Just Call Me Ebenezer

December 11, 2010

By Lance Johnson

Bah Humbug!

Bah Humbug! Yep, when it comes to Christmas I am a bit of a Scrooge. There, I have said it. It’s out there for all to know and I will never deny it. That sounds odd coming from a pastor, but it is true all the same. There are many long, complicated, and irrelevant reasons for my lack of enthusiasm for the season, but as far as I am concerned we could move directly from Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday with lots of good memories and traditions, straight through to New Years without passing a shopping mall, without spending $200. Right, wrong or indifferent, that is how I feel about Christmas. Let’s just skip it altogether.

So, how do I reconcile this with my faith in the Incarnate Christ? Frankly, I don’t even try. Don’t get me wrong. I love the biblical account of the Incarnation. What can be more moving than to read about how the Christ child was born of a virgin in very humble circumstances? The accounts of the angelic announcements of the upcoming birth to Mary and Joseph, especially the passage from Matthew 1:23, “and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us),” make me shiver. The joyous response of the yet unborn child of Elizabeth, better known as John the Baptist, is a joyous sound to my own ears. The faith that prompted the travels of the Wise Men brings a longing to my heart for a similar faith, and the knowledge that the birth was nnounced not to the vocational ministers of the day but to shepherds makes me wonder if I should not take the framed copy of my seminary degree off the wall. Truly, the Incarnation is a reason to celebrate, and I plan to do so this year with great enthusiasm. Let’s start with Matthew 1:18-25.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

The angel that came to explain Mary’s situation to Joseph brought two novel ideas. First, he knew what we really need for Christmas. One of the worst parts of the way we celebrate Christmas is trying to decide what to get for my family and friends. Everyone I know already has enough shirts, ties, sweaters, books, and coffee cups. Anything beyond those items quickly gets out of my price range, so I fret and worry about what to buy. I want to be creative but creativity requires more money, time, and talent than I have available. But this angel, he brought a really good idea. What I need, and what everyone I know needs, more than anything else is salvation from our sin. That is what the Incarnation is all about. The angel told Joseph that Jesus would save his people from their sin. That is why Jesus came. Jesus himself said that he came “to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) What more could we ask?

The second novel idea the angel brought was the whole concept of the Incarnation. The angel said the child would be known as Immanuel, which means “God with us.” This is a new and glorious concept of God. We tend to think of God as distant and far away, and in many ways we like it that way. If he is not near, we can easily ignore him and go on about our business except for a few token religious activities, having a form of godliness that has little to do with our day-to-day existence. It is an impersonal relation with the divine being that allows us to pay lip service to him, feel good about ourselves, and continue in life with no real change in who we are.

However, if we have any interest at all in eternal life, this concept of “God with us” is profound and comforting for it brings God near to those who need and desire him most. The Incarnation makes God profoundly personal and approachable. The Apostle John was also excited about the Incarnation. He says in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father,full of grace and truth.” The incarnate Word shows us, reveals to us, the divine character of the redeeming God. In Christ we see and understand the life-changing grace and truth with which God deals with his people.

We often fail to comprehend this doctrinal truth. Jesus reminded the Apostle Phillip that whoever had seen him had seen the Father (John 14:9). The Incarnation affords us the great privilege that was denied to Moses. Moses asked to see the glory of God, but God could only allow him to see a passing glance of his glory. (See Exodus 33.) In Christ we see the character of God, particularly the grace he extends to his people and the truth that is the essence of his being. Furthermore, that incarnate Word came and “dwelt” among his people. He made his residence right here where we are for all to see and know. A personal relationship with the Almighty God is now possible because he lives among us. As the angels would say, “Glory to God in the highest.”

The author of Hebrews also celebrated the Incarnation of Christ. In Hebrews 4:14-16 he told us,

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (ESV)

For this great man of God, the significance of the Incarnation was that it gives us confidence before the Lord. You see, one of the offices Christ holds in the Kingdom of God is that of high priest, and what a glorious high priest he is. He is not a religious professional living in an ivory tower far removed from the nitty-gritty existence in a world that is at best unwelcoming of those who follow the way of the Lord. He faced the exact same temptations and challenges we do, yet without sin. That in itself is a worthy of our praise, but there is more. His sinless life is this world of temptations and challenges gives us confidence to approach the throne of grace. You see, because of the Incarnation the righteousness of Christ became my righteousness before God and I can stand before his throne with the confidence that he will receive me as one of his just as he receives his Son, Christ the Lord. Truly, He is our Ebenezer, which means “rock of help.” What a great gift from the Almighty to a fallen, sinful, helpless world.

6 Responses to “Just Call Me Ebenezer”

  1. EJK said

    Thank you Lance for this post. My own church is doing a series of messages with the Incarnation as the main theme.

    Thanks for the clever use of the word Ebenezer.

    One trivial comment before I go. Thanks for the picture of Alistair Sim. He gave may favorite portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge.

  2. Lance said

    Thanks, EJK. I am glad you enjoyed the post. The truth is that I really am a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas, but am always humbled at the thought of the Incarnation.

  3. Deborah Caffey Heath said

    It really takes a daily, conscious effort to keep my heart & mind focused on why we celebrate Christmas to begin with. Actually, it would be easier if we could go back to the time period that the Christmas Carol was set in because it was so much simpler then than we have made it! But if I begin each day of Advent focusing on God Incarnate, it reminds me that none of the other things we’ve added to the season matter as much as our relationship with Him.

  4. Don Abbott said

    She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

    What an amazing thought… for that to have been spoken 2000 years ago and to know that we were already counted in that number.

    He came for His people, He died for His people, He lives so that His people might have life, He makes intersession for His people, He is returning for His people.

    Hallelujah, what a Savior!

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