Advent 2022 — December 11

And there were shepherds in the same region, living out of doors and keeping watch, guarding over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord stood near them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terribly frightened. 10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring good news to you of great joy which will be for all the people: 11 that today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. 12 And this will be the sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace
among people with whom he is pleased!”

Luke 2:8-14


“The Angels’ Song: How Did God Come? (Part 1)”[1]
by Alistair Begg

Birth announcements are big business. There are so many ways to announce the entrance into the world of your little one—Pinterest, Shutterfly, WhatsApp, Tiny-Prints.com. You can take hundreds of pictures, magnify and crop them, and send them round the world. It becomes a competition. “Here’s our new arrival in her crib. Here she is in her first nappy. Here she is having her first bath. Here are her footprints.”

Well, if you happen to have a baby next year, here’s how to outdo everyone else. Forget emails. Forget a photograph on Facebook or an entry in the New York Times. Here’s how to win the announcement competition: have an angel announce the birth. Have an angel coming down the street in the middle of the night, waking your neighbors to tell them what’s just happened, and then follow that up with a whole choir of angels providing celebratory backing vocals.

That’s how to win. And (although sadly the angels aren’t taking bookings right now) that is how the arrival of Mary’s baby was announced on the night he was born….

God’s Name

The angel told these shepherds who it was who had been growing in Mary’s womb, and who was now “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” He described the baby’s job—“Savior”: Redeemer. He announced the baby’s title—“Messiah”: God’s King promised for centuries to his people, promises recorded for us in the Old Testament. And he revealed the baby’s identity—“the Lord.”

And that word, “Lord,” is making a staggering claim, because it is the word that was used by Greek-speaking Jews to translate the Hebrew word “Yahweh”—the personal name of God, by which he had introduced himself to his people for centuries. “God” is not God’s name, any more than “Pastor” is mine. My name is Alistair, and my friends call me that. God’s name is Yahweh, and it’s what he told his friends, his people, to call him. In other words, here’s the deal: good news, great joy for all the people, has come because a Redeemer, the ultimate Ruler, has been born. And he is God Almighty.

Every so often at Christmas, we hear about a wealthy businessman who’s gone and served in a soup kitchen, or about a very successful athlete who spends some time on Christmas Eve in the children’s hospital. And everyone says, “That’s great—what an amazing and kind and humble thing for him to do.” And it is. But now see what this angel is saying: The God who made you, who gave you your DNA, who woke you up this morning, who has sustained your life—that God, in the person of Jesus, stepped down into time, making himself accessible.

On the first Christmas night—and this is the heart of the Christmas story, and the heart of the Christian faith—God took on flesh. The voice that made the cosmos could be heard crying in the cradle. The hands that placed each star in its place grabbed hold of Mary’s fingers. Her son was fully human, and fully God. In this man, divinity met humanity.

So, unlike every other conception and birth, this was not the beginning. God the Son had always existed, equal with and eternal with the Father and the Spirit—one God in three persons, what often is called the Trinity. God the Son—the “Word”—predates his birth; he is older than his conception, or what is often called his incarnation:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. (John 1 v 1–2)

I remember my daughter when she was young once asking me, “Where was I before I was born?” And the answer is, “You did not exist before you were conceived and born.” (I avoided mention of the conception part when I answered my daughter.) But that’s not what happened with Jesus. He did exist before he was conceived and born. What happened that night was the birth of God the Son as a human. But it was not the beginning of the person God the Son.

This is unparalleled. It is unique. It is mysterious. And Luke is claiming that it is historical.

A Virgin Birth—Really?

Perhaps this is where you struggle with the Christian faith. You are prepared to accept Jesus as a great teacher, a religious leader, or a brilliant philosopher. You are prepared to accept that he spoke for God, perhaps. But you struggle to accept that he is God—that as Mary and Joseph peered into the manger, they were looking at the eternal Son of God. You struggle with the idea of a virgin birth and a miraculous incarnation.

Well, if your starting point is that there is no God, then the incarnation question is irrelevant. If there is no God, he could not have been born as a baby in Bethlehem. But if your starting point is that there is (or even that there might be) a God who created the entire universe, then surely he is capable of entering his universe. Why would we be surprised that he can do what he wants to do? After all, in the last century or so humanity has worked out how to bring about conception without sexual intercourse. A hundred years ago, that idea would have seemed impossible and not worthy of being believed. Now it seems plausible and obvious. If doctors can do it in their way, do we really want to say that God cannot do it in his? God the Son taking flesh is a mystery that we will never understand. But not being able to understand how God became one of us is not proof that he did not become one of us.

Of course God’s ways are mysterious and at times inexplicable to us! He would not be much of a God if our limited minds could reason out everything about him. No, this is mystery, because it is divinity; it is God—but it is also history. Heaven is breaking into earth. The shepherds would find the Creator of the universe wrapped in strips of cloth. Here is the answer to the human predicament, the solution to our slavery to sin and our separation from God. God bridged the gap by coming from heaven to earth. This is how much the mighty God cares about us. Love was when God spanned the gulf. Love was when God became a man. Love was when God surprised those he had created by being born as one of them—as a baby.


[1] Alistair Begg, Christmas Playlist: Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas (The Good Book Company, 2016), 39–44.

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