When we tell the Christmas story, we often begin like this: “Once, there was a girl named Mary.” Or “Once upon a time in a manger.” Even the gospels open with things that happened here on earth—the birth of John, the words of Isaiah, or the genealogy of Jesus’ family. Only the gospel of John backs all the way up and starts the Christmas story right at the very beginning:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
Once upon a time, God made all things. He spoke, and the waters woke and crashed upon the shores. He spoke and shoots uncurled, sending stalks up and roots down before bursting into bloom.
He spoke, and light came into the world.
During Advent, we celebrate the good news that the God who brought the earth into being with his words—who gave each child their particular grin, who invented the smell of bread rising—knit himself into creation. This is the God we call Emmanuel, “God With Us.” He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). He felt hunger and physical limitation; he felt cold on his skin for the first time. He wept. In every respect, he was tempted as we are (Heb. 4:15), but he did not sin.
In Jesus, we behold “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). God is the Author, dwelling outside the pages of his story, in a world far wilder than ours where we cannot set foot without protection, lest we be consumed. But the one we could not approach, could not find a path to, has brought himself near to us.
What we know as the Christmas story is a startling moment in Scripture when our shadowed world was pierced by a light from without. And though we can tell the story of Jesus' arrival in a picture book or a Christmas reading, let us know that story for what it is: a handful of chapters within a greater story, one that spans the whole history of our world from birth to rebirth.
Our lives fit into the unwritten chapters between Jude and Revelation, long after the infant Emmanuel grew up, died, rose again, and returned to his home in heaven, but before his return to a remade earth. We were born not into a world that harbors the infant Lord himself, but into a world that reverberates with the echoes of his life and death. Ours is a world that is “groaning together in the pains of childbirth” (Rom. 8:22), looking forward to a time when our Lord will fulfill the words he spoke (again, to John) in Revelation: “Behold, I am making all things new” (21:5).
We sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” with joy, for he has come. He has ransomed captive Israel. Rejoice! And we sing it with longing, for we look forward to the day when the God who lived among us once will return, and this time, he will come to stay:
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
This week, we feast. We break bread over a grandmother’s banquet table; we clink glasses at a countertop bar in a friend’s apartment. We spoon-feed babies, savor that first bite of roast, and linger over a dripping slice of store-bought cherry pie. And as we feast, let us look forward to that final feast, when the Lord himself, the Resurrected King, will dine with us. May we, with the great multitude, cry out:
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come.”
That is where the Christmas story ends, and a brand new story begins.
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