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Taking in Christmas

Editor’s NoteThis adapted sermon is an excerpt from Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace & Promise of Christmas. Edited by Nancy Guthrie, Crossways. Copyright © by Timothy Keller, 2007. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

What God gave us at Christmas was not just his Son. He gave us a truth—a truth that transforms us when we take it in. What God gave us at Christmas is a whole new life.

In the first chapter of Luke, Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (NIV). Elizabeth is saying to Mary—and to us—“If you really believe what the angel told you about this baby, if you take it in, you’ll be blessed.”

But our English word “blessed” is so limp and lightweight. In English we use blessed to mean something like “inspired.” But in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, the word for ‘blessed’ meant something much deeper than that. To be blessed brings you back to full shalom, full human functioning; it makes you everything God meant for you to be. To be blessed is to be strengthened and repaired in every one of your human capacities, to be utterly transformed.

What Elizabeth is saying to Mary, and what Luke is saying to us is, “Do you believe that this beautiful idea of the incarnation will really happen? If you believe it, and if you will take it into the center of your life, you’re blessed, transformed, utterly changed.”

When we open the package of Christmas, we find God has given us many gifts—vulnerability for intimacy, comfort for suffering, passion for justice, and power over prejudice.

In all relationships—marriage, parent-child, co-worker—at some point you get into a conversation that goes something like this:

“You’re to blame!”
“No, it’s your fault!”
“No, it’s you.”
“No, it isn’t. It’s you.”

What’s happening? The relationship is falling apart because neither side will take the blame, budge an inch, or make any concessions. Neither side will admit wrong or drop defenses. And as long as defenses are up, the relationship is going awry.

But then sometimes this happens:

“You’re to blame!”
“No, it’s your fault!”
“No, it’s you.”
“No, it isn’t. it’s you.”
“Okay, it’s me.”

One person drops defenses. The relationship starts to come back because one person is willing to say, “Yeah, it’s me. I am to blame here.” One person makes himself or herself vulnerable, and the relationship is restored. In fact, it often becomes deeper and more intimate than it was before.

Why would a person do that? Because in the midst of all the yelling and all the hostility, one person decides that despite how distorted the other person has become because of anger, he wants the other person back. He wants the relationship to be restored.

In the gift of Christmas, the unassailable, omnipotent God became a baby, giving us the ultimate example of letting our defenses down.

The only way to do that is take down the shield, become vulnerable, and let one of the verbal blows land. It hurts, but it’s the only way. It’s a costly act of redemption for the relationship. And it works because we are created in the image of the One who gave the ultimate expression of this part of his own nature at Christmas.

C. S. Lewis put it like this,

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

There is no way to have a real relationship without becoming vulnerable to hurt. And Christmas tells us that God became breakable and fragile. God became someone we could hurt. Why? To get us back. And if you believe this and take it into your life, you’re blessed. As you take in the truth of what he did for you—how loved and affirmed you are—you’ll be able to let down your defenses in your own relationships with other people. You won’t always need to guard your honor. You’ll be able to let down the barriers down. You’ll be able to move into intimate relationships with other people.

What is in the package of Christmas? His vulnerability for intimacy with us, which gives us the vulnerability to be intimate with the people around us. If you believe in Christmas—that God became a human being—you have an ability to face suffering, a resource for suffering that others don’t have.

Tim Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he started in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and three young sons. For over twenty years he has led a diverse congregation of young professionals that has grown to a weekly attendance of over 5,000.