The Big Picture
Since my article is appearing in this issue of Tabletalk magazine, I have a great opportunity to tell you young folk of the next generation about a pet peeve of mine with my generation when it comes to the reason for celebrating Christmas. Many people, as you know, celebrate not much more than “roasting chestnuts by an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at their noses.” But Christians surely know enough to know that Christmas means more than that. It surely has something to do with Jesus, doesn’t it? But what?
This month a lot of sermons will be preached about Jesus’ incarnation. And taking its cue from the angel’s announcement to the shepherds on the plains of Ephrathah, my generation simply celebrates the “good news” that some two thousand years ago, in the words of the announcing angel, “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11). My generation tends to concentrate its attention in their worship services throughout the Advent season on the fact that Christ was virginally born a babe in Bethlehem. And that is about as far as they go in their thinking as they reflect upon the momentous fact that God became man through the miraculous conception of Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
But why did Jesus do that? If I were to ask my generation why Jesus came, I would very likely get answers such as these: “He came to be my Savior,” “He came to die for me,” and “He came to pay the penalty for my sins” (you get the picture) — all answers correct in themselves, but all answers that fail to place Christ’s coming within the broader context that the Bible places it. And when one fails to place His coming in the Bible’s broader context, he fails to appreciate its full significance.
Don’t misunderstand: There is nothing wrong with Christians celebrating the birth of our Lord at Christmas time. Indeed, it is appropriate for the church universal as well as local individual congregations during the Christmas season to think about the incarnation of God the Son and the means whereby that great event was effected, namely, His conception in His mother’s virgin womb. But I submit that something larger and grander than Christ’s birth should seize our minds and set the bells of our hearts pealing with joy at Christmastime. I’ll explain.
My generation of evangelical pastors has not done a good job at teaching Christian people that the isolated events of the Christian proclamation such as Christ’s incarnation, His death, His resurrection, and so on did not occur in isolation from the “metanarrative” of Holy Scripture (by this I simply mean the “big-picture story” that provides the redemptive-historical significance of all the “lesser stories” of Scripture). When one fails to place the gospel events within the context of the Scripture’s metanarrative, he will miss nuances that he should not miss, and he will fail to appreciate the unity of scriptural teaching. Let me say this another way: Since the facts of Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection are what they are only within the framework of the biblical doctrines of creation, fall, redemption, and the consummation of history, we must place the message of the cross within the framework of Scripture as a whole if we would properly understand the significance of that message. And if we don’t do this, we will not understand the gospel in its fullness.
So let me ask my question again: Why did Jesus come two thousand years go? When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was going to be the virgin mother of the long-awaited Messiah, in her Magnificat in Luke 1:54–55, she declared among other things: “[God] has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
And when Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, prophesied about his infant son’s future ministry as the one who would go before the Lord to prepare His way, he said this: “[God] has shown] the mercy promised to our fathers [by remembering] his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:72–75).
What have we just witnessed? We’ve seen both Mary and Zechariah place the Christ event within the context of the Abrahamic covenant and extol the covenant faithfulness of God to His people in sending His Son. In their awareness of the broader significance of the incarnation and the words of praise that that awareness evoked from them we see biblical theology being beautifully honored and redemptive-history magnificently depicted. It is little wonder that God selected such a maiden as Mary to be the mother of the Christ and Zechariah to be the father of the Baptist. They were both “covenant theologians”!
So I would urge you young folk of the next generation to celebrate not only the isolated events of the Christmas miracle but also to do more than my generation has done in celebrating at Christmastime God’s covenant fidelity to us His people, for this is the “big-picture” reason for the season!