I love the Christmas story.
I don’t mean the one about Santa and the reindeer or the Grinch or Frosty the snowman. The Christmas story I’m referring to is the simple but powerful story of the Nativity.
For me, it never gets old. I never get tired of reading it. I never get tired of hearing it. And I never get tired of telling it. In fact, it is so beautiful and poetic that in some ways, it can almost come across as a fairy tale. But it’s no fairy tale. And I think this story is powerful and relevant for our culture today.
The real Christmas story goes way back, before Mary and Joseph, before Bethlehem, before the shepherds, before the wise men, before Caesar Augustus, and before the innkeeper. In fact, the first mention of Christmas was before Christ, because we have to go back to the very beginning.
This story of redemption starts in a garden and begins with a tree. It isn’t one of those trees you buy at a lot, nor is it an artificial tree. The tree I’m talking about was in the Garden of Eden: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Here were Adam and Eve in paradise, literally surrounded by radiant beauty at every turn. And best of all, there was no sin or the guilt and shame that follows it.
There was only one restriction in this garden: It was forbidden to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve could eat anything they wanted – except the fruit from this tree.
Yet there is something about human beings that is drawn to the forbidden. We are attracted to the thing we are not supposed to look at. We’ll say, “I’ll just take a look. I’ll never engage. I would never participate.” Famous last words.
The next thing you know, Adam and Eve were eating the forbidden fruit, and sin entered the world. Their eyes were closed to heaven and opened to earth. And suddenly they were out of fellowship with God.
That brings us to the first Christmas verse, the first mention of Christ in the Bible: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15 NIV). God was saying to the devil, “Someone is coming who will crush your head.”
That is what Christmas is all about. That is why Jesus came to this earth.
The Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 NIV). In the original language, there isn’t a definite article before the word beginning, which means we cannot pinpoint the moment in time where there was a beginning. John was going back to eternity past. He was going further back than our minds could imagine.
Jesus is not a man who became God. That is impossible. He is God who became a man. Before there was a world, before there were planets, before there was light and darkness, before there was matter, before anything else, there was the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are coequal, coeternal and coexistent together.
But Jesus did not stay in the safety of heaven. He entered our world. He breathed our air. He shared our pain. He walked in our shoes. He lived our life. And he died our death. Jesus did not become identical to us, but he did become identified with us. In fact, he could not have identified with us more closely than he did. He became one of us without ceasing to be himself. He became human without ceasing to be God. He was the creator in human form. And he came to join us in this human mess that we call Earth. He walked among us.
Yet Christmas wasn’t only an arrival; it also was a departure. Isaiah 9:6 sums it up perfectly: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (NIV). From the earthly perspective, a child was born. But from the heavenly perspective, a son was given.
We are also told in Matthew’s gospel, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (1:23 NIV).
This is the central message of Christmas: We are not alone in this world. God came near. God came to this earth as a child, who became a man, who died and rose again. Jesus has always been there, and he says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
As we see things going on in our world that make us afraid, we need to remember that God is in control. He will not abandon us. Even when we forget about him, he never forgets about us. That is the real message of this season. It is not about presents that we find under a tree. It is about his presence in our lives.
Immanuel. God is with us.
Greg Laurie is an American author and pastor who serves as the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, Harvest Church at Kumulani in Kapalua, Hawaii, and Harvest Orange County in Irvine, California.