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“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14, RSV)
Christ’s birth is not just something that happened for the good of your soul – it is something that happened for the good of God, the good of creation, and the good of every living creature. It happened to bring the glory of God to light again in a great, vast world that stretches through heaven and on earth and under the earth, so that once again the earth shall declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1).
In the time of Noah, God meant the rainbow to be a covenant for the whole world, and for humankind in the world (Gen. 5). “Never again will I destroy you,” God said. “I will preserve you.” But for what? Is it worth going to the trouble to preserve us wretched human beings for eternal misery, for eternal affliction that takes different shapes and forms at different times? Not at all! This is not what we have been preserved for; this is not the reason why God, the Holy and Just, has tolerated our fleshly life for so long. No, humankind has been preserved for the coming of the Son from the Father so that people, corrupt and sunk in sin though they are, might once again find life from the Creator through the Son (John 3:17) – in order that they who are lost might approach the Father again in new life (Rom. 6:4).
So today is also a day when we are reminded of God’s covenant which he began with Noah, confirmed in Abraham, and concluded with Jesus Christ. It is a day when we are reminded of the covenant in which those to whom the birth of Christ is proclaimed are especially called to see how God’s glory can be made great on earth, and how peace on earth can be increased and can lead again to God’s pleasure, that everything in the creation is once more “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
Christmas is a Day of Covenant
Let this Christmas Day be a day of covenant (2 Cor. 3:6). Let Christmas be a day for the uniting of many in the spirit of God’s truth and justice, a day for shaking hands with each other and saying: “Come, let us forget ourselves. Let us think about our Savior and his work for God the Father and for the Holy Spirit. Let us help him, rather than being lazy Christians who do nothing but feast. Let us work, let us suffer and endure, and even die in our Lord Jesus. Let our only concern be to see that his work goes on; that the glory of God is spread through all of heaven, over all peoples and over all the depths; that the streams of the Holy Spirit come again when we have died to the flesh and walk in newness of life (Rom. 8:9–15), and can come before God as his children, through the Lord Jesus.”
For the time being, this means we have to celebrate Christ’s day, the real Christ’s day, in quietness and in a different way than most other people. For Christmas has now become a feast day for the world too – a Christmas-tree holiday. Most people are excited about this day without knowing exactly why, so they practice all kinds of foolishness. Consequently they squander their earthly life on temporal things. And there is nothing much we can do about it.
But one thing we can do: we can feel compassion for the millions of people who, with the best of intentions, use up their strength on earthly matters without understanding the things of heaven. This compassion must drive us to strengthen our covenant with God and each other, so that God’s cause goes forward and reaches its goal. Then all humankind will come to see the light of God, the Father’s great plan of salvation (Acts 2:14–21).
Worship Like the Shepherds: On the Margins
There is much we can do in quietness to serve God, if we gather around the manger like the shepherds of Bethlehem and quietly worship him, remembering the great God who wants to become our Father in this Son (Luke 2:15–18). Let us not falter just because there are only a few people now who praise God in the Lord Jesus Christ in this way. There may well never be many who know themselves called to work for the kingdom of God. But this little flock has to give itself for the whole world, for the living God, for the sake of everyone, just as a few despised shepherds had to be there on behalf of all humankind to see and hear the choirs of the heavenly host and pass on to us the words which came from heaven: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”
The joy of these shepherds was not that they were the ones who had heard and seen such a thing, but that a new light was given to the whole world, that God had visited his people again (Luke 1:68–79). We too must prepare ourselves in small groups, as one people united with God through Jesus Christ, till we are ready to receive grace after grace, revelation after revelation, for the world and for humankind to the glory of God. This is what our joy should be on this day! Truly Christmas belongs to all of heaven. Christmas belongs to the whole earth. And finally, Christmas belongs to the world of the dead, for in the end on Christ’s day the dead will rise and will praise God in life.
Expectation Brings Insight
If this is what stirs our hearts, then we are in the state of mind where something from heaven can stir us as well. What was it that made those people – Mary, Joseph, Zacharias, Elizabeth, Anna, Simeon, and others who were waiting for the kingdom of God, able to receive something that was of heaven? Surely it was nothing else than the great heart which the word of God had given them. It was through the Scripture that they were given great thoughts and were made mindful of the great promises. They were consumed with grief for the misery of their whole people and the whole world. But they were also made firm in faith by the words of God’s promise that all the ends of the earth should see the salvation of our God. In this state of mind they broke free from the earthly things that bound them and were made capable of seeing and hearing something that was of God. If we want to be a people of God, we will have to be able to see and hear something of God.
But don’t think that now, for instance, while you are sitting here, you will suddenly see or hear something. It could happen to some, of course, but most Christians have their attention elsewhere. All they can do is ponder the past, hoping to find some truth there. They have to write tomes on every sentence in the Bible in an attempt to understand it.
That’s not how it should be. If we are a people of the covenant, we are a vessel for God’s speech and for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, since the Bible says that everyone will be taught by God himself (John 6:45; Isa. 54:13). And we should long to hear God’s voice again, long to experience the life of the risen Jesus Christ, long for the power and light of the Holy Spirit to be made visible again, glorifying God.
Why Is Christianity So Weak?
How blinded most Christians have become! They have not experienced anything of this new life for centuries, and they do not even believe they should be experiencing more. It’s a strange thing to consider the fact that today heaven is full of jubilation, knowledge, truth, justice, and new life – and yet on earth there are only tiny bands of Christians, trying so hard to become one with those who are in heaven, to the glory and honor of God. My friends, it is enough to make us grieve on this Christmas Day, which should be a day of the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). There are fewer and fewer people on earth who are capable of praising God in the way the shepherds praised him.
Certainly there are more people who are stirred by Christianity. But there is a difference between being stirred by Christian forms and being moved by the Spirit sent by God that puts us into a true relationship with him. Even so, we will not let our joy be taken from us, for we know that there is great rejoicing in heaven. We know that the Lord Jesus is being praised throughout the heavens even today.
And so we rejoice with all the hosts of heaven and will not be led astray, even if the great majority of people never think of the kingdom of God but continue lethargically year after year in their Christianity. Let us rise up in time and watch and pray (Luke 21:36), so that we can learn to hear the voice of the living God.
Rejoice on Behalf of All Creation
If this is what we long for, we must live in the same state of mind as those people did at the time of Jesus. So I say to all of you: Forget yourselves and think of the kingdom of God! Put aside your selfishness, open your hearts, elevate your thoughts, and let the birth of Jesus Christ stir you as a joy for the whole world. If you can learn to do so, rejoice on behalf of every living creature. As for me, I am not going to think about myself – instead, I will rejoice in the great Lord who does good things through the whole of creation.
The Savior needs a living people of God who renounce temporal things and take hold of what is eternal. My friends, I wish I had the voice of the Spirit to make clear to you how necessary that is. We Christians are far too submerged in temporal and earthly things. It is very dangerous, because what looks as though it were spirit, what is often called spirit, is only flesh painted over. People’s hearts are stirred – but by what? Test it and see; too often it is by earthly things. Their minds are stirred – but by what? By material interests and externalities.
To be sure, some of these externalities do have a certain value; there are political concerns, social movements, and theological controversies. Yet in all these, people make themselves out to be terribly important, when in reality we are poor worms who do not even realize what a mass of earthliness separates us from the living God.
We must arise and seek the kingdom of God again, the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, the entrance and the dawning of truth. Then we will be inwardly released and open for heavenly experiences. Then the clear light of the Lord can shine around us again, and the great joy which shall be to all peoples can be proclaimed.
You will admit that we need a new message, a new language, for Christians generally do not have this joy. Yet this joy “shall be to all people”! Shall it be held back forever? No! The Lord, the Christ in the city of David, will yet reveal himself, and there will be signs again to show where the Lord Jesus can be found. Without such signs from God himself, we will not only remain as we are now, but we will get worse and worse, just as Christianity is not growing inwardly, but is losing its spirit more and more. We need new signs to show us where Christ is, show us the way of peace, the way to the kingdom of God! Then we can be at one with each other in our rejoicing in God through the Lord Jesus.
Let us take this Christmas day into our hearts, and be glad! Let us be glad, though there is still so much darkness on earth! We will be joyful in hope and we will not waver! Let us stretch out our hands to the things that are above; not to the things that are on earth, but to the things that are above where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1). If we are faithful in this, we will be made free in the spirit until finally we are fit to understand heavenly things and to go forward to the completion of the kingdom of God.
May the Almighty God bring this to pass through his government over the human race which he has chosen for himself through Jesus Christ, and may we be gathered through the Holy Spirit into his great and wonderful kingdom. Amen.
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From Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt: Sterbet, so wird Jesus leben: 1888 – 1896, (Zurich: Rotapfel Verlag, 1925), no. 8, trans. Jörg Barth and Renate Barth, © 2013 The Plough Publishing House.