Every year I hope to learn something new about the Christmas story, because it’s nice to preach a new perspective on an old story we all know. So here’s my Christmas thoughts this year.
Throughout the Old Testament, God sometimes appears to people in physical/visual form. Sometimes this visual form is known as the Word of the Lord. Other times this manifestation is just straight-up called, “The Lord.” But most often, this physical form of God is called, “The Angel of the Lord”—not “an angel,” but “thee angel.” When this angel shows up in the Old Testament, the Hebrew authors often intentionally blur the lines between if this heavenly being is speaking on behalf of God or actually IS God Himself.
This “Angel” is a main character in the Old Testament and he vanishes in the New Testament. This shouldn’t be too shocking if you’re following what I’m putting down here. Christians believe that Jesus has always existed, created the world, and is God Himself—that is to say that Jesus is not a new person that comes into being on His birthday. Rather, just as there was a physical/visual version of God in the Old Testament, so there is a physical/visual version of God in the New Testament. John perhaps directly connects this theme together between the testaments when he says that, “the word put on flesh.”
We can conclude from such statements a rather mind-blowing idea that unites the whole Bible together: On the first Christmas, the physical presence of God in the Old Testament, laid down certain elements of Himself that were incompatible with humanity (like omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience) and subjected Himself to human skin to be made in our likeness. He did this so that He might redeem humanity by living a sinless life and therefore break the curse and power of death—for a sinless human is not subject to death (or death’s master, Satan), since death is the result and punishment of sin.
To further this Christmas connection, Isaiah called this Messiah who was to come a, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.” The name “Wonderful Counselor” may have a connection to when the Angel of the Lord was asked what his name was by Samson’s parents. The Angel replied that it is “wonderful.” And what business does Isaiah have calling a human being Mighty God? Well none, unless we’re referring to that wonderful angel who seems to be God. And how could we call a human being everlasting? Well, we could if they were somehow immortal like a heavenly being. And as for the title, Prince of Peace? Well, some of the most powerful spiritual beings of God’s divine council in the Old Testament were occasionally referred to as “princes.”
For all of these reasons, it’s not surprising that when the Jews closer to Jesus’ day translated the Hebrew Old Testament to Greek in a book they called the Septuagint, they changed Isaiah’s title from “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace,” to simply, “The angelos of the great council”—angelos being Greek for angel or messenger.
And so perhaps it’s not so hard even from an Old Testament perspective to believe that Jesus is exactly who the Bible says He is: God-in-flesh. He is Emmanuel, or “God with us.” For the physical presence of God in the Old Testament allowed Himself to become like one of us in the New Testament—His true heavenly identity perhaps witnessed most clearly in the Transfiguration where he took on a form reminiscent of a heavenly being.
And that, is a part of the Good News of Christmas. For no man can save us. But a man that also happens to be God? Well that’s a different story.