The message of the gospel is one that not only brings us forgiveness of sin, but also one that upends all our categories. God unmakes our tawdry pasts, and replaces them with a fresh start, a new birth, a clean slate. But He also intends to unmake our officious assumptions about what all those things must mean.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8–9).
Summary of the Text
Through His prophet Isaiah, God tells the Israelites that He does not think the same way that they do. His ways are not their ways, according to the Lord’s declaration here (v. 8). The reason for this is that God’s ways are higher than ours, and are higher in the way that the heavens are higher than the earth. The same thing goes for His thoughts (v. 8). God’s ways and thoughts are higher.
But this means that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts about what constitutes higher things. God, in other words, can be highly irreverent. Through the Incarnation, God has declared that He at any rate was not going to stand upon His dignity. We believe that for God to be higher means that He could not possibly dwell with the lowly. But this is far from the case. The Incarnation—even when we think we have gotten used to it—is profoundly unsettling.
A Different Calculus
What men think is wealthy and respectable is Mammon worship in the sight of God.
“And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).
What men think is reverent and humble is thought by God to be arrogant and insolent nonsense.
“Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things? Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:49–51).
What men call obedience is actually stiff-necked rebellion in the sight of God.
“And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites” (1 Sam. 15:20).
A God of Reversals
So with all that in mind, consider this great juxtaposition from Isaiah:
“For thus saith the high and lofty One That inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Is. 57:15).
Where does God live? He inhabits eternity. He dwells in the high and holy place. So far, this accords with our sense of propriety. But this high and holy one, this eternal one, also dwells with the contrite and lowly spirit. What is He doing there? He is reviving the hearts of those who are contrite. God stoops in order to pick us up. How far did He stoop?
In a Lowly Manger
And how does this apply to our understanding of Christmas? Take these thoughts from Martin Luther:
“If Christ had arrived with trumpets and lain in a cradle of gold, his birth would have been a splendid affair. But it would not be a comfort to me. He was rather to lie in the lap of a poor maiden and be thought of little significance in the eyes of the world. Now I can come to him. Now he reveals himself to the miserable in order not to give any impression that he arrives with great power, splendor, wisdom, and aristocratic manners.”
The Lord Jesus was born into our poverty so that He might liberate us from our poverty. And by poverty I mean poverty of all kinds—spiritual, financial, emotional, and intellectual. The Lord Jesus was no Little Lord Fauntleroy. He was not, as the French saying goes, like a “little Jesus in velvet pants.” Joseph and Mary sacrificed turtle doves at his dedication, which was the sacrifice that the Mosaic law set apart for the poor. What does this mean? He means that He is the Savior. Let us use a word that might hit us harder (because we have turned Savior into one of our “religion words”). He is our Shield and Buckler. He is our Deliverer. He is the Messiah. He is the Christ, I tell you.
So It Begins With a Child
When the first Adam was created, he was shaped out of the dust of the ground, and he was a fully formed man, but without the breath of life. When God breathed into him, he had sudden existence, and though he was just five minutes old, he looked like a thirty-year-old man (say).
But the Lord Jesus stooped all the way down to a single cell. The eternal Son of God, according to His Deity, was conjoined with a cell that had roughly the thickness of a hair. He was of the seed of David according to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God through His resurrection (Rom. 1:3-4). He was not only as small as we are, but He also became small in comparison to us.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: And the government shall be upon his shoulder: And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, Upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, To order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice From henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Is. 9:6–7).
The Zeal of the Lord for Salvation
What has been accomplished for us has been accomplished by the zeal of the Lord of hosts. He is the one who has performed it, and He began by stooping low. As C.S. Lewis put it so wonderfully.
“He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.”