“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)
The simple nativity scenes that are part of traditional Christmas decorations represent a lot of hard work. I’m not referring to the work of actually making one, but the scene itself. Here’s what I mean.
When we say someone is “doing it the hard way” we are usually not complementing them, like a picture I saw of a guy cutting a pizza with a handsaw. It may be someone who is not doing what they’ve been commanded to do, and thus, they are going to experience the consequences, but they will still have to do what they were told. There are some people who insist on doing things their own difficult way simply because it’s their own way.
Christmas is about God doing things the hard way. When it came to saving the world, God didn’t push the easy button. He could have pushed that button long ago and just annihilated the mess the world became. How hard would that have been for an omnipotent God who made it all in the first place? Genesis 6:5-7 hints at God feeling that urge with no mention of starting over. In Exodus 32:9-10, God threatened to do that with Israel and start over with Moses. God certainly didn’t need mankind as God is self-sufficient and the fellowship of the Trinity was eternally perfect. When mankind rebelled against God, he could have just written it all off as a good idea he had that just didn’t work out as planned. “We don’t need this grief. What we had was already perfect, so let’s just go back to that!” is not what God said.
Luke 2:6-7 is the fulfillment of God’s promise in Genesis 3:15 to give the Woman seed that would crush Satan and rescue fallen mankind. In other words, it would be a Man who would crush Satan. It would not be a creature from outer-space; it would not be some created beast or cosmic weapon; it would not be an animal; nor would it be an angel. It would be a Man, a flesh-and-blood human being, a descendant of Eve who would do this job.
Couldn’t God have pushed the easy button and had Revelation 19:11-21 unfold? Why not make that the First Advent the only Advent with Philippians 2:10-11 happening right now? Why not just have the heavens open and the Son of Man descend in great glory and drop-dead power and be done with it all? That kind of coming is easy for God. Instead we have a newborn wrapped in swaddling cloths (a normal newborn) lying in a manger (at least it wasn’t the ground) because there was no room in the inn for a young mother in labor. This scene of Jesus’ birth is one of powerlessness and is the first of many scenes in the story of this baby growing to manhood, only to be rejected, then crucified, before being resurrected and restored to his place of glory at the right hand of his Father.
Here’s the point: God’s method for saving the world wasn’t easy. Redemption required hard work, even for God. When God created the heavens and the earth all it took was his words and breath. But when God set about the work of re-creation, it took humbling incarnation, incredible suffering, bloodshed, and death. That was hard. It was physically and emotionally exhausting, and incredibly painful. The most intense labor happened on the cross as Jesus’ life drained from him drop by bloody drop. That’s why it’s so insulting for people to act as if God didn’t do enough or somehow left part of the work undone, leaving it up to each of us to finish the job. What Jesus did was not easy but it was enough. He finished the work.
The Christmas story tells me that God’s mission takes hard work. Changing the world doesn’t happen through wishes or noble intentions. It requires the hard work of incarnation, just like Jesus. It’s not just telling things to people. It’s being with them and entering into their lives. The work of evangelism and disciple-making is not easy. It takes time and lots of it, frustration, tears, disappointments, patience, prayer, and an endless supply of compassionate love. We don’t finish the job in our lifetime because we’ll never bring ourselves or anyone else to the ultimate end of glorification. That’s God’s work and it won’t happen this side of the grave. Until then, the work continues as the Holy Spirit reshapes us into the image of Jesus and then empowers us to be instruments for the same purpose in other’s lives. We are his workmanship created for the work of God (Eph. 2:10).
In this Christmas season, don’t be discouraged in the work of the Lord. And don’t be in a hurry to see things happen in lives that take time. Don’t take shortcuts in the work of evangelism and discipleship because the end result may be something other than what God is after. There is nothing too difficult for the Lord, but that doesn’t mean that everything he does is easy for him to do. The gospel is simple but don’t mistake simple for easy. Just because you don’t work for your salvation doesn’t mean your salvation won’t lead you down a pathway of hard work. God does things the hard way because it’s the only way he gets what he wants and only in God getting what he wants can we get what we really need.