At this time of year, we naturally focus on the birth of Jesus. We are surrounded by images of him as a baby in a manger. But does this affect what we think of him?
I was reminded recently that we all have our own filters in our minds and hearts, which can cause us to see Jesus as we think he is rather than as he actually is. Indeed when Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do you say I am?", the response showed there was a wide variety of different ideas:
"When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say the Son of Man is?'
They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'
'But what about you?' he asked. 'Who do you say I am?'
Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.'" (Matthew 16:13-16)
Jesus went on to explain that it was only due to heavenly revelation that Peter knew the truth: "Jesus replied, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.'" (v17).
Do you ever wonder why so many of those who saw Jesus in the flesh totally missed the point? Before he was born, the Jews were expecting a mighty warrior Saviour; one who would arrive and dramatically rescue them from Roman oppression. The reality was so different to their expectations that many of them simply couldn't accept it as true.
What are you expecting from Jesus this Christmas? Are you, in fact, expecting nothing at all from him? Is your idea of Christmas full of present giving and receiving, eating too much, catching up with friends and family you don't see often? Is there room in your Christmas plans for Jesus, or has he been pushed to the bottom of your 'to do' list?
How do you view Jesus today? Does your mental picture of him this Advent have him in a fluffy, sanitised version of the nativity – or do you see him as God incarnate, come down to earth in flesh to save the world? If you are being honest, has your view of who Jesus is been coloured by circumstances, difficulties, suffering – or, conversely, a comfortable, easy life?
I love to really ponder the story of Jesus' birth afresh each Christmas. It blows my mind to think how Jesus chose to give up the glory of heaven, and all the majesty he had, to come in human form – but, not just that, as a baby! What a sacrifice – and what an act of humility! We are told why he did it in Philippians:
"being in very nature God, [Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:6-8)
Jesus knew it was the only way to offer salvation to the world – and he was willing to pay the heavy price. I also believe he is willing to reveal more of who he truly is to us when we ask him to. So, even if your 'to do' list feels rather overwhelming to you in the lead up to Christmas, remember what the angel said to Joseph: "'The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.'" (Matthew 1:23). Immanuel – God with us.
Jesus is with us, right in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of this season. While all the present buying and nativity watching can sometimes ironically make connecting with him daily more difficult, he IS with us. Can I encourage you to ask him to reveal new things about himself to you – not just through the wonderful carol services you may be attending over the next few weeks, but through your everyday routines of life too?