Taking our places at Christmas

Published 11:16 pm Friday, December 19, 2014

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

On Wednesday at 5 p.m., our church will hold one of my favorite services of the year, our Christmas Eve candlelight service. I love this annual time of worship.

Apparently so does Bono, the lead singer for the band U2. One year after returning home from a tour, Bono, who is a practicing Christian, attended a Christmas Eve service in Dublin with his family.

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He shares how God spoke to him that night about the truth at the heart of Christmas: “Love needs to find a form; intimacy needs to be whispered. Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.”

Bono is right. There did have to be an incarnation. God had to become man in order to accomplish our rescue. Why?

Christianity is about place-taking. What are we doing when we sin? We are seeking to take God’s place. We are saying, “You are not going to be on the throne of my life in this situation. I am going to take your place.”

Now, in response to our rebellion, God would have been perfectly just to condemn us. But in amazing grace and love, God said, “Instead of condemning you for seeking to take my place, I am going to become a human being and take your place.”

And he did. God became a human being and lived the perfect life in our place. And then he went to the cross and took the punishment we deserved — in our place. It’s all about place-taking. He then rose from the dead, conquering death for all who trust him.

Romans 1:3-4 (ESV) says Jesus “was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power … by his resurrection from the dead.” Notice that Jesus did not become the Son of God by his resurrection. No, his resurrection was a declaration of who he already was.

In the first verse of his gospel, John says this about Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1 ESV)

Jesus was already God, from before the foundation of the world. But then what happened? “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14 ESV)

This was God coming to us. This was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:23 ESV)

What all this means is this: You are loved. The One who created you loves you. He could have allowed us to wallow in the consequences of our rebellion. He could have said, “You wanted it your way, so have it your way.” Instead, he came to be with us. He came to save us.

The Son of God became the Son of man so that we can become sons and daughters of God. How must we respond to such love?

Once again, we turn to the first chapter of John: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12 ESV)

Receive. Believe. Become.

One more thing: Merry Christmas!

Thurman Hayes is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.