THE CHRIST OF CHRISTMAS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-23-90 10:50 a.m.
The title of the message isThe Christ of Christmas, and the beautiful nativity story as recorded by the physician, Dr. Luke: “So it was,” in chapter 2, verse 6:
while they were there in Bethlehem, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn Son, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger.
The drama, and the pageantry, and the meaning of Christmas never loses its appeal. In all history, and in all literature, there is nothing that bears with it such an eternal light of hope as the coming of Christmas. The spirit of this festive season remakes the very character of the world. I can remember, though I was but a small child, in the First World War—for years those trenches faced each other, the Allies and the German armies. And when Christmas came, they laid down their arms and rejoiced together that Christ had come into the world. And whenever this season arrives, it carries with it a warm spirit of the soul and of the heart. The symbolism of Christmas bears an eternal anticipation of a more beautiful world that is yet to come. The star that shines above the smoke of battle and trouble, it is there forever, fixed in God’s eternal sky. The angel chorus, singing of the good will to men and the hope for, and promised peace on earth. The shepherds and the magi worshiping at the manger—the humblest may come and the most affluent and noble may bow; and the gifts that were brought, a sign of the exchange of gifts throughout the world.
And the holy family: in art, in literature, in song, the pictures of that precious family have been a benediction to the whole world. In a Christmas card that we received:
Every child on earth is holy,
Every crib is a manger lowly,
Every home is a stable dim,
Every kind word is a hymn,
Every star is God’s own gem,
And every town is Bethlehem,
For Christ is born again and again,
When His love lives in the hearts of men.
[“The Love that Lives,” W. D. Dorrity]
Nothing like the symbolism of Christmas! And men through the years and through the ages read God’s Holy Word and followed the stream of prophecy that announced the coming of the Lord God into this world. Like the Gulf Stream making its way, warm and distinct, through the waters of the Atlantic, and laving and bringing life to all of the Old World, so that stream of prophecy of the coming of our Lord is found throughout Holy Scripture.
In Genesis 3:15, God said, “He shall crush Satan’s head.” The Seed of the woman, “though Satan shall bruise His heel.” The old rabbis read that, “the seed of the woman.” But a woman doesn’t have seed! It’s the man that has seed. But God said, “The Seed of the woman shall bruise Satan’s head” [Genesis 3:15]. They couldn’t understand. When it came to pass, it was a woman who knew not a man [Luke 1:34]. It was the virgin birth of the promised Savior of the world [Matthew 1:20-25].
Then we turn the pages of God’s Holy Book. And Jacob, Israel, says to his son Judah, “Thou Judah art he whom thy brethren shall praise” [Genesis 49:8]—Judah means praise—“For the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be” [Genesis 49:10].
And in Deuteronomy, Moses said, “God will raise up a Prophet like unto me from among your brethren. And to Him shalt thou hearken” [Deuteronomy 18:15]. And the prophet said to David, “God will raise up for you a son, who shall reign over the house of Jacob forever. And of His kingdom there shall be no end” [2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16]. And Isaiah the prophet said, “A Rod shall spring forth out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: and the Spirit of the Lord God shall be upon Him” [Isaiah 11:1-2]. Then in chapter 9:
For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given: and the government shall rest upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
And of the endurance of His government . . . there shall be no end, upon the throne of David . . . to establish it in righteousness and in justice.
And in chapter 7, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Imanu’el—imanu, “with us”; el, “God”—God is with us” [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23].
And Micah prophesied, “Thou, Bethlehem . . . though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall rule My people; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” [Micah 5:2]. There never was a time when God, Christ, was not from everlasting. And [Malachi] closed the Old Testament with the promise, “The Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in His wings” [Malachi 4:2]. The whole course of the Old Testament; filled with the promises of the coming of our Lord.
And the whole earth at that time was filled with the expectancy of the birth of a child that should rule the world. Suetonius and Tacitus, tremendously gifted Latin-Roman historians, speak in their histories of that universal expectation. And I read from Virgil, in his fourth Eclogue. No greater poet ever lived than this Roman-Latin, Virgil. Listen to him as he writes in his fourth Eclogue. Virgil died just a few years before Christ was born. Listen to Virgil, the poet:
Lo, the last age of the seer has come, again the great millennial eon dawns.
And from high heaven descends the firstborn child of promise.
Smile softly on the babe.
The age of iron, in his time shall cease, and golden generations fill the world.
For thee, fair child, the lavish earth shall spread the earliest playthings.
Thy very cradle, blossoming for joy, shall with soft buds caress thy baby face.
The treacherous snake and deadly herbs shall die and Syrian spikenard blow on every bank.
Come, dear child, claim thine honors, for the time draws nigh, babe of immortal race,
The wondrous seed of God.
Lo, at thy coming how the starry spheres are moved to trembling,
And the earth below.
O, if but life would bring me days enough and breath not all too scant to sing thy deeds.
Come, child, and greet thy mother with a smile.
For every waiting month, her love has been waiting.
Come, little child.
You would think he was writing in the Bible—a pagan poet. The whole world was filled with the expectancy that a child would be born, who would be king of all humanity. And He came: the mystery of the incarnation of God:
The Spirit of the Lord shall come upon thee . . . wherefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
And Joseph thought to put her away. And the angel said, Joseph, fear not to take unto thee thy espoused, promised wife Mary.
For that which is born in her is the Son of God.
And all of this came to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken. . . by the prophet, saying, A virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son.
And thou shalt call His name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
[Matthew 1:22- 23]
For the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw His glory . . . as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.
And in the incomparable passage you read, “He, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped to be equal with God: but poured Himself out, made Himself of no reputation. . .made in the form of a man, that He might taste death for every man” [Philippians 2:6-8]. “Who being in the form of God,” who being in the morphē of God; God has a form. What is the form of God?
Twice in the Old Testament, once in Exodus and once in Ezekiel, the prophets say they saw God. And when they seek to describe Him on the pages of holy writ, it’s just like a fire, it’s like a flame, it’s like a sea of glass. What is God like? What is the form of God? He is certainly not ethereal nothingness. God, what are You like? What is Your morphē ?
Moses said, “Lord, that I might see Thee” [Exodus 33:18]. And God put him in a cleft of the rock, and covered him with His hand and said, “My presence and My glory shall pass by, but no man can see My face, and live.” And in the distance, and in the shadow, God took away His hand. And Moses saw the back of God [Exodus 33:19-23].
What is the morphē of God? In the incarnation, this is God: “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father, for I and My Father are one” [John 14:8-9, 10:30]. What is the form of God? What is God like? This is God and, in heaven, this is man. The Lord God who sits upon the throne and governs the universe is a man incarnate! He has scars in His hands, in His feet, and in His side [Luke 24:39-40; John 20:27]. He knows all about our troubles, and our sufferings, and our hurts.
Forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same . . .
For verily He took not upon Him the nature of angels, but He took upon Him the seed of Abraham.
Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest, interceding before God.
For He has suffered all of our trials and temptations, that He might succor and help us who are tried and tempted.
For we have not a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tried and tempted as we are . . .
Wherefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, that you may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
The God of the universe is a man, the morphē of God, who knows all of our trials and our troubles. Come! He understands, and He sympathizes.
I have to close. God’s answer to the need of the world was this little Child [Matthew 1:23]. What a dark world into which He was born! Palestine, Israel, was a seething mass of bitter humanity. Just a few years later, in 66 AD, the great war broke out that ended in 70 and the destruction of the holy city, and the destruction of the nation, and the diaspora of the people; until May 18, 1948, in our day.
The awful bitterness of the people: three men out of every five you’d have met in that day were chattel property, they were slaves. The exposing of children: if you had a child and you didn’t want it, put it out where the dogs could eat it and the wild animals could devour it, or worse still, someone take it and mutilate it and set it on the street, as it grew and made a beggar. Idolatry: with its unthinkable, indescribable tragedy of worship.
And God looked down upon that world. And what was His answer? How did God seek to help, to deliver, to save? Wouldn’t you have thought He would have sent a Caesar with his sword? Did you know the Caesar, the man of might in the nation of power, is the answer of the whole world in all history? A German kaiser—kaiser is “Caesar” in German; czar in Russia—a czar is “Caesar” in Russian.
You know, in my reading I’d come across Seleucus Soter, Antiochus Soter, Ptolemy Soter, Demetrius Soter. And reading, I thought that’s the strangest looking word. What does “Soter” mean? Then I saw it in Greek—immediately recognized: soter is “savior.” Savior: these Caesars, and these Ptolemies, and these Seleucii, and these Demetrii, all came with the sword to solve the problems of the world. But war begets war, and hatred begets hatred, and bloodshed begets bloodshed.
And God looked down upon our dark world and God’s answer was—is—a little Baby in a manger [Luke 2:10-16]. God, great God, how could we ever finally know and understand?
So the wise men came, the magi came, and arriving in Israel, they cried out saying, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” [Matthew 2:1-2]. They supposed everyone would know; nobody knew, nobody recognized, nobody understood. And the magi made their way to the palace of the king [Matthew 2:3]. Surely, in the palace of the king they would find Him, born King of the Jews. The palace—not only not knowing, filled with consternation—calling the scribes, “Where does God say He is to be born?” [Matthew 2:4].
“Thou, Bethlehem, though you be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who will rule My people” [Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:5-6]. Bethlehem: and the magi came to Bethlehem, and there looked upon God’s answer to the need, and the darkness, and the hopelessness of the world. And they bowed before a little Baby, laid in a manger [Matthew 2:11].
Remember the song you just sang?
Thou little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie.
Above the dark and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth,
The everlasting light.
The hopes and fears
Of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight.
[“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Bishop Phillips Brooks]
The answer of the need of the human heart is found in that little Child—God in the flesh [John 1:1, 14]—suffering our suffering, weeping our tears, living our life, dying our death [1 Corinthians 15:3], the great Lord God of heaven who understands and sympathizes with us [Hebrews 4:14-16], and who someday, in His coming, will lift us to glory and to heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
And in the throng of people even on this inclement hour, throng of people in God’s sanctuary, to give your heart to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-13], or to come into the fellowship of our precious church, or to answer the call of the Spirit in your heart, down one of these stairways in the balcony, down one of these aisles, in the press of people on this lower floor, come and welcome. May angels attend you in the way as you come. God bless, while we stand and while we sing.