Summary: The entire Christmas story in one verse. (Well, technically two verses covering one sentence.) Though it does not mention shepherds or wise-men or inns or stables, it is nonetheless profound and compelling.
The Entire Christmas Story in One Verse
It was understandable, I guess, when the group seemed momentarily taken aback when I opened my Bible and suggested reading “the entire Christmas story.” You see, the night was already winding down at our church home-group meeting, and in the Gospel of Matthew that narrative runs a hefty 48 verses and in Luke it is longer still at 120 verses. No, I assured my friends, I wanted to read the entire Christmas story in one verse. (Well, technically two verses covering one sentence.) Though it does not mention shepherds or wise-men or inns or stables, it is nonetheless profound and compelling.
I’d like to share that verse here and then “unpack” it just a bit, section by section. It comes from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians, chapter 4 verses 4-5:
4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to son-ship.
But when the set time had fully come…
Why did Jesus come just when he did? What about all the centuries of human history that came before, a history that featured entire empires rising and falling? And what about the centuries that were to follow? Would there not have been a more opportune time? In the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the character of Judas Iscariot questions Jesus about his strategic timing. Stepping of out of his 1st century setting and speaking more like a modern day publicist, Judas asks Jesus:
Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land? If you’d come today you would have reached the whole nation, Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication!
Why, then, did Jesus come precisely when he did? Without providing us with all the answers, Paul assures us that the time was precisely right. That is, according to our calendar at approximately 4 B.C., in the small Roman province of Judea set in the East Mediterranean, “the set time had fully come” for the divine plan to move into high gear.
God sent his Son…
Who is Jesus Christ? This is perhaps the most important question that the human race has had to grapple with. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks Peter at a pivotal moment in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). And that question is even more strongly highlighted in the Gospel of John as the author leads us step by step to the point where he hopes that we can exclaim with the disciple Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). The extraordinary mystery of the Christmas story is that the baby conceived in Mary’s womb, and humbly born in a stable in Bethlehem, was God in the flesh. Behold the Son of God incarnate, sent by God the Father at precisely the right time!
Born of a woman…
Protestant Christians tend to neglect the person of Mary. Historically this has to do with the perceived over-emphasis given to the figure of Mary in some of the other Christian traditions. But the fact is that Scripture presents Mary as an extraordinary young woman, profoundly open to God and willing to lay down her life and reputation to see God’s plan come to fruition. When the angel Gabriel announces to her that she would conceive a son even though she was a virgin, Mary humbly accepts God’s plan. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).
But there is something more we can say under this heading. If “God sent his Son” affirms the divine nature of Jesus Christ, “born of a woman” affirms that he was also fully and completely human. Years later, when he hung on the cross Jesus felt real pain, when his disciples ran away in the garden he felt real loneliness, and when he cried out from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he was surely not simply quoting Psalm 22, but expressing to God the Father what he really felt like at that profound moment in his mission.
Born under the law…
Nobody wants to talk about law and guilt these days, but if we don’t we might miss something essential. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that all human beings are in one sense or another “under the law.” That is, we do not make up our own rules – at least not on things that really matter, issues of ultimate right and wrong. Jews in Paul’s time had the revealed law of God in the Torah. And all other peoples (the Gentiles) had a sense of God’s law written on their hearts, something we often call “conscience”. In either case – whether it be underwritten Torah or under conscience – each and every human being has failed to follow that law and therefore we suffer condemnation and fear before God. The cycle of knowing what is right, failure to do it, and the resulting guilt is a kind of slavery. Paul calls it “slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world” in Galatians 4:3, the verse just preceding our Christmas verse. And from that slavery we need to be redeemed – a word that means freed from slavery, especially freed by means of someone paying a price.