I do not travel to speak very often, but when I do I usually face the daunting challenge of deciding what to focus the message on. When you only have two or three sessions with a group of people who you may not ever have contact with again, there is a pressure to choose something that will be an encouragement to them but also transcend that moment and perhaps make a long-term impact in their thinking. At times in the past I have laughed as I imagine what would happen if I was speaking at a conference in the middle of July and said, “turn to Matthew 1, I’m going to be preaching on the birth of Jesus!” I picture awkward chuckles turning into perplexed, empty stares as they realize I’m not kidding. Admittedly, it does seem odd. We have all been conditioned to view that as a seasonal subject. It has also been my experience that songs, pageants, books, and movies which try to depict the event often leave the impression of quaint sentimentality. An amazing story to share with our children, for sure, but it is probably not something for the evening session of a charismatic conference.
I can say without any thought or hesitation that over the course of the last decade there has been nothing more impacting and formative for me than prayerfully searching out the knowledge of Jesus in a very specific and intentional way. His life as revealed in the four gospels stands at the very center of this and continues to be my favorite of the courses that I have the privilege to teach. All of the portions of the life of Jesus are so rich and pregnant with meaning, but most are treated with a shocking degree of brevity considering the character in view. There are, however, two segments which receive a vastly disproportionate amount of attention. His birth and His death – the bookends of the first advent of Jesus – command a gloriously detailed treatment. Consider, for instance, that the gospel of Luke devotes close to 150 verses to narrating events or giving information about the entrance of Jesus into the world and summarizes an entire year of His public ministry filled with astonishing teaching and breathtaking miracles with just under 250 verses.
Why such an imbalance? The birth of Jesus is the story of when the Maker of all things taking on flesh and plunging forever into the tale of men. It is not merely cute, or touching, it is a storehouse of the riches of the knowledge of God (cf. Col 2:2). Each scene, every detail, is like the infamous magic wardrobe for those would take the time to lovingly ponder it. What is observable opens into a world of revelation and wonder through the mystery of the Incarnation. Christmas is a gift in that it invites us to remember the manger, but if we can press through the familiarity and see that newborn rightly, it will cause us to return and marvel at Him there throughout the entire year. As for me, His birth remains on my short list of things to preach on, regardless of the season.