Christmas is the day heaven kissed earth.
The Eternal Word, the golden son of heaven, humbly and willingly took up our comparatively lowly humanity, without ceasing to be God, and entered into the created realm, coming to earth as one of us.
And it wasn’t some kind of circus stunt, for mere show, but for our sake. The Great Move was all of grace and for our rescue. It is history’s climactic expression of love and favor.
Heaven kissed earth.
This way of talking about the incarnation comes from Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680), Puritan preacher, theologian, chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and member of the Westminster Assembly. Goodwin described the wonder of what happened at that first Christmas like this: “Heaven and earth met and kissed one another, namely, God and man” (Works, 4:439).
Jesus Is No Superman
But don’t misunderstand this Great Kiss, and mistake the matchless God-man for someone from Krypton. Superman can’t hold a candle to the hypostatic union — that utterly unique uniting of two complete natures in Jesus’s one person.
Heaven’s sweet kissing of earth in the incarnation didn’t produce a third kind of being or some mixture between the divine and human. Jesus is no superhuman, not quite God and not quite man. Rather, he is fully both — wholly God and wholly man.
There is a tendency in our minds to think of Christ as a “superman.” That is, we fail to believe adequately that he is ‘very God of very God’ (autotheos — God of himself), equal in every way with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Viewing Christ as a sort of ‘superman’ also prevents us from appreciating his true humanity. (Mark Jones, Pocket Guide to Jesus, page 5)
The Uncomfortable Truth of Christmas
Superman would be more palatable to both the theologically liberal and to conservative tastes. The liberal typically feels discomfort with his full divinity, restless that this Jesus might justly claim to have all authority in heaven and on earth and rightly demand our allegiance and spoil our perceived autonomy.
Meanwhile, the evangelical uneasiness is often with his full humanity. Something sinister in us prefers our Jesus sanitized, fully God but kept at arm’s length from our earthiness. Laid in a manger, really? We’re prone to squirm because it speaks such a clear word about the direness of our condition, about how bad things really are for us apart from Immanuel, about the extent to which he had to go to, about the moral distance he had to travel to reach the muck of our planet and give us God’s redeeming kiss.
Jesus is more than a baby in the manger, but as prickly as it is, he’s nothing less. It’s uncomfortable to sinners to face so squarely the gravity of our situation apart from heaven’s rescue. But it’s also deeply comforting for sinners who have reckoned with the decisiveness and power of his salvation and given him their full embrace.
Christmas for Our Benefit
Christmas, then, is for our benefit. It’s no birthday party for a tribal deity, but the celebration of the king of the universe who has come to save us. “You shall call his name Jesus,” the angel says to Joseph, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). From its very beginning, the incarnation is about saving. Good Friday is always in view.
Christmas is God’s D-Day against our sin and against Satan himself. What a surprise strategy it was when God established his first beachhead against the Enemy in an animal feeding trough in the little town of Bethlehem. Christmas doesn’t merely mark the birth of our religious leader, but the saving of sinners who believe. It is ever on a trajectory toward Golgotha. It’s for good reason, in a song so seemingly sweet as “What Child Is This?” that we sing at Christmas,
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
The meaning of Christmas is not just that he is born among us, but that he has come to die for us. He has come to secure for us eternal saving benefits. But there’s more.
What’s Better Than His Benefits
The “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10) is more than just his birth and life. And it’s more than just his death, and what saving means he obtains for us. The best news is who his saving gets us — namely, himself and his Father. “This is eternal life,” Jesus prays on the eve of his crucifixion, “that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Which is as relevant at Christmas as it is any day.
Pastor Mark Jones quotes Goodwin to this effect.
In Goodwin’s view, the benefits procured by Christ “are all far inferior to the gift of his person unto us, and much more the glory of his person itself. His person is of infinite more worth than they all can be of.” Therefore, God’s “chief end was not to bring Christ into the world for us, but us for Christ . . . and God contrived all things that do fall out, and even redemption itself, for the setting forth of Christ’s glory, more than our salvation.” (Pocket Guide to Jesus Christ, page 3)
Deeper than the Christmas narrative of his first coming, and the world-transforming Good Friday explanation about what his death accomplished, is the mindboggling truth that it’s ultimately we who came into the world for him — for his glory — rather than his coming for us. In the decisive Christmas tally, it is not finally his coming that makes much of us, but our creation and redemption that is designed to make much of him.
Fellow Puritan Stephen Charnock sees it the same way. There is “something in Christ more excellent and comely than the office of a Savior; the greatness of his person is more excellent, than the salvation procured by his death” (Jones, Pocket Guide, page 3).
The deepest significance of Christmas isn’t just that he came to save us, but that he is who he is. The Great Treasure isn’t what the magi bring, but the one hidden in a manger. He is the Pearl of Great Price given without money and without cost. The surpassing value of Christmas isn’t finally knowing ourselves saved, but knowing the Jesus who saves us.
Made for the God-man
The God-man in Christmas’s manger — two full natures in one unique person — is then one focal point for our worship. Only in this one God-man do we find, as Jonathan Edwards preached, the truest “admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies.” It is only this Jesus who is both Lion of Judah and Lamb who was slain. He is meekly incarnate infant in Bethlehem and triumphantly glorified Almighty God at his Father’s right hand. Only he is divinely and humanly tough and tender. Both God and man.
Because of this utterly unique union of God and man in one person, Jesus exhibits an unparalleled magnificence to the born-again human soul. No one person satisfies the complex longings of the human heart like the one God-man.
God has made the human heart in such a way that it will never be eternally content with that which is only human. Finitude can’t slake our thirst for the infinite. And yet, in our finite humanity, we were created for a point of correspondence with the divine. Yes, God was glorious long before he became man in Jesus, but we are human, and unincarnate deity doesn’t connect with us in the same way as the God who became human. The conception of a god who never became man will not satisfy the human soul like the God who did. The human soul was not just made for God, but for the God-man.
So Jesus is not just our substitute, but our eternal satisfaction. He not only satisfies just divine wrath against us, but satisfies the human soul forever. His resurrection is essential not only so that we can be joined to him for saving, but most importantly so that we can enjoy him with unsurpassed delight forever. Heaven’s kiss is the only one that will be eternally satisfying.
Jesus is not like the lifeguard at the beach who saves us for our friends and family, but whom we never see again. Jesus saves us for himself.
The deepest meaning of Christmas is not just that the God-man was born, and not just that he died, but that he ever lives to be our eternal joy. Jesus is Pleasures Forevermore at God’s right hand. We were made for him.
In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)