Feature

John M. Fowler

editor-at-large, Adventist Review

Shall We Listen to Him?

Celebrate it or not, Christmas is a time for a more important activity: to listen to God. Perhaps it's easier said than done. More than any other time of the year, it is the noisiest, the busiest, the happiest, and for some, the loneliest. The rush to decipher the art of giving, buy that gift, package it, deliver it and then rush the day after to return it hardly leaves one time to listen to God. Yet we must. In the midst of budget challenges and gift exchanges, there is something more meaningful and enriching one can do: Listen to God's greatest speech to this world, given in the context of Bethlehem.

The author of Hebrews understood that speech perfectly (Heb. 1:1-3). In ages past God had spoken in many ways, sublime and wondrous. Right at the beginning, He spoke to us of His marvelous creation, chief of which is that we are made in His image. Across history He thundered through prophets. He appeared in visions and dreams. He spent lunch time with some, and saved others from becoming lunch to vicious creatures. He roared from Mount Sinai, giving us in unmistakable terms the moral compass of our lives. He whispered through that still small voice. He had His speeches written down for generations to come, and carefully preserved the written word, so that it may be a “lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path” (Ps. 119:105).[1] But the critical climax of God's speech came on that day when He chose to speak to us in Bethlehem through His Son (see Heb. 1:1, 2).

What did God speak on that day through His Son?

First, God spoke to us: “Fear not” (Luke 1:30; Matt. 1:20; Luke 2:10). The message first given to a young and frightened Mary, then to a confused Joseph, and then to humble shepherds reverberates down through the ages to every human being. Fear is among the first of emotional tragedies to befall humanity after sin entered the world (Gen. 3:10). More than 650 times in the Bible, God commands His people, “Fear not”—more than any other command.

The advent of the Savior promises a life without fear.

When you are not sure what the gospel is all about, when your faith is under attack, when you doubt your mission and ministry, when you are unsure of your self-worth, when sickness and death stare at you, when your future is cloudy and uncertain, God’s assurance through Jesus is, “Fear not.” He has conquered every domain of fear and has equipped us with every needed weapon to fight the onslaught of fear through His Son whose power and presence say to us, “Be not afraid” (see Matt. 1:20/28:5; 17:5-7; 28:10; 10:28-31; Luke 8:50; John 14:1-3).

Second, God spoke to us that in the Son we have Immanuel—God with us (Matt. 1:23). Of course God has always been with us, before and since Bethlehem. His everlasting presence has been the abiding source of comfort and strength to God’s people throughout all time. “I am with you,” is His promise. “I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).

But at Bethlehem the hinge of history turned, and we have a new and dynamic reality of God: “a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son” (Isa. 7:14). He took upon Himself human nature, and became “Immanuel…, God with us” (Matt. 1:23).

Bethlehem confronts us with two great wonders. First, the wonder of Jesus’ birth--a virgin shall “conceive…and bring forth a Son”(1:31). Jesus was born in history—in time and space—but His birth is beyond history and confounds history. The virgin birth of Jesus has posed a profound intellectual and scientific problem. It is against nature, and it cannot be explained by science or philosophy. Even Mary had her question, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34). The angel assured her that this shall be the work of the Holy Spirit, and “with God nothing will be impossible.” Mary’s immediate and faithful submission was remarkable: “Let it be to me according to your word” (1: 34-38). Every human question, however natural or logical or necessary it may be, must give way to the eternal axiom that all things are possible with God. Be it Creation or the Cross, the Incarnation or the Resurrection, the downpour of manna or the outpouring of the Pentecost—the divine initiative demands human surrender and acceptance. No debate! No questioning!

If the first wonder of Bethlehem is the nature of Jesus’ birth, the second is the reason for His birth. The Son born in that manger long ago is God with us, and God for us—One who “bound Himself to humanity by a tie that is never to be broken”[2] and One “who gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6). The Son is the absolute revelation of God’s love and grace. Through Him we have an elder brother; through Him we have our salvation from sin and a pathway to eternal life (John 3:16). In His incarnate state, the Son has achieved more than recovery from sin’s ruin; He has destroyed Satan's plan to bring about an eternal separation between God and human. The Son is Immanuel, the unshakeable assurance that God is with us now, and forever more.

Third, God spoke to us that Jesus alone is our Savior (Matt. 1:21; Luke 1:31). Since Adam and Eve crossed that forbidden zone, and since all humanity has become part of that tragedy of sin and death, the universal cry has been,“who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). The resounding answer comes through God’s strategy at Bethlehem: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). And the powerful message of John 3:16 tells us that at Bethlehem God gave to us His greatest gift--“His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This redemptive dimension of Christmas must not be forgotten in the midst of all the festivities. For one thing, Christmas ever reminds us about our sin. Sin is real. Sin is costly. Sin's grip is so immense and deadly that forgiveness of sin and freedom from its power and guilt are impossible without the inevitable endpoint of the Christmas journey: the "precious blood of Christ" (1 Pet. 1:19). This truth about sin needs to be said again and again because we live in a world that denies the reality of sin or remains indifferent to it. Vivekananda, the Hindu philosopher, once said that "it is a sin to call a man a sinner. It is a standing libel on human nature."[3] That may well be the view of many today—from the materialist who defines life's occupation in terms of possession to the philosophic humanist who captures life's pursuit in terms of self-fulfillment. But not to the babe of Bethlehem. In Him we are confronted with the Creator of the universe wrapped in swaddling clothes, ready to begin His journey to a distant hill called Golgotha to pour out His blood “for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28).

The majesty and the power of God turned Bethlehem’s manger into the first step on the divine mission to destroy sin and Satan, and inaugurate salvation. Hence, call the manger’s babe, Jesus—the Savior of the world!

Shall we not then, even as the world around may plunge in the materialism of the market place, take time to listen to what God has to say to each of us through His Son?



[1] All Scripture references are from New King James Version.

[2] Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 25.

[3]Swami Vivekananda, Speeches and Writings, 3rd ed. (Madras, India: G. A. Natesan, n.d.), p. 39.

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