of the stores in the department chain panicked. He carried out a last-ditch promotion to get rid of the dolls. He brandished a huge sign outside his store that read: JESUS CHRIST—MARKED DOWN 50% GET HIM WHILE YOU CAN!

Jesus gets discounted every Christmas. Some discount Him in anger, others in apathy. But the only proper response to God in human flesh is humble, extravagant devotion and adoration.

For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

(Psalm 103:14, NIV)

In a world in which most religions and philosophies elevate the ethereal over the physical, our Lord gave physicality its ultimate “dignifier”: He enrobed Himself in it. Indeed, the Incarnation and Jesus’s death followed by resurrection and ascension—these all dignify matter. The God in whom all things were created clothed himself in His creation. Shrinking down to embryo size, He inhabited a virgin’s womb. His favorite preposition seems to be with, with, with, as He came to be with us.

Some of the best lines in our Christmas carols express this reality:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity…

Lo, He abhors not the Virgin’s womb…

Very God, begotten, not created…

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing…

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord—Immanuel.

All praise to thee, eternal Lord, clothed in a garb of flesh and blood

      choosing a manger for thy throne, while worlds on worlds are thine alone.

Flesh. Blood. Incarnation. Immanuel. With us.

The Son of God’s enfleshment, Jesus’s humanity, reminds us that God did not stop at sending messages on stone tablets or emissaries like Isaiah. He came Himself. And one ramification of His becoming human is that He understands our griefs. As I write this, one widow I love mourns the loss of her husband and another fears she will also lose her child. But because of Christmas, at the table of the grieving, by the bedside of the widow with a sick loved one, and for all of us torn apart by the effects of sin…we are not alone. God is with us. He knows how we are formed. He even took on that form Himself, our dustling Deity. Let us therefore come boldly to His throne of grace to receive mercy as we wonder, marvel, and fall on our knees.

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

(Luke 2:11–12, NIV)

It was my eighth or ninth birthday, a few days before Christmas. My best friend came over to the house to celebrate. He brought a nicely wrapped gift, which I couldn’t wait to open.

“Go ahead. Open it!” he exclaimed, grinning from ear-to-ear as he handed me the present.

Before he could bat an eye I had already taken the gift, examined the wrapping paper, and shook it up and down. My curiosity took over as I began searching for clues as to what might be inside.

After a couple of wrong guesses on the content of the gift, I quickly tore off the wrapping paper revealing a small, rectangular box that had a surprising picture on it—a picture of a music cassette holder.

“He gave me a cassette holder?” I wondered to myself, as I only had a couple of cassette tapes.

Polite disappointment set in.

My dear friend kept smiling as I graciously thanked him for the cassette holder case and imagined ways to build it into my expanding Lego city.

“Don’t stop. Keep opening it!” he chuckled.

The box wasn’t the gift. The true gift was inside the box.

I carefully opened the top and pulled out a miniature toy monster truck—a young boy’s delight!

Bethlehem’s shepherds must have experienced an even greater delightful surprise that dark night when the angel of the Lord appeared and announced the good news of the Savior’s birth.

The gift of the Messiah had indeed arrived, but in a very unexpected way—as the newborn baby in a humble manger.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the Incarnation, let us trust God in the mystery of our own unexpected surprises. Let us remember Jesus who is our Immanuel and God’s greatest gift for salvation from sin.

No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
(John 1:18,

A new and strange sound took over our quiet evening. I was reading a technical book, and Yvonne, my bride of forty years, was correcting assignments turned in by her second grade students. The intermittent electronic sounds were not frightening but peculiar. While strange to me, they were obviously familiar to her.   

She smiled. Alert and eager, she reached for her iPad and waved me to join her on the sofa. “What’s up? What’s that sound?” I tried to join in on the enthusiasm that was clear and obvious on her face. “It’s FaceTime. The grandkids are calling,” she announced.

There is a mysterious but obvious bond between mother and daughter. When the grandkids start making their appearances, that bond intensifies. Most men who are dubbed “Grandfather” (an old Latin word meaning “chopped liver”) learn to simply watch the flurry of conversations and exchanges.

My first time to FaceTime with my grandchildren was marvelous. They were crawling, climbing vigorously, talking over each other, teasing, laughing, and smiling. It was show-and-tell along with dancing and singing.

These connections of love were two thousand miles away. Before, I could not see them; now, they were exchanging life and love with my heart. Once, it was waiting for a telephone call or planning for the rare once-a-year plane flight; now, it was real time sight and sound.

The baby Jesus did something very similar for us. For generations humankind knew that God existed but because He is spirit, we could not see Him. “Out of sight, out of mind” is human. Jesus was born so that He could make it possible for all humankind to see the Father by seeing Him.

Jesus is God, born in human flesh. We celebrate Christmas to commemorate that miraculous gift to the world. When Mary and Joseph saw Jesus, they “FaceTimed” with the Father. It is the miracle of the Incarnation. And we continue to see Jesus through God’s Word. What a sensational gift! See Jesus? See the Father!

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.

(Colossians 2:9, ESV)

In the aftermath of a Christmas celebration with my family, there is no shortage of traditional, fun, or even painful “unions.” On the heels of a special Christmas dinner, Great-Grandpa makes his annual communion with the knights of nap. At other times, children sit at a table and create a magnificent new structure by putting Legos together. Or an unassuming adult walks by said table and the sensation of stabbing pain makes him realize one of those Legos with its pointed corners has merged with his heel. These unions are, in some sense, an example of “two becoming one.” However, none of them truly represent the glorious union of divine and human in one person, Jesus Christ.

This perfect union sits at the heart of the Christmas story. God the Son becoming man reveals God’s care for His creation in general, and for humanity in particular. The human nature of Jesus isn’t just “part” of Him alongside His deity, as if Jesus Christ could in any way be divided. Rather, as Colossians 2:9 tells us, we find the “fullness of deity” in Jesus Christ. Deity dwells bodily. We see in Jesus a union between divine and human. Never less than human. Never less than divine. Always one person. In becoming human, God the Son has gone “all in” for humanity and creation, holding nothing back as He seeks to accomplish His redemptive plan.

This “all in” reality of Jesus as God-Man carries with it results for believing humanity. Our affirmation of the Incarnation is not just about behavior modification or belief alteration. Rather, the union of divine and human in Jesus provides humans the possibility of union with God Himself. This Christmas, carefully consider the person of Jesus Christ. Appreciate the truth that your faith in Jesus yields you a union with God (and with His people) precisely because He brought humanity and deity together in Himself.

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”

(Matthew 1:23, NASB)

As you begin your reading for today, I encourage you to first read Matthew 1:117. Matthew’s Gospel begins with the genealogy of Joseph, which gives evidence of Jesus’s humanity and His Jewish ancestral ties to Abraham and King David. Joseph’s marriage to Mary established him as Jesus’s legal father.

Matthew continues with the Christmas story told through the eyes of Joseph in 1:18–25. He departs from the details of Jesus’s birth in verse 23 to emphasize that seven hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah declared: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The Jewish people had waited hundreds of years for the fulfillment of this prophecy. Matthew announces that Jesus is the child of Isaiah’s prophecy and the promised Messiah.

When Matthew quotes Isaiah’s words, he wants his readers to know that “Immanuel” means “God with us.” In other words, even though Jesus has an earthly father (Joseph), which emphasizes Jesus’s humanity (Son of Man), Joseph was not Jesus’s biological father (Luke 1:26–38). This little baby was God come in the flesh, the God/Man. Therefore, Jesus is sinless and able to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

What are you celebrating this Christmas? Is your focus only on a baby born two thousand years ago? Are you caught up in red and green decorations, the singing of carols, the giving and receiving of presents, the gathering of family and friends for a holiday dinner? Or do you celebrate this baby as Immanuel, God with us? And remember Jesus’s promise as He prepared to leave earth: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). When you gather with family and friends, you can also celebrate that Jesus is with you right now!

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 1:14, NIV)

The Creator of the universe became one of us. This is the wonder of Christmas: that the eternal Son of God did not merely add flesh to His deity, He is not God in a body; He became flesh, He became a creature. He did not give up anything; He added humanity. John, one of the disciples He chose, declares that he and his fellow apostles saw His glory. They saw grace and truth incarnate.

What does God look like? Since God is invisible He cannot be seen. But in Jesus of Nazareth, the invisible God became visible. What does grace look like? What does truth look like? Since grace and truth are abstract concepts, they cannot be seen. But in Jesus of Nazareth, grace and truth became visible, in His person, His words, and His works. At His birth, shepherds and Magi were attracted to Him. Throughout His life, the poor, the disenfranchised, and the oppressed were attracted to Him. Sinners flocked to Him. And today, frightened, ashamed, and guilty people are attracted to Him. Jesus is our hope; He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

Christmas is the commemoration of the moment when Jesus, the eternal Son of God, was born into this world to be our Savior. He did not merely come to visit—He made his dwelling on this earth. This earth is now His home. He is embodied forever. When the work of redemption is complete, according to the same apostle, “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’” (Revelation 21:3). Then, we, who have never seen God, will see Him. We will see glory, grace, and truth, and will live with Him on a re-created earth. Forever.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

(Isaiah 7:14b, NIV)

Jesus stood at the doorway of Joseph’s workshop. He was six years old, covered in dust and full of questions. As usual.



“What does it mean?”

“What does what mean?”

Joseph had learned that the best way to answer this boy’s questions was with another question. It gave him time to think.

“To become,” Jesus said. “What does it mean?”

“Well, let’s see” Joseph said, grateful for small talk—for a question that wouldn’t require sending Jesus to the rabbis again for an answer. He lifted Jesus onto his workbench, so they could see one another eye-to-eye. “To become,” he said, “means to change into something new—something that wasn’t before. A seed becomes a flower. A child becomes a man.”

Jesus nodded slowly. “Does God change?” He asked.

And there it was—something in the tone of voice. Something in His eyes, and the tilt of His head.

Joseph had thought he was on safe ground with this question—that, at least he could confirm what he suspected Jesus already knew.

“No,” he said, though it sounded more like a question than he had intended. More like “No?” as if to say, “that’s right, isn’t it?”

Jesus frowned.

“Wait,” Joseph said. “Let me think.” He wished Mary hadn’t gone to visit her cousins down south. She had such a command of the Scriptures. He didn’t understand this boy and had no idea how to answer. So, he folded his arms and lifted his chin in the manner of the rabbis when they needed to appear wise in the face of a perplexing question: “What do the prophets tell us, Jesus? You know.”

Joseph saw the slightest lifting at the corners of Jesus’s mouth.

“Prophet Isaiah said the virgin would conceive and give birth to a son, and would call Him Immanuel. God with us.”

Joseph nodded. Slowly. “And you are …”

Because Joseph understood more than he knew.

The smile returned to the boy’s face. “I am,” He said.

Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me.” (John 7:33, NIV)

Spending time with children is the joy of my heart—sitting with them among the carpet squares, sharing stories with light-hearted laughter, and learning about our great God together. Prayer time gives me a glimpse into the fears and burdens that weigh heavy on their hearts. “Grandpa’s sick.” “I’m afraid of the dark.”

It’s a privilege to introduce the carpet-square crowd to our loving heavenly Father who cares and listens to our prayers. Woven through the Old Testament stories is His familiar promise, “I am with you”—to Isaac in the midst of famine (Genesis 26:24), to Jacob as he travels through the land (Genesis 28:15), to Joshua as they cross the Jordan (Joshua 3:7), to young Jeremiah as he speaks for God (Jeremiah 1:8), and in countless other stories.

But the most beloved “I am with you” story unfolds when God sends His Son to go and be with His people—Son of God made man wrapped in swaddling cloths. Because the Father chose to send His Son as a baby, Jesus can sympathize with us in all of our developmental stages, from infancy to adulthood (Luke 2:52).

As He walked among us, Jesus experienced hard and happy things. He knew our fragile needs and was moved with compassion (Matthew 9:36). Jesus loved us and ultimately conquered death so that we might go and be with Him forever.

Jesus told the disciples, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me” (John 7:33). He commissioned us to “Go” make disciples, giving us the promise “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:19–20).

He left us behind to sit on carpet squares—to be with His people, to share stories and laughter, to comfort them in ways we’ve been comforted (2 Corinthians 1:4). It is our privilege to introduce them to our loving heavenly Father and to His Son, Jesus.

This Christmas and throughout the year, young or old, we are all part of the carpet-square crowd that needs to be comforted with God’s promise—“I am with you.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.

(John 1:46, NIV)

Many years ago, I was particularly impacted by a Christmas sermon by Tim Keller that continues to have significance for me today. Twenty-seven years ago I began a PhD program in Counseling Psychology at Columbia University in New York City and also began attending Keller’s church. He challenged me with a key question from the Christmas story.

As we celebrate the miracle of the Incarnation, we read that the Son of God/Son of Man comes from Nazareth. A common theme of biblical accounts is that Jesus was born into insignificance. Nazareth was the backwoods of Galilee which was the backwoods of Israel which was the backwoods of the Roman Empire. In that backwoods of the backwoods of the backwoods was the King of the universe. In that weakness was the all-powerful God. In that obscurity was the greatest event in history.

True greatness is naturally invisible to worldly eyes. God loves to use things that turn the values and expectations of the world upside down. Human culture flows from the top down and from the center out. God’s spiritual renewals and awakenings tend to come from the margins to the center; from the outside in. We can see this looking at Jesus and His disciples and at spiritual revivals throughout history.

The Christmas story confronts us with this question: “Can we live in a place of brilliance without being blinded by it?” It is commonly said that “All that glitters is not gold.” I was immersed in a glittery graduate program in a glittery city and it was easy to mistake it all as “gold” according to the world’s measuring stick. The Christmas story, however, tells us that “All that is gold does not glitter.” Real greatness is naturally invisible to the worldly eye.

Can anything good come from Nazareth? The Son of God/Son of Man emptied Himself in the obscure backwoods of Nazareth that we may celebrate the greatest story ever told.

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

(1 John 3:8, NIV)

First John 3:8 doesn’t sound like a verse for a Christmas meditation! There’s no Christmas Carol I know that exalts destroying the devil’s work as a key contribution of Jesus’s Incarnation, but this is a liberating and wonderful fact for those who have been living in darkness. Paul tells the Colossians that through the Father’s intervention, they have been “rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (Colossians 1:12–13). Unsaved people in Jesus’s time and today are living in darkness, a darkness that is not simply human ignorance or their own failure to respond to God’s grace and the gospel, but rather a darkness that epitomizes Satan’s control. As John also says: “The whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).

Jesus, the Son of God, was manifest to rescue all who would believe in Him from the control of Satan, and from their own sin. He did this by destroying Satan’s principal strength, and that apparently was his ability to destroy people by blinding their eyes so that they would not see or understand the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). But Jesus, the Son of God and Light of the World, did appear and provides deliverance by His life and death on the cross for the sins of the world. Jesus commissioned His disciples to take that Good News to the whole world. So perhaps we can count the Christmas Carol “O Holy Night” as one that does carry the thought of our key verse.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Yes, it’s true and wonderful! This is the reason the Son of God appeared: to destroy the devil’s work!

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

(Matthew 2:18, NIV)

The words “joy,” “merry,” “peace,” and “celebrate” are common during the Christmas season—not the words “weeping” or “tears.” Yet the Gospel of Matthew records that, as a result of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem that very first Christmas, the families in that little village wept and had no comfort.

Their pain was as a result of the actions of King Herod, who jealously had all baby boys in Bethlehem two years of age and younger killed. This was to prevent any potential king from arising from there as the Magi had indicated would happen.

Using a quote from Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew describes the actions of those in Bethlehem by using the words describing Rachel. Jeremiah describes her as mourning from where she was buried in Ramah (on her way to Bethlehem—Genesis 35:16–19) because her descendants in Jeremiah’s time were no longer enjoying life in the Land of Promise. Rather they were experiencing exile. But this verse in Jeremiah 31 is found in the midst of a passage describing what the Israelites will experience, in the future: “I [the LORD] will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).

Families in Bethlehem mourned as they remembered the death of their boys, but the Lord had something wonderful for them in the future. As a result of the birth of Jesus, sorrow would be turned to joy, weeping to laughter, and bowed heads to dancing. Christ’s coming would make possible resurrection and reconciliation.

Sometimes at the Christmas season we have pain in our hearts because of the circumstances of living in this fallen world with its cruelty. Sometimes it is hard to rejoice and be glad even at Christmas! But this Christmas I encourage you, in faith, to praise God for both the coming of Christ in the past and His coming in the future, which will comfort and give us a peace that will last for eternity.

“If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,” Let Israel now say—Our help is in the name of the LORDWho made heaven and earth.

(Psalm 124:1, 8, NKJV)

A few months after my father suffered a horrific car accident in 1949, friends presented him a wonderful get-well-gift. My dad, Barclay Allen, was a nationally known big-band pianist in the 1940s. Friends, including Frank Sinatra, Cole Porter, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee, Freddy Martin, and many others, signed their personal 8- by 10-inch glossy photos with good wishes for his recovery. All the comments were personal and so kind. However, there is no recovery from paralysis. My dad had suffered a broken neck and a damaged spinal column. His paralysis was permanent. Good wishes from friends, even from famous friends, could gladden his heart, but would not help his broken body.

Numerous times in biblical history we read of the Hebrew people facing insurmountable problems. Time after time, Majesty stooped from the highest heavens to meet their needs. God, whose glory is indescribable, whose wonder is beyond imagination, whose power is limitless, and whose grace is unfathomable—this very God demonstrated He was on their side.

Psalm 124 is one of the Psalms of Ascent designed for pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem. Here, people were to encourage each other on the arduous, and sometimes dangerous, journey that Yahweh was on their side. He was for them. From the grand event of the Exodus, and in many struggles, Yahweh stepped into their world to meet their needs, to protect them from adversaries, and to bless them with His presence.

Christmas is many things. One of them is the fact that the Lord is on our side, that Yahweh is for us. In fact, this is the ultimate meaning of God’s glorious personal name, Yahweh.

Good wishes from good friends are wonderful things.

Having the Lord on our side is inestimably better! Jesus’s birth is the ultimate expression, “the LORD is on our side.”

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

(Luke 2:10, ESV)

Joy is defined as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.” I have experienced many things that have given me joy, but no experience has ever surpassed the joy I felt the night I trusted Christ as my personal Savior.

As a little boy, my greatest day of joy was Christmas and all that comes with that day—the smell of turkey and glazed ham being prepared by my mother, family members and friends arriving to share the day with me and my family, and most important, the expressions on each face as presents are opened. But now I understand true joy: what the shepherds must have felt the night the angel announced to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11).

I’m sure most of us, witnessing an angel speaking to us, would experience great fear and amazement at the same time. Yet, after giving the shepherds the command “Fear not,” the angel explained why they should feel joy instead of fear. A Savior—God incarnate—had been born, and He would be for all people. As I have grown, both physically and spiritually, I now understand Christmas is a time for great joy—a time not just to give and receive presents from loved ones and friends but to remember and rejoice that the world has been given the greatest gift of all.

Therefore, let us make a fresh commitment, during this Christmas season and beyond, to share with others by our lives and our words that they can receive this same joy which comes from a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

(1 John 4:9, NIV)

My wife and I have eleven precious grandchildren who get so excited during the Christmas season that they affect the entire family. Sometimes this obscures the true meaning of Christmas—the advent of the God-Man to save the world. Their childlike excitement is wonderful, but John describes a different joy in 1 John 4:9: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” The Incarnation means that the Son of God left the perfection of heaven to take on human flesh to provide salvation for all people who believe in Him for the forgiveness of sins and to provide fellowship with Himself in the Holy Spirit.

Yet, many people feel alone, forgotten, and unloved at Christmastime. Sometimes the electric atmosphere of Christmas lights up everything around you—except you. If you feel unloved at Christmas, don’t forget the wonderful truths found in 1 John 4:9. First, godly “love” according to John is agape, a sacrificial love that embraces us with words and actions (1 John 3:18). Jesus demonstrated this love even at the point of death on the cross so that we may live with Him forever. Second, Jesus is unique. God sent Him as the “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). This line from Charles Wesley’s memorable hymn sums it up: “Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down.”

Stop and try to grasp how much believers are loved! Don’t let the commercialism that surrounds the world’s celebrations rob you of the joy that comes from being loved by God. First John 4 deepens our understanding of this season as a celebration of central truths that have guided the church for millennia. This Christmas, I pray that all those who have placed their faith and hope in Jesus will experience His love as never before.

The gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Romans 1:1–4, ESV)

The gospel is found throughout the entire Old Testament. After His resurrection, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He [Jesus] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27, NASB; see also 24:44). These truths were clearly manifested in Jesus, the God-Man.

The gospel is singular in focus: “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The heart of the gospel beats around the work of God performed in His Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24). Paul’s longest digression, beginning in Romans 1, is devoted to a description concerning God’s Son. This description bears the marks of what was, perhaps, an early church confessional creed concerning the Person of Christ.

In terms of physical descent, Jesus was of the family line of David (Matthew 1:117). This made Him the legitimate heir to the Davidic throne (2 Samuel 7:12–13). Jesus is the unique Son of God. Thus, both His Messianic royalty and eternal deity are captured in these companion descriptions. The Resurrection, besides being His greatest miracle, was the final seal of authority on all that Jesus claimed. The Resurrection, thus, became the cornerstone of the early apostolic preaching (Acts 2:22–36; 3:15; 13:30; 17:31)

What does this mean to us at Christmas? C. S. Lewis wrote, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”1 Isaiah prophesied, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper One, 2001), 52.

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.

(Revelation 1:12–15, NIV)

The water’s roar thundered through my entire body. I stood clutching the slippery rail that separated me from Niagara Falls, four million cubic feet of water rushing over every minute. Truly, it deserved the term “awesome.”

In his vision of the risen Christ, John grasps for descriptions adequate to capture the sound of the voice speaking to him—a trumpet (Revelation 1:10), or rushing water (1:15) reminiscent of Ezekiel’s vision of the LORD (Ezekiel 43:2). The sight and sound of Christ overwhelmed him completely (1:17). This one like “a son of man” stands among seven golden lampstands, a truly awesome figure. What should we make of the robe and golden sash (1:13)?

The robe and sash recall the garments of Israel’s high priest (Exodus 28:2–4). Akin to the priest’s role, the risen Christ is the mediator between God and man. The phrase “like a son of man” echoes Daniel’s vision, particularly 7:9–13. Like the figure Daniel saw, the figure facing John possesses “authority, glory and sovereign power” (Daniel 7:14). This vision of the divine Christ depicts Him as He truly is: awesome. Fully divine.

During the Christmas season, we remember Christ as a newborn, humble and vulnerable. The swaddled baby Jesus, cooing to His parents and the shepherds, signaled salvation for all who believe. We celebrate His advent! But now we approach Him as the risen Lord, coming on the clouds with power, draped in gold, His voice roaring throughout all creation.

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!”

(Mark 9:7, NIV)

One of my sweetest Christmas memories is riding in the backseat with my four-year-old granddaughter as we oohed and aahed over the dazzling celebration of lights hung throughout her New Jersey neighborhood: illuminated candy houses, full-size reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh, ablaze manger scenes with angels and shepherds. We’d point out the best ones, laugh, and exchange impressions while our eyes danced with the radiant splendor of the season. But the brightest and most beautiful choreographed lights and music displays pale in comparison to the Transfiguration of Jesus in Mark 9.

Jesus took on human form so He could walk among us, show us what God is like, and redeem us from sin and shame so we can live with Him forever. But as He neared the horrendous ordeal of the cross, out of compassion, He showed three of His beloved followers that the cross would not be the end. Along the southern ridge of Mount Hermon, Jesus glorified His human body, and these disciples saw Him as He will be when He returns. Mark describes the scene in Mark 9:3, “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” John saw the transformed Christ twice and later provided more details in Revelation 1:14–15. He wrote, “The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.”    

So drive around at Christmas and delight in our effort to light up our world, but let the season’s golden glow constantly remind you of Christ’s glorious return! Remember that even the house that wins the best-lit-house award doesn’t compare to the glorified world Christ will inaugurate when He returns. One day you may want to put super-extra-strong sunglasses on your Christmas list.

“And behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.”

(Daniel 7:13, NASB)

Jesus’s favorite way to refer to Himself during His ministry was to use the title “Son of Man.” Many think this is a title that points to Jesus’s humanity. That is only half right. “Son of Man” does mean son of a person, like son of James or son of Janet, which connects someone to someone else. But Jesus’s connection to “Son of Man” is not like other such phrases. Part of this is hinted at in the peculiar ways the Gospel of Luke refers to this phrase as the Son of Man in the original Greek. It points to a unique figure. When Jesus tied the title to Scripture, He cited Daniel 7:13–14. In Daniel, the Son of Man rides the clouds to see the Ancient of Days (a picture of God). He goes there to receive judgment authority.

In Scripture, the only other figure to ride the clouds is God. Deuteronomy 33:26 reads, “There is no one like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the sky to help you, on the clouds in majesty” (NET). Psalm 68:4 says, “Sing to God! Sing praises to his name! Exalt the one who rides on the clouds! For the LORD is his name! Rejoice before him!” Psalm 104:3 says God “makes the clouds his chariot.” Isaiah 19:1 speaks of God riding “on a swift-moving cloud” to deal with Egypt. The picture of the Shekinah cloud of presence may be related to this idea (Exodus 14:20; 34:5; Numbers 10:34). The image is of one present over the creation, an image of deity, even active deity.

So when Jesus uses the title Son of Man, He points to His humanity and especially to His divinity, all in one package. He affirms His uniqueness. There is no one else who combines humanity and divinity as He does. At Christmas, when we focus on the baby Jesus, it is good to recall that God took on flesh. That baby is the unique Son of Man.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

(Mark 1:1, NET)

Mark 1:1 is something of a superscription; it is not a sentence having no verb. Yet, it tells us much about the special season that is upon us, the exuberant celebration of the greatest event in history: the coming into this world of its creator and redeemer.

The verse reveals the theme of the book. The word “beginning” calls attention to the topic that Mark would subsequently unfold for his readers: the life, claims, and accomplishments of a person (and delineate the implication for Christ-followers). The word “gospel” does not refer to the Book of Mark but the subject of Mark’s book, the content of the preaching by the earliest Christians. The idea of “news” in the Old Testament is that something significant has happened, and so here.

The good news, the proclamation of Christ-followers, is described by three titles, each explaining a facet of the central person; the first two have a deep Old Testament heritage. In His names is a declaration of His person!

  • “Jesus” means deliverer (Joshua [Yeshua], salvation). “…you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This name tells us why He came!
  • “Christ” means the Anointed One (Messiah), the one whom God appointed to be the deliverer, the one who would come to fulfill the Old Testament promise of deliverance. “You are the Christ…” said Peter (Matthew 16:16). This name tells us the authority behind His coming!
  • “Son of God” points to Jesus’s unique relationship to God. He is a man (Jesus); He is God’s special agent (Christ); and He is God! The man possessed equality with God. This name tells us His qualification to be our deliverer! Only God could satisfy the demands of God because God requires perfect congruity with Himself.

It is interesting that Jesus’s most preferred title for Himself was none of these; it was “Son of Man.” Rooted in Daniel 7:13, the term refers to our Lord’s dominion. He will one day reign triumphantly over all creation. This name tells us of His ultimate victory!

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

(John 1:29, NIV)

There is a Kodak moment with first-time pilgrims in Israel. On the journey north from Tel Aviv to Tiberius, fresh off a long international flight, bleary-eyed tourists press their noses against the bus window for a glimpse of the region where Jesus walked. Upon first gaze of the Sea of Galilee, someone inevitably says through teary eyes: “He was here!”

If you have been to the land, you likely remember that moment. It’s priceless.

Introductory moments are powerful. John’s Gospel opens by informing the reader that Jesus is God in flesh (John 1:1–18). He eloquently invites us to pause at this mystery: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (1:14). Following this thesis, we listen to the words of John the Baptist who states that he came to testify concerning Jesus. Smelling of camel clothes and honey-dipped locust, the prophet says: “He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (1:27).

And then it happens. The Baptizer makes THE proclamation. “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29).

Reflect on this argument a bit.

  Jesus is God.

  Eternity stepped into time as a human.

  He came to this world to function as a sacrificial Lamb.

The Jewish imagery of Jesus as a “Lamb” is unmistakable. In one descriptive picture, John describes the Lamb’s purpose and clears the confusion about the first lap of the Messiah: He is God, in human flesh, who came as a sacrifice for sin.

Go ahead. Marvel at the Incarnation—our fancy-dan Latin word that reminds us that God became flesh. But don’t you dare miss the purpose of this Incarnation.

Press your nose up against the bus of life as you pass by yet another Christmas season. The babe in a manger came to pay the price for sin. He was here. And He did what no one else could do.

Say it: “Behold the Lamb!”


“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”

(Hebrews 4:15, NRSV)

The Incarnation, God becoming man, is one of the most profound and significant mysteries. The thought that our all-powerful, omnipotent God would willingly share in our humanity is difficult to comprehend and accept. So much so that throughout history people have attempted to water down this truth. The simple, albeit difficult, truth is that Jesus was fully God and fully human. Implications of this are countless. I will focus on only one, highlighted by Hebrews 4:15.

Jesus was just like us. He faced temptations and struggles, as we do. The only limitation the Bible places on Jesus’s humanity is that He did not sin. Reflect on this for a moment. If we want to know what Jesus felt, consider our own feelings, temptations, and struggles. In fact, His struggles were much more difficult than we can imagine.

How does this knowledge help us? Stress and temptation abound at this wonderful time of year. We desire to do so many good things but are hampered by a lack of time, difficult relationships, well-intentioned activities, and our own shortcomings. The result is that we are in danger of missing out on the celebration of Jesus’s arrival on earth. Remember, Jesus struggled and succeeded. We can succeed as well. Yes, we will fail. Jesus sympathizes with us. He understands. But even failure should also cause us to focus on the Incarnation. Jesus came because we sin. He came to pay for our sins and is presently serving as our mediating High Priest.

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son,  and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

(Matthew 1:23, NKJV)

Childbirth is something no man can completely appreciate. We can marvel as an observer, but we cannot experience it as a woman would. My wife tells me, “I cannot completely describe the feeling that came over me as the doctor held up Curt, our firstborn, cut the cord, and then laid him right across my tummy. I thought, How incredible! This little life came from us!”

This time of year adds a completely new dimension to the miracle of childbirth. Long ago in a quiet, crude place where animals sleep, Mary reached down and felt the soft, human skin of infinite God.

The humanity of this scene pulls us in for a closer look. We can identify with Joseph’s amazement, Mary’s wonder, and the irony of God’s quiet arrival in such an inhospitable world…all of those thoughts are magnificent to ponder. But we cannot stop there. These are only an entrance to wonders far more significant. Just beneath the soft, newborn skin of this beautiful story is the flesh and bone of a theological truth.

The Incarnation—God becoming flesh—is a doctrine that is foundational to everything we believe as Christians. Two millennia ago, God Almighty became Immanuel, “God with us.” He lived as we live, suffered as we suffer, died as we die, yet without sin. And He, being the God-Man, overcame the power of death in order to give us eternal life.

As you ponder the humanity of the first Christmas, remember that it is an invitation to slow down and think deeper. I invite you to touch the infant skin of the God-Man with your imagination. I invite you to wonder as the shepherds wondered and to worship as the wise men did. I invite you to allow the God-Man, Jesus, to take your problem of sin and make it His. If you can accept my invitation, you will receive the greatest Christmas present on earth: God’s indescribable gift.

Taken from Charles R. Swindoll, “An Invitation to Touch the Skin of Infinite God,” Insights (December 2005): 1-2. Copyright © 2005, Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.