Christmas Eve Homily 2006

From Douglas Wilson, Pastor of Christ Church, Moscow.


In the name of the Father, who sent His Son to occupy the womb of a virgin, rejoice. In the name of the Son who gladly went, sing and be glad. And in the name of the Spirit, who enabled that virgin to miraculously conceive, bow down and worship. May the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit bless you and your entire household in this season of Christmas.

The Lord Jesus taught us that if we wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven, we needed to be converted, and become like little children. Jesus was very plain about it. “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:2-3).

This saying has been swept up into many different discussions and debates–including debates over infant baptism, or the appropriate manners for Christians to have in order to be considered pious. But, in spite of all our discussions, by the power of the Holy Spirit, countless individuals have still been born again to God, and brought into the kingdom of heaven in just the way our Lord describes here. At the same time, it is not often noted that in saying this, the Lord was giving us something very important to think about during our celebration of the Incarnation, a theme to meditate on during all our Christmas festivities.

In calling us to this, we need to take careful note of the fact that Jesus was not telling us to do something that He was unwilling to do Himself. We should see this as the very model of His particular kind of servant leadership. Jesus told us to become like little children. And what did He do in the Incarnation? He became a little child. The one, in short, who told us that we needed to be humbled and converted, and made like little children, was the same one who humbled Himself and took the form of a baby in the womb of a young maiden. Jesus told us to become like little children, but He did so as the one who had–in an utterly unique way–become a little child.

He, the eternal Word, the one who spoke the galaxies into existence, was willing to become a little baby boy who could do nothing with words except jabber, and in that jabbering, make glad his mother and earthly father. He, the source of all life and all nourishment for that life, was willing to be breast fed. He, the same one who had separated the night from the day, and had shaped the sun to rule the day, and the moon to rule the night, was willing to have his diapers changed for a year or so. It is not disrespectful to speak this way; for Christians, it is disrespectful not to. We believe in the Incarnation, in the Word made flesh. This is our glory; this is our salvation.

Jesus told us that in order to enter His kingdom, we would have to stoop. This is not surprising, because He was the one who stooped in a mystifying way in the creation of that kingdom. He stooped–the ultimate Word became a single cell, and then a cluster of cells, and then visibly a baby, although still less than a pound, and then a child who kicked his mother from inside, delighting her immeasurably. He became a little child, and then, years later, He told us to copy Him in this demeanor . . . to become little children.

We were told to clothe ourselves with humility and tender mercies. When Jesus told His disciples to follow Him, the cross is certainly in view. We are to take up the cross daily, and follow Him. But we do not just follow Him to the cross–we must also follow Him to the manger. We must become little children. We must be born again–not understanding this as a gnostic experience of being zapped by a mystic and numinous light–but rather because we are way too adult, too full of ourselves, and self-important. The new birth is the birth of humility. What do you have right after a birth, including the new birth? A baby, which is what we are invited to become. A little child.

Theologians like to distinguish things–which is their glory–but they are frequently tempted to then run headlong and separate what they have previously distinguished, which is their besetting temptation and sin. For example, we distinguish the obedience of Christ on the cross, suffering for the sins of the world, from the perfect obedience that He rendered to God throughout the course of His life. The former is distinguished by theologians and called the passive obedience of Christ. The latter is called His active obedience. This is fine, and actually most necessary, so long as we don’t try to separate them. As well try to separate height from depth, or depth from breadth.

The atonement did not start when the first nail went in and then stop when the Lord breathed His last breath. The entire life of Christ was involved in our salvation, from His conception on. Indeed, the prophet Isaiah said that we were healed by His stripes, which were inflicted before the cross (Is. 53:5), and that by His knowledge He will justify many (Is. 53:11). The Lord’s time on the cross cannot be detached from the rest of His sinless life, and it is theological folly to try.

The early father Irenaeus taught, with a great deal of shrewd wisdom, a doctrine of the atonement called recapitulation. The Lord Jesus grew up through every stage of human life, and did so in order to be obedient there in that station, and to bring redemption to His people there. This does not exclude the cross–it culminates in the cross, where Christ died as a perfect substitute for all His people. But neither is it limited to the cross. Jesus is the last Adam. He is the new Israel. His perfect sinless life was redemptive precisely because in that life Israel was finally doing it right.

In Irenaeus this is recapitulation. British theologian N.T. Wright calls the Lord’s life work in this the reconstitution of Israel. Classic Reformed theology calls it the active obedience of Christ. What it means, simply, is Christ for us. In your salvation, you were not given a fraction of Christ, but rather were given all that He ever did.

Throughout the older Testament, the people of God were constantly veering off. They consistently fell, again and again, into their long-established patterns of idolatry and disobedience. And yet, they were the people of God, which only made their apostasies more grievous. One could be forgiven if he read through the first part of the Bible, and wondered when the normal people might arrive.

But in the life of Jesus, Israel finally does it right, and He does it right on behalf of all Israel, all who are gathered into Him by faith. In Jesus, the human race lived and obeyed perfectly before God, in a way that the first Adam did not. That obedience of the Lord’s is imputed to us, given to us, bestowed upon us, reckoned as ours. In the life of Jesus, Israel finally stops doing it wrong. But not only did the new Israel do it right, but He finished His life by sacrificing Himself as the blood atonement for all the wickedness committed in the course of the previous failures of the imperfect Israel. So Jesus is the reconstituted humanity. He is the new world, the new creation refashioned in the new heavens and new earth. He is the reconstituted Israel.

So how did He set about doing this? He became a little child. And how do we go about remembering it? By faith, a faith that participates in His humility, and imitates it. And this is what we mean by Christmas.

Our Father and God, we entrust ourselves to You in the name of Jesus, asking You to continue to fashion in us a true childlike humility, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Please receive our worship in and through the obedience of our Lord Jesus. Amen.

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~ by Michael on December 25, 2006.

One Response to “Christmas Eve Homily 2006”

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