The season of Advent looks forward to the human birth of Jesus. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem only because of human sin. The early church leaders who devised the Christian calendar recognized that it would be inappropriate to celebrate his birth without a season of penitence to prepare for it.
We have forgotten that in our society. Today, we prepare for the birth of Jesus (or maybe just Xmas) by spending money we don’t have for things perhaps no one needs, and in some cases, to give them to people we don’t much like. If we’re not careful, the only times Jesus will intrude on our thoughts will be when we come to church on Sundays or if we happen to notice the Christmas carols piped into the mall.
Colossians 1:15-23 explains who this Jesus is, besides a precious baby in a manger. He is the image of the invisible God. If we could see God at all, Jesus is what he would look like. I don’t mean his height or weight, his skin color, or his hairstyle. I mean his character and behavior. The relation of father and son is very close. No one more nearly resembles a man than his son, and so no one more nearly resembles God than His Son.
Not only is Jesus God’s Son, he is the firstborn. In Jewish law, the firstborn of every man and domestic animal belonged to God in a special way. Jesus exemplifies that same kind of relation. His life, ministry, and teaching were not some afterthought thrown into the world after so many generations of degrading and degraded human history. From the very first, there was this Father and Son relationship within the godhead, and Jesus came to us to express what God has always been. The birth of Jesus the firstborn Son of God as human means both that he belongs to God in a special way, and also that somehow he will not be the lastborn.
Being God, Jesus is before all of creation. He was intimately involved in the creative act. Everything that was made was made by Jesus and for Jesus. That includes invisible things. Paul knew nothing of bacteria or yeasts or black holes or dark matter or any of the other invisible things that scientific inventions over the last three or four hundred years have enabled people to see, or at least speculate about. He did know about angels and demons and all manner of things made out of spirit that sophisticated equipment designed to detect matter can never find.
All of it was made by Jesus and for Jesus. The devil himself was made by Jesus and for Jesus. The devil rebelled and refused to fulfill the purpose for which he was made. God’s wrath and judgment await. The devil lured mankind into joining his rebellion. Judgment awaits but through Jesus, God has promised redemption for us by his grace.
This rich passage says much more about Jesus, but my comments are more than enough to show that the early church fathers were right. We need a season of penitence to prepare for Christmas. We need to remember the enormity of our sin. We need to recognize the terrible sentence that we deserve for it. We need to understand the full impact of the bad news. We must fully realize that we deserve a hideous death for the people we have chosen to become. Then and only then can we really hear news that God himself has taken it upon himself so that we don’t have to. The birth of Jesus is not some nice religious sentiment. It is the good news of God’s grace.