(Over the next eight days, I’ll be posting devotional thoughts to help us gain a renewed vision of the wonder and glory of Christmas. My hope is that my – and your – celebration this year may be full of awe and admiration of our God and of his Christ.)
Where does Christmas Begin?
Where does the story of Christmas begin? It is not in the little town of Bethlehem, as we might suppose. Nor is it in the village of Nazareth, where Joseph lived and Mary received an angel messenger. No, the story of Christmas begins long before Joseph and Mary came on the scene.
If we are going to tell this story from the beginning, we are going to have to go east and we are going to have to go back: east from Bethlehem and back in time. We need to go to Eden, and even there we will not find the beginning of the story of Christmas, which lies in the heart of God, but we will get about as close as human observation can attain.
It was in the Garden, not the stable, that the Creator first became Immanuel (God with us). (“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” Genesis 3:8). The Creator, a being of unimaginable power, who brought into existence the visible universe and, along with it, realities that are not visible (at least to creatures like us) was with humans: with them in ways they could readily perceive and in ways that caused them to flourish. He was Immanuel.
The Creator made the earth to be a place that would beautifully and remarkably sustain biological life. It was perfect. And on the earth, he made a place (Eden) that was supremely suited to a particular kind of biological life: the human. He placed two humans, a man and a woman, in that ideal environment.
The powerful and wise Creator had a plan. Biologically, he made the humans so that they could mate and multiply and fill the earth. Spiritually, he designed them so that they and all their descendants would resemble the Creator himself.
The powerful and wise Creator had a plan. Biologically, he made the humans so that they could mate and multiply and fill the earth. Spiritually, he designed them so that they and all their descendants would resemble the Creator himself. He gave them characteristics that mirrored his own (appropriate to their biological form, of course) and bestowed on them the responsibility of serving as his regents to rule the earth. The Creator said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over … all the earth…” He gave them dominion over everything on earth. The Creator’s plan was to set up images of himself (humans) all over the planet – and who knows, perhaps someday all over the galaxy – to represent him. They were to care for the planet and for all its creatures as his representatives. Think of the earth and the universe as a kingdom, the Creator as king, and the humans as the king’s chosen regents.
The man and woman in the garden were being prepared for that high, holy calling. We don’t know how long their preparation in in the garden was intended to last – for all we know they may have been there for a hundred years – but their preparation included one restriction. They were given free range of the entire garden and access to all its bounty, except for the fruit of one particular tree, known as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of that tree they were not permitted to eat – at least, not at that point in their preparation. Perhaps later in their training that would have changed.
But as time went on the man and the woman – Adam and Eve – chose to go their own way, and their way was a long and disastrous detour. Instead of serving as the Creator’s representatives, as regents of the King of the Universe, they chose their own path. They did not want to rule under God, they wanted to rule beside him. They didn’t want to wait to be prepared. They decided to take a shortcut. They chose to believe that they would be better off – happier, more fulfilled, more who they were meant to be – if they were autonomous. They decided that they knew better than God, which is the same mindset that is behind all our sins. When humanity’s progenitors ate the fruit, they were not acting like naughty children but like rebellious conspirators and, at least to some degree, they knew it. What happened in the garden was not a slip but a jump that turned into a fall.