Emmanuel is God with us. And with is not with like in the same astral region, it’s with like face to face, intimately connected. People tell me inclusion leaves Jesus out of the equation, I say it makes full light of who he truly is, our Emmanuel. He is God, with us.
And since it’s that time of year (you know, nowhere close to when Jesus was actually born) we begin hearing all the songs about this wonderful incarnation of the Father’s love and grace. We sing them and play them in our churches, and like many such songs, we completely ignore what they’re actually saying.
Case in point, silent night. Silent night, Holy night. All is calm, all is bright.
Also the night hundreds of mothers are weeping and gnashing their teeth as their infants are slaughtered. I doubt there was much silence that night. Holy? What is holy about the murder of innocents? No, the way Jesus entered the earth shows us a bit about the Father’s plan. Jesus came in on the most evil of nights, when human violence and rage were ending the lives of hundreds in search for this promised Emmanuel. Why were they looking for him? Prophecy. The whole idea that the government would be (note the wording, would be) on his shoulders was not something the Jewish elite were willing to give up. Nothing was calm that night. It was dark, evil, and sinister. It only serves the Father’s nature more perfectly that the light of the world enters the world on the darkest of nights.
When we are in the darkness, throwing on a flood light is hardly useful, blinds us, and can cause some problems. When we’re in the darkness, all we need is the smallest of lights. The seemingly most insignificant light in the daytime becomes a beacon in the darkness. Jesus was that insignificant light switched on in the night. The power of God is best revealed in the weakness of man. What we think is weak and frail is powerful.
And so, in peace, without protection, without armed guards to hide him, without political amnesty, He is born. The power of silence is not that the night itself was a silent or holy night, it is that the night was evil and in the midst of that darkness, came the light of the world – in the form of the most peaceful, helpless thing possible. I have a 2 month old boy. I look at him and think what Joseph must have felt for this child. Sheer terror that the life of this little one is in my hands, and sheer joy knowing that when he smiles at me, he does so from the inclusion he feels at my side. He knows his mother and I, and he knows we care for him. You can see it when he looks at his mommy. Jesus must’ve looked at Mary that way, and I’m certain she was smitten – son of God or no, He was hers.
I’m not one to dissect a whole song, and in this one there’s plenty of good stuff too. But there’s this one line. And it never really settled on my why I didn’t particularly like it until the last few years. Jesus, Lord at thy birth. Now I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not questioning His Lordship now. I’m questioning it at his birth. Jesus wasn’t lord at his birth. He was infant. He was human. Now if we mean Jesus, divine at thy birth, then my stance would change. But we don’t. We mean Lord as in Lord over all creation. That particular type of Lord, he wasn’t at his birth.
Let me explain.
To overcome the human condition (propensity to collective and sacred violence, out of control desire) Jesus became the human condition. He did not simply wear a man suit and remain Lord underneath. Yes, the mystery and tension of incarnation is fully God and fully man, but that statement is not about Lordship. It’s about his DNA, his makeup (and incidentally, yours and mine). We are fully divine and fully human as well, because of Christ in us (not of our own).
So then if Jesus wasn’t Lord at his birth, then when?
At his bodily resurrection as conqueror over death.
Jesus became Lord of all life when He became the only one to defeat death. That’s how you earn that title. To be Lord of something, you must have ruled over it. To rule over life, you must destroy what opposes it, and Jesus has (if we take Paul seriously) defeated death.
I find it interesting that before his crucifixion and descent into hades, Jesus preaches about all sorts of things ranging from character and social justice to healing and prophecy. But afterwards, his tone changes. He’s no longer interested in telling them how to live, he just wants to hang out. The urgency of teaching is no longer there – and I believe it is because Jesus held full confidence in what He had just done.
You see, we have to remember that Jesus was human, and as human had (if any at all) very little foresight or foreknowledge of what would happen before, during and after the crucifixion. Before, Jesus teaches people about peace, and loving one another – because this is the way to avoid Sheol (that place we create every time we insist upon war and hatred). However, after entering hades through the anger and rage of the people (gehenna’s fires) and overcoming that which lies beneath (death and hell) He raises, and everything changes. Again, we see that the power of God is revealed in the weakness of men. The living God finds power in the dying Christ and in that moment, enacts the greatest mass murder the world has ever known – binding us in the Son, hopelessly and not of our own volition.
He knows His victory is complete. He knows the kingdom has been established. He knows hades is no more. He knows that he has defeated him who held the power of death. He knows that he’s locked the gates of hell and thrown away the key. He knows that it is finished. And so He raises, in full confidence of what’s just happened. This is the good news, the good happening of Jesus Christ – not that He is “Lord at his birth” but that he became Lord by defeating our death, by dying us in His death, descending as and with us, raising us up to new life, and seating us at the right hand of the Father.
We have to understand also the political and global claims that are made when these titles are used of Jesus. When we read that the “Government will be on his shoulders” the Jewish elite get their knickers in a twist. When we see “King of Kings” the author is usually making a jab at the Persian kings (a title reserved for their king). Persia is where Darius was king – you know, Daniel, the reason the Jews had the expectation of a violent messiah. When we see “Lord of Lords” the author is stirring the pot with Rome. Jesus is Lord always carries the unspoken, whispered phrase “and Caesar is not” behind it, and nothing could have been more politically offensive. Government, King, Lord are titles used to describe his rule and reign yes, but they are also pointed attacks at the local magistrates.
Jesus is Lord – and Lord over all life, not because of his immaculate conception, but because of the darkness and evil that surrounded him. The light of the world has overcome the darkness, a little bit at a time. What started as a little insignificant light has become a sun that lights every corner of the human experience.
This blog is reprinted with permission from Caleb Miller. You can find more of his blog articles at http://theimperfectpastor.com.