The Next Bethlehem

There are few things in this world more audacious than the doctrines underlying Christmas. And when we say this, we are not just talking about what God has done, in fulfillment of His great and precious promises, but we are also talking about what God is continuing to do, and what He intends to complete. Remember that God always completes what God begins. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). But what is that good work?

When Luke describes the Annunciation for us, he said that the Holy Spirit would come upon Mary, and because His power would overshadow her, the holy one born of her would be called the Son of God.

“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

This was the Holy Spirit performing a miraculous work, unlike any other work ever done in this world. That work had to do with the union between God and man that was accomplished in the Incarnation. That great miracle happened nine months before Bethlehem, when the Absolute Word was incarnated in a single cell. A short time later, there were sixteen cells, and the Absolute Word. Then there was a beating heart, fingernails, and hair, and so on. The stupefying miracle was what had happened at conception.

The formation of the body of Jesus in the womb after that initial miraculous point followed the usual course. God did there what He does for all of us.

“Thus saith the Lord, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the Lord that maketh all things; That stretcheth forth the heavens alone; That spreadeth abroad the earth by myself” (Is. 44:24).

In the Incarnation itself God did what He has only ever done for one man, the man Christ Jesus. In the growth of the human body of Jesus in the womb afterward, God did for Him what He has done for all of us here. God is the one who forms absolutely everyone in the womb.

Now when meditating on the mere fact of the Incarnation, there are oceanic mysteries involved, and we will never get to the end of it. This is the case when we are describing the Incarnation as we understand the general boundaries of it—the Incarnation of Jesus in the womb of Mary. But there is another pregnancy involved, another gestation, another miracle. This is a miracle that involves everyone who has experienced the new birth, which means it is a gathering, cascading, and ever-increasing miracle.

So here it is. As Mary was pregnant with Jesus, so also the world is pregnant with Christ.

How does the apostle Paul describe it?    

“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,” (Gal. 4:19).

This pregnancy image is straight out of Scripture. This is not an invention of ours. We would not dare to think it up—just as we would not dare to invent the apparent blasphemies of the first Christmas story. I mean, seriously? Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity? Who would dare invent such a story?

But the audacity is far greater than we have even begun to imagine. The audacity is the kind of thing we should come to expect from our God, the living God, the God who will never be domesticated.

“To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).

Christ was in Mary, obviously. But here we are given the phrase “Christ in you,” collectively, all of you, and what is that? It is the hope of glory. Glory is the process of gestating. Glory is going to be born into the world at the Last Day when the Lord appears (again), and that manifestation of the Son of God will be—in a certain sense—a second Bethlehem.

But there will be some cosmic differences. For one example, in this second Bethlehem, it will be all the Herods of this world who are slain, and not the baby boys. It will be the Supreme Court justices who are terrified, and not the toddlers.

So then, just as Christ was born of Mary, so also He is going to be born of the world. Mary gave birth to Jesus so that, in glorious plan of God, the world would eventually give birth to Christ.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit, just as it was before. As the Spirit brooded over the face of the deep, and as the Spirit overshadowed the virgin, and as the Spirit came down in power at Pentecost, so also will the Spirit of life bring everything to glory as He empowers the seed within us, which is the Christ seed.

“And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom. 8:10).

We know from Scripture that true Christians have Christ in their hearts. Sure enough, and amen. But Christ is not in us in the way a precious jewel is placed in a jewelry box. Rather Christ is in us the same way imperishable seed has been implanted in the womb of the world (1 Pet. 1:23). This marvelous gift given to us is no static thing, no dead thing, no inert thing. It is life itself, everlasting life.

One Christmas carol expresses these things wonderfully.

Born to raise the son of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

That second birth, that new birth, that regeneration is the Spirit of Christ within us, the hope of glory—the life which is forming Christ within us. And that is how Christ is being formed in the world—it is happening in those who have been born again. And the more people are converted, the more this process gathers force. Two thousand years later, the world is beginning to show.

So did Charles Wesley understand these things? You know that he did.

Come, Desire of nations, come!
Fix in us Thy humble home:
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head;
Adam’s likeness now efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

So the gift that Mary carried in her womb was the inexpressible gift. And that gift was given to all of us also, and is the reason we are privileged to carry everlasting life in the womb of the heart.

If you don’t know that this gift is yours, if you have not experienced it yourself, this is the word you must believe, here is the imperishable seed. Christ was born of a woman, lived a perfect sinless life, went to the cross for our sins, was laid in a grave, and rose again three days later in accordance with the Scriptures. And if you look to this Christ, you will live.

Not only so, but if you look to this Christ you will quickened by Him and become a carrier of His life, as we grow in love together, knit together in grace, as we groan together, yearning for that final day of deliverance—the new world’s birthday.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.

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