The Christmas story we celebrate each year is very simple, and so familiar to all of us.
A poor man led his family to Bethlehem to comply with a government census. His young wife was nine months pregnant. She was due to give birth at any time. When they arrived, they found nowhere to stay. No inn. No hotel. No friend to welcome them. They found lodging in a stable. There she gave birth and the child was laid in a manger.
Prophets foretold that simple story. Angels proclaimed it. Shepherds and kings celebrated it. This simple story of a child’s birth has been retold for 2,000 years. The story has made martyrs, and moved civilizations, and changed lives.
The story is celebrated because the child born at Christmas is unlike any child born before him, or any who would be born thereafter. The child who was born—Jesus Christ—was God himself, born into humanity, in order to draw every human soul into the life of God.
The child was born because we need a savior. And Jesus Christ—the child born in Bethlehem—is the savior we’re created for.
In modern American culture, it is difficult to accept the idea that we need a savior.
We live in an age of incredible achievement. The technological advances of the past 50 years are unmatched by any other period in human history. We can communicate, and travel, and work in ways that would have been unimaginable only 100 years ago.
Advances in medicine mean that we live longer and healthier lives, and advances in agricultural science mean that more people can be fed through the fruit of our work than ever before. It is not implausible to think that in the next 50 years, we might cure cancer—in fact, at this moment, almost no technological achievement seems beyond our grasp.
And to Americans, success very often feels like our destiny. When Alexis de Tocqueville came from France to study the United States, in 1831, he observed that the optimism and industry of Americans, makes nearly any achievement seem very possible, and very ordinary.
We are culturally conditioned to believe that we can become anything, can achieve anything, and can conquer anything—that the only boundaries are the limits of our imaginations.
But no matter what we invent, humanity alone is incapable of achieving everlasting justice, everlasting freedom, or everlasting love.
And no matter how we innovate, we cannot escape the confines of our mortality.
Sin—manifested in suffering, in chaos, in selfishness, and in death, cannot be overcome by our hard work, technology or innovation. Sin stands in the way of all we hope to achieve.
This is why we need a savior. Only a savior, God himself, can eradicate the power of sin.
At Christmas, God entered the world as a human being—a baby. He lived as we do, and died, as we do, and then rose from the dead. He did not sin, but he suffered death because of sin. But Christ is divine, and in death, he conquered sin.
By sharing our frailty, our weakness, our mortality, and then by redeeming it on the Cross and in the resurrection, Christ undid the power of sin. He made it possible for each of us to share in the eternal life of God.
The birth of Jesus Christ means that every single person—through Jesus Christ—can share in the love of God.
God’s love means that death need not destroy us. It means that sin need not enslave us. The love of God—in Jesus Christ—means that injustice, and loneliness, and poverty, and suffering can be overcome, as we are formed and shaped by the perfect love of the Trinity itself.
At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In him, we celebrate the birth of true freedom, of true justice, of true peace, and of everlasting joy. May we be set free from sin. May we know real love, and real peace. And may each of us, in the Body of Christ, live eternally in the love of God.