Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Joy Rooted in Eternity, Manifested in Time

Coming the first day of a week in which we're focusing on joy, here's my second contribution (see the first here) to our church's first Advent reader:

Christmas did not begin 2000 years ago at the birth of Jesus. It is as ancient as the Ancient of Days. For the whole story of Christmas was worked out by the Father and the Son in the fellowship of the Spirit “before times eternal.”

Grace Given “Before Times Eternal”

“Before times eternal.” This awkward expression is a wooden rendering of a Greek phrase in 2 Tim. 1:9, rendered by the ESV as “before the ages began” (“before time began,” NET). It means that God’s “plan and grace” were not worked out after creation, but before. God did not wait till humanity fell into ruin and destruction before he began to plot redemption. The plan for the appearing of the grace of Christ in the flesh is as ancient as the Ancient of Days. And so the familiar hymn has it right. Joy: promised from creation!

joy has dawned upon the world
promised from creation
god’s salvation now unfurled
hope for every nation
not with fanfare from above
but a humble gift of love
jesus born of mary[1]

Grace Manifested in the Fullness of Time

The hymn points up that this “joy promised from creation” also “dawned upon the world” when “god’s salvation [was] unfurled.” And Paul tells us as much: God’s grace purposed from eternity “has now been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus” (1:10). The coming of the Son of God to take to himself a body—to appear in flesh!—reveals the plot of the heart of God planned all the way back in eternity, a plan of grace to save us and call us apart from our works (1:9). This plan and this grace breaking into our sad world in the person of Jesus has nothing whatever to do with how you’ve performed, or how you will perform. “Hope for every nation!” If that’s not “good news of great joy” (Lk. 2:10), there is none!

Grace Bringing to Light Eternal Life

Now consider and enjoy that this good news of the grace of Christ “abolishes death and brings life and immortality to light” (2 Tim. 1:10). Ask yourself: for those dwelling in the shadow of death, could there possibly be better news announced to us, a more joyful dawning of the light of day, for us sorry mortals, the dying dwelling among the dying? Death is literally man’s mortal enemy. All physicians know this: ultimately every one of them has a 100% mortality rate among their patients. And there’s nothing modern medicine can do to do away with the awful reality of death. So God be praised! And rejoice with great joy! For the Son of God, who has life-in-himself (Jn. 5:26), has come with, and has achieved through his dying and rising, the greatest of all Christmas gifts—eternal life.

Death is swallowed up in victory!
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
(1 Cor. 15:54–55)

[1] Stuart Townend & Keith Getty, Joy Has Dawned Across the World, Copyright © 2004 Thankyou Music.

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