Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
As I meditated this morning on the birth of Christ, I found my thoughts focused on the celebration that surrounded it. Not today’s traditional and often pagan-inherited celebrations, but that of three separate groups to whom God reached out on the night that changed the world. What I rediscovered was the marvellous truth that story of Christ – from the beginning to the end, alluded to, pointed to, defined, and revealed through the entire Bible – is a message of restoration. It is a message of giving life to the deserts, of turning the barren into fruitfulness, of reviving what is dry and thirsty, and transforming what seems beyond hope.
The real joy contained in the miracle of Christmas lies in the promise of restoration.
So often, the word restoration is reduced to physical or material possessions, or things like status and power. But in confining God to our expectations, we close ourselves off from the true ‘wealth’ of His transforming, resurrection power. Restoration is the outworking of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in our lives. It is a promise that transcends and encapsulates every single possible human condition. But it is a promise that takes place on God’s terms, not on ours.
To understand the full measure and power of restoration, we can look at the three different groups – the ‘supporting cast’ of the story of the birth of Christ. But before we do, let us remind ourselves that Christmas is the beginning of the manifest purpose of the cross. It’s rather like the two sides of a single coin – Christmas on one side, the cross on the other. They cannot be separated. They exist in the same eternal ‘space.’ They are intrinsically bound and governed by God’s creative purpose of restoration. Everything that happened throughout the Bible, through the birth of Christ, and through His death on the cross is God’s creative process of restoration at work.
The first group is the angels. While I do not believe that we should go around ‘courting’ angels and seeking their presence, the fact remains that they are numerous, they inhabit the spiritual world, and are constantly all around us. But they do so only on the instructions of God, and fulfill only His will and purpose. Any interaction with us or intervention in our affairs is only ever by God’s command. We should never pray directly to them, nor place our faith in their assistance. God will order and direct His heavenly host as He wills and putting our focus on these heavenly beings is, in fact, a form of idolatory.
Having said that, God has a purpose for the angels, and He uses them constantly in His dealings with mankind. I do believe that very often, we are not even aware that an angel has been present in a particular situation. Their work, most often, goes unnoticed. But not at the birth of Christ. Here, they turn out in their thousands, filling the heavens with joyous celebration and giving glory to God. And the source of their joy was ‘peace and goodwill to men.’ They celebrated the birth of the Saviour who would restore God’s people to their intended place. The long-awaited and long-promised restoration was being enacted, and the angels of God celebrated in witness to the restorative heart of a loving God.
The second group is the shepherds. Poor, outcast, and no doubt cold and lonely, this little group speaks so eloquently of our fallen state. They represent the ‘bottom end’ of the scale, victims of society and circumstance, the lowest of the low. They represented the vile, the impure, the social misfits – those with whom no self-respecting person would willingly hang out. They were the ‘untouchables,’ and they knew it.
Yet it is to this motley, unloved group that the angels appear. They burst into their lonely bubble with songs of praise, worship, and celebration. I don’t know that we can fully describe just what those poor shepherds felt in that moment, but hope must surely have been there in the list. As I contemplated their responses, I thought of David, the shepherd who became king, a wonderful example of the transforming power of restoration, and was reminded of an enduring truth. God reveals His restoration to those who will see and hear. It’s available to all, sinners and saints alike, but it is only manifest in those who see the real nature of their condition and reach out to receive God’s grace.
Our third group is, of course, the wise men. Traditionally, we have them as only three, but the Bible never states a number. There could have been more, and we’ll most likely never know. But what is significant is who they were. While the Bible doesn’t provide much detail, ancient texts offer enough for us to accept that they were most likely atrologer-priests of ancient Persia. Whether they were kings or not, their ability to ‘read’ and interpret the stars and planets and their priestly role certainly established them as men of wealth and power. In this respect, they represtent the opposite end of the scale from the shepherds.
But, more than that, they were Gentiles. They fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies that the Gentiles would come to worship Christ, and they represent the New Testament covenant that includes the Gentiles in the Bride of Christ. Their gifts, also, provide a wealth of insight into God’s process of restoration. God is the gift for a king, frankincense the gift for a priest, and myrrh for the anointing of burial. While the most obvious and correct interpretation is the nature of Christ as King, High Priest, and perfect sacrifice, these also point to the restoration contained in Christ for everyone who believes in Him.
In Christ, the believer is transformed from unredeemed sinner, outcast and unforgiven, to the royal priesthood. But the process to this is death. Jesus Himself stated that He came for the sick, not the healthy. To understand this, I always think of a little old house my late husband and I purchased – the classic ‘doer-upper.’ To restore it, we first had to strip away the old, the ugly, and the decayed. It took years and a whole lot of work. There were times when we felt there was more ‘doing down’ than there was ‘doing up.’ But, slowly but surely, a beautiful home emerged, one which would never have been possible had we not made the purchase and committed ourselves entirely to the process.
This is the restorative heart of God. He purchased His temples through the blood of Christ and, once He takes ownership, He proceeds to strip away the old, the ugly, and the decayed and begin His restoration using Christ as the blueprint. This all began with a tiny baby born in a stable, a baby born to restore both the rich and the poor, the wise and the foolish, the Jew and the Gentile. This is the real joy of Christmas – the hope of restoration. It is the most costly gift ever given, and it is freely available to all who will hear and see.