Bringing Christ into the World
First of all, let me start by wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and thanking you for being here tonight to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Tonight is not merely a celebration of the birth of a child nor even the birth of the Messiah. Tonight we celebrate the birth of our God. Tonight we celebrate that our God took up residency inside Mary and became one of us and that through the pain of childbirth, Mary brought Christ into the world. And that’s where I want our minds to linger this evening, on the birth of Christ, or more specifically, on Mary bringing Christ into the world.
As a former, thoroughgoing evangelical, I was raised to be quite skeptical of anything that anyone says about Mary. I was told, rightly, that the Catholic doctrines about Mary don’t come from the Bible, and wrongly, that we should therefore keep Mary at an arm’s distance. Except, it’s the Bible which says of Mary that she is blessed among women.
Luke 1:42 (ESV)
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
And, again in the Bible, Mary sings of herself that all generations will call her blessed.
Luke 1:48 (ESV)
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
So I’m no longer scared to speak too highly of Mary as I once was, for every generation of the church should call her blessed, i.e. show her appropriate respect and honor. With that in mind, let me say this, as Mary gives birth to her son this evening, Mary is a model for Christian discipleship.
Mary is a Model for Christian Discipleship
Mary is a Model for Christian Discipleship
To understand this better, we need to go backwards in time about nine months. On March 25, the church celebrates a special feast day: the Feast of the Annunciation. On that day we celebrate the angel Gabriel coming to Mary to announce to her that she had would give birth to a child.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
To which, Mary ultimately replies:
Luke 1:38 (ESV)
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
And presumably, at that moment, Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, took up residency inside her body. Christ was “in her,” as this icon from Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai in Egypt illustrates.
Now, I want to pause here for just a moment and remind you of something we talked about last week in our Story of the Bible class. I said last week that God works in human history to provide us with metaphors and language for us to understand who Jesus was and what he did. Jesus died as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, but he didn’t die within the sacrificial system. He wasn’t killed in the Jerusalem by a priest and laid on the altar. The sacrificial system was a metaphor for what would happen on the cross. It helps us understand what happened when Jesus died.
In the same way, I want to suggest tonight, thanks in part to some recent writings by my friend Matt Millner, art history professor at Wheaton College, that the annunciation, while a real historical event, is also a metaphor for what happens to all of us at our conversion.
If you’ve been listening to me preach for the past five years, you’ll know that I make a big deal about us dwelling in Christ, but it is equally true that our conversion, Christ dwells in us.
The prophets has promised long ago that God, just like at the annunciation, would spirit within us. That he would come to dwell within us.
And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
Paul put it this way:
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
At the Annunciation, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ dwelt in Mary’s body. Likewise, at our conversion/baptism, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ comes to dwell in our body. And this isn’t a one time thing. We relive this moment of Christ coming to dwell inside us every time we come forward and once again welcome Christ inside us as we eat and drink his body and blood. It’s for this reason (because Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, dwells in us) that Paul can say things like:
2 Corinthians 6:16 (ESV)
For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
So we are disciples of Jesus Christ, are like Mary. Christ has come to dwell in us. He has taken up residency in us. This is made remarkably clear in the Icon of St. Menas with Christ, in the Byzantine church of St. Nicholas of Kasnitzi in Kastoria, Greece. Remember this image I showed you at the beginning of the sermon?
Now consider this image:
St. Menas was a Roman soldier from Egypt who was martyred for his Christian faith. But do you see what’s happened? Instead of Christ dwelling in Mary, he now dwells in St. Menas, just as he dwells in each and every one of you. In that sense, you are Mary because Christ dwells in your body.
But, of course, the point isn’t merely that dwells in us. Christ, as he was inside Mary, but must be formed in us. Paul address the Galatians as:
Galatians 4:19 (ESV)
My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!
The process of Christ being formed in us is not Christ growing bodily in our womb but rather us becoming more like Christ, what we call discipleship. And the goal of all this, of course, is Christmas. The goal of Christ dwelling in us and Christ being formed in us as we are conformed to his image is Christmas, it’s bringing Christ into the world. Tonight we celebrate that Mary literally brought Christ into the world through the pains of childbirth. She brought for the king of heaven and earth, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Son of God, Immanuel, God with us. But, we too, like Mary, are tasked today with bringing Christ into the world. We don’t bring Christ into the world through the pains of childbirth. Instead, we bring Christ into the world by being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ for other people. We bring Christ into the world by showing his love to other people. We bring Christ into the world by shining his light into the darkest places of this world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ dwells in us, and he is being formed in us as we are being conformed in his image so that we can bring Christ to other people.
Which is to say that Christmas isn’t just a celebration and it isn’t just a miracle. Rather,
Christmas is Missional
Christmas is Missional
Christ didn’t come to their world merely to hang out with us for a few decades. Christ came to this world on a mission. He came to deal with the problem of sin and to bring his eternal kingdom. He was born to bring to this world hi salvation (in every sense of that word). And now he has come to dwell in us and he is being formed in us so that we can bring that same salvation to the same world, so that we can be Christ for other people. That’s what I’d like you to ponder this Christmas. I want you to put yourself in the place of Mary this evening, just like in the icon of St. Menas. Christ dwells in you. Christ is being formed in you. But now it’s time to celebrate Christmas. It is time for you to go back out those doors and bring Christ to the world, to be his hands and feet, to bring his kingdom, and to shine his light. Christmas is a celebration, yes, but it is also a commission for each and every one of us to take what is inside us and bring it forth in this world, a commission for each and every one of us to bring Christ into this world this Christmas.