What a sharp contrast there is between Christmas, with its lovely carols about the birth of Jesus, and the tense life of our vexed world! That is the baffling incongruity of Christmas which we felt during the war, and which we understand again today. It almost seems out of place to sing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men”! But that contrast and that apparent incongruity lie very close to the heart of Christmas, for it was into a world engulfed in darkness and despair that the Son of God was actually born. Indeed, the very coming of Jesus provoked it into fearful savagery, as we see right away in the slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem by the command of Herod, who was determined to destroy the new-born King. And yet that was but a portent of even more terrible things to come. For seventy long, bitter years the storm-clouds gathered in darkening intensity over Palestine, and then at last they broke in all their fury upon the Jews, as Jesus Himself had prophesied, when the streets of the Holy City were drenched in blood and Jerusalem was ploughed up like a field. It was right in the middle of those seventy years that Jesus was crucified with wicked hatred, Jesus who was born at Bethlehem to be the Prince of Peace.
What is there about the message of Christmas that makes it speak in such angelic beauty of peace and good-will and yet point straightaway to the frenzied tumult of Jerusalem and the agony of the Cross? What is it that links the birth of Christ with the passion of Christ, and that still makes the tender mercy of God manifested at Bethlehem like fire cast upon the earth?
It is the fact proclaimed by the name Immanuel: God with us. Let us try to understand that.
“God with us” means that in the birth of Jesus Christ God has given Himself wholly to us, in a love that is absolutely unstinting and infinitely lavish. It is God’s utmost self-giving that stopped at nothing. God could do no more than come Himself into our humanity, and give Himself entirely to us—and that is exactly what He has done in Jesus. The sheer extent, the boundless range, of His act of love takes our breath away. “God with us” means that God Almighty insists on sharing His life with us. Far from abandoning us to the fate which we men deserve, God has identified Himself with us. Once and for all He has become one of us, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. God has committed Himself to us in such unrestrained love in the birth of Jesus, and in such a way that now He cannot abandon us any more than He can abandon Himself in Jesus Christ.
That is why the birth of Jesus was heralded with such sublime joy among men and angels, for now that God is with us, the whole situation in heaven and earth is entirely altered, and all things are made new. Now that God is actually with us and of us, everything else is assured. Whatever may happen in the future, God’s purposes of love and fellowship and peace with man will be fulfilled. If God is with us, there is nothing that can prevail against us. If God has given us His own Son in the birth of Jesus, then He has already given us everything, and there is nothing that He will withhold from us. No wonder that the whole host of heaven burst out in praise, as the good tidings were announced to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men.” No wonder Simeon said, when he took the baby Jesus into his arms: “Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”