Christmas speaks to us of God’s great plan and power. It tells us that God knew what was best for the world and that he held back until the appointed time when he would act. Countless eyes had closed in faith before the Savior came; many weary backs were bent with age in Herod’s day, clinging still to the hope that God would act; many hearts had almost failed for fear that somehow God had forgotten his promises of old.

But God does not forget. He works according to a plan that, because it wells up within his eternal being, has eternity in view and hence is in no hurry. The mystery that surrounds the very nature of God himself is woven into the outworking of his will. We do not know why eons passed before God stepped into the world for our redemption. But when the ages were full to the brim—like the ancient water clock that Paul used as an illustration—at that precise moment, God fulfilled his word and sent his Son (Gal. 4:4–5).

Aquinas, commenting on these verses, says, “Two reasons are given why that time was preordained for the coming of Christ. One is taken from His greatness: for since He that was to come was great, it was fitting that men be made ready for His coming by many indications and many preparations. The other is taken from the role of the one coming: for since a physician was to come, it was fitting that before his coming, men should be keenly aware of their infirmity, both as to their lack of knowledge during the Law of nature and as to their lack of virtue during the written Law.”

We must never forget that God is in control. When we look around and see the apparent collapse of what is right, we are tempted to doubt. At times we feel that no other generation has had so much reason to despair. But faith has always had to rise above the tangled fears that seek to drag it into the pit. Christmas speaks across the years to quiet doubt, remove despair, and vanquish fear. God rules the world; he does not forget his promises. He works his will as surely as day follows night, and when the time of his appointment came, his will was done. At Christmas God seized control of history and Ultimate Good came down.

The angels, who were sent by God to make the day known, understood God’s power. They gladly rushed to do his will, knowing that true strength comes from acting according to God’s will. To ride the crest of God’s mighty will as it rolls through time is to find the power of God beneath us, lifting us above the anxieties and uncertainties that lurk below. The angels made this known when they announced that in the city of David a Savior was born.

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Christmas also speaks to us of the God who works miraculously among us. The coming of Christ to earth was miracle, pure and simple. Such things cannot be and yet it happened because we are dealing not with mere human forecast or probability but with none other than the God of heaven and earth. He spoke and the world came into being; he spoke again and Mary brought forth her first-born son and laid him in a manger.

It is equally important to observe the method of God’s miraculous work. He could have acted quite apart from the creation he had made. It would, in fact, have involved God in far less risk. Our history does not exactly commend us as wholly reliable partners in such a momentous event. What of Mary? What of Joseph? What of all those who would have a part in the earthly life of God-made-man? The risk of such a venture would almost seem to cast doubt upon the wisdom of the plan. But God carried through his choice to become one of us by human instrumentality. Frail Mary’s flesh became the means used by God to make his entrance into the world. Frail human flesh would then become one with God, without compromise on either part, in what would be the mystery of the Incarnation.

The gain was worth the price of risk. Mankind could now look upon its own despised fragility and no longer weep. That God chose to become one with us meant that we have hope. Our dying frames now may sing with joy; our weariness takes new heart; our sin-weakened lives may shake free the dust that threatens to bury us. God deigned to take upon himself our infirmities, thus sanctifying our human condition, so we can live again. He ate as we eat, he walked as we walk, he lived as we live, he wept as we weep, and he died as we must die. So we may take new heart and live while life’s short candle burns as those who once had God among us, sharing our life with us.

What is the essence of Christmas, after all is said and done? Is it just that human flesh knew God and therefore we should rejoice? Important as that is, Christmas means something much deeper: God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, eternal through the ages, entered into human flesh. There are no words to speak of such a fathomless design. God himself is with us. None other. Augustine tried to capture this mystery:

“He it is by whom all things were made, and who was made one of all things; who is the revealer of the Father, the creator of the Mother; the Son of God by the Father without a mother, the Son of man by the Mother without a father; the Word who is God before all time, the Word made flesh at a fitting time, the maker of the sun, made under the sun; ordering all the ages from the bosom of the Father, hallowing a day of to-day from the womb of the Mother; remaining in the former, coming forth from the latter; author of the heaven and the earth, sprung under the heaven out of the earth; unutterably wise, in His wisdom a babe without utterance; filling the world, lying in a manger.”

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Mark the greatness of divine humility. In taking on human flesh, he took on all the frailness of our weakened state. He made himself vulnerable and open to attack. He clearly knew what this would mean, but his purposes required such a condescension. Again, Augustine says: “O food and bread of Angels, the Angels are filled by Thee, but Where art Thou for my sake? In a mean lodging, in a manger. He who rules the stars, sucks at the breast; He who speaks in the bosom of the Father, is silent in the Mother’s lap. But He will speak when He reaches suitable age, and will fulfill for us the gospel. For our sakes He will suffer, for us He will die; as an example of our reward He will rise again; He will ascend into heaven before the eyes of His disciples, and He will come from heaven to judge the world. Behold Him lying in the manger; He is reduced to tininess, yet He has not lost anything of Himself; He has accepted what was not His, but He remains what He was. Thus behold the infant Christ.”

Why would God allow himself to be “reduced to tininess”? He was moved by love—love for his lost creation. We do not know why that should be. We only know that on that night Eternity came down into time for us, in order to lift us back into eternity with him. Such ever was love’s way; to rise, it stoops and we gaze in silent wonder before it, trying to grasp its full significance. Love was made a man, and from that man there shines a light into the darkness of our world that bids all sorrow flee and all anxiety depart.

But love is vulnerable and not even God’s love is exempt from that. To come to earth meant going the full distance and feeling the full measure of our humanity, even unto death. Death’s slow tolling bell rang when Mary heard the shepherds’ words and pondered them darkly in her heart. Love brought God down to earth and love would drive him deeper still. The sin of all the world would be upon him on the cross, who now in wordless infancy cried softly in the manger.

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Finally, Christmas can challenge us today: because Christmas was, we cannot stay the same. What Christmas means in concrete human terms is as plain as the manger, the shepherds, the angels, and the cross.

It means, first of all, that we must walk in full recognition of God’s overall triumphant plan and will. He who planned the ages and even submitted unto that plan himself has a plan for this age too. We should not chafe to do his will, but delight in it, as Mary or the angels at that first Christmas. The way to sure defeat lies in the substitution of our proud wills for the will of God himself. Let us follow the example of all of those who saw God’s will and did it.

Second, Christmas means we are called to look on human life as sanctified and of great worth to God. God did not despise the flesh he made, nor must we. Nor are we to value our own flesh above that of others. God came into flesh, not our flesh alone. God cares for every human soul, born and yet unborn. Our care should extend to every human soul—the weak, the sick, the suffering, and the defenseless. Because God cared enough about human life to become a part of it, we cannot despise part of it, lest we be despising God himself.

Third, Christmas calls us to accept a life of vulnerability and simplicity in the face of God’s acceptance of our weak estate. He set the pattern for us. We cannot strive for power or wealth at the expense of someone else. We must follow Christ upon the road from heaven to earth to cross, and leave the rest to God. The whole world is not worth our soul, and Christmas says, behold the one who, though he was rich, became poor for our sakes. So must we also live.

Fourth, Christmas calls us to make the love of God real in humble, loving service. Just as God stooped down, so must we stoop. This should not be misunderstood: it was not weakness in God that sent him down to earth, but rather strength. He voluntarily laid aside the glory. So, too, it is not weakness to walk in humble submission to God’s will in willing service to others, no matter what the world thinks. It is a triumph and a victory in our lives when we walk in humility, after the pattern of the Ultimate Good come down.

The turning point of history was Christmas; may it be the turning point in our lives this year.

G. Douglas Young is founder and president of the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem. He has lived there since 1963.

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