Jesus in a Small Package (Some Christmas Thoughts)
The season of Advent is so packed with significance, both personal and historical, that we can’t even begin to scratch its surface. As the evangelist, John, writes at the end of his book—if all the things Jesus said and did were written in books, the whole world would not be able to contain them!
Each year, Isaiah’s famous prophesy in Isaiah 9:1-7 is read and lauded around the world. It is a customary Advent passage in which the then-future Messiah is described as a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Those with ears to hear can’t help but be struck by the way in which God so often chooses the weakest things to accomplish the greatest things. “To us a Child is born,” Isaiah writes.
NOT “To us a warrior is trained up,” or “To us a politician is elected,” or “To us a windfall of cash is given.”
INSTEAD, “To us a child is born.”
And the government shall be on his shoulders.
And of its increase there will be no end.
My dear friend and predecessor, Dr. Ray Ortlund, Junior, unpacks the implications of this long-term prophesy in his masterful commentary on Isaiah:
[Jesus] will not come back to tweak this problem and that. He will return with a massive correction of all systemic evil forever… ‘Of the increase’ … forever ascending, forever enlarging, forever accelerating, forever intensifying. There will never come one moment when we will say, “This is the limit. He can’t think of anything new. We’ve seen it all.” No. The finite will experience ever more wonderfully the infinite, and every new moment will be better than the last.
That’s the future promised to us by the Child born at Christmas.
Every tomorrow better than today.
Every day younger and stronger and smarter than we were the day before.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Whereas Dr. Ortlund speaks of the future and second Advent of Christ, what are we to make of the first Advent—that historical event in a manger that we now call Christmas—where a newborn, poor, Middle Eastern, soon-to-be refugee child is said to carry the hope of the universe on his shoulders?
What are we to make of the fact that a little child, and not some Nietzschean “Superman” (Ubermensch) is the one who will come to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found? What are we to make of the fact that a little child, and not some well-networked, well-endowed, pedigreed elite has come to rule the world with truth and grace, and make the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love?
To our earthbound eyes, this approach to world domination just doesn’t make sense.
As Tim Keller has said, if our goal was that in 2,000 years from now, 75% of the human race will know our name, 25% of the human race will center their entire lives around us, our body of teaching will be the most influential in history, and whole civilizations will be built on our vision for flourishing, our strategy would not include being born among farm animal urine in a stable in a little town in the middle of nowhere, spend our life outside all the networks of economic, political, and academic power, get no credentials, then get executed early in our career as an absolute disgrace.
And yet, this is how God chose to break into history and change things.
This is how God chose to demonstrate his rule over every person, place, and thing.
This is how God chose to assert his insurmountable government, the one that has been firmly placed on the shoulders of the Child, whose reign will ever be on the increase, from this time forth and forevermore.
God’s power, we might say, decidedly and often will manifest not through visible strength but through visible weakness. As Chesterton has said about the Child of Christmas, “God who had been only a circumference was seen as centre; and a centre is infinitely small…The faith becomes in more ways than one, a religion of little things.”
A religion not of big things, but of little things.
The Apostle Paul said the same:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
And here’s one more insight for us to consider as Christmas draws near. It’s an insight that I hope will stick with me for the rest of my days. It’s another insight about small things, about inexplicable historic realities that have no explanation except that God shows his power, and verifies his reign, chiefly through the weak things.
This insight has to do with the way that Walker Percy, the southern writer and novelist, came to be a Christian.
And why was it, you might ask, that Walker Percy became a Christian?
He became a Christian because the Jews, from whom the Child of Isaiah’s prophecy descended, still exist.
Rather than summarize his thoughts myself, I’ll just give Percy the last word. And thank you to my friend, Richie Sessions, for passing these wonderful quotes on to me.
First, from Percy’s “Why are You Catholic?”…
The Jews are a stumbling block to theory. They cannot be subsumed under any social or political theory…The Jews are both a sign and a stumbling block. That is why they are hated by theorists like Hitler and Stalin. The Jews cannot be gotten around. The great paradox of the Western world is that even though it was in the Judeo-Christian West that modern science arose and flourished, it is Judeo-Christianity which the present-day scientific set of mind finds the most offensive among the world’s religions. Judaism is offensive because it claims that God entered into a covenant with a single tribe, with it and no other…But for the self that finds itself lost in the desert of theory and consumption, there is nothing to do but set out as a pilgrim in the desert in search of a sign. In this desert, that of theory and consumption, there remains only one sign, the Jews. By “the Jews” I mean not only Israel, the exclusive people of God, but the worldwide ecclesia instituted by one of them, God-become-man [Jesus], a Jew.
And second, from Percy’s “The Message in the Bottle…”
Where are the Hittites? Why does no one find it remarkable that in most world cities today there are Jews but not one single Hittlte, even though the Hittites had a great flourishing civilization while the Jews nearby were a weak and obscure people? When one meets a Jew in New York or New Orleans or Paris or Melbourne, it is remarkable that no one considers the event remarkable. What are they doing here? But it is even more remarkable to wonder, if there are Jews here, why are there not Hittites here? Where are the Hittites? Show me one Hittite in New York City.
May we all have a small, and merry, Christmas this year.
Because God prefers and chooses the small things.