The Word Among Us

Advent 2007 Issue

When Heaven Invaded Earth

On Christmas Day, Jesus brought in a whole new kingdom.

What do you think about when you hear the word "invasion"? Do you perhaps recall the invasion of June 6, 1944, when millions of British, United States, and Canadian forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, to liberate Western Europe from Nazi control?

Or do you think of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by a United States-led coalition? Or perhaps you think of the so-called "British Invasion" of 1964, when the rock group The Beatles landed in New York and brought a new brand of music to America? If you are an entomologist, perhaps you might think of the invasion of killer bees that was sparked in the fall of 1957, when twenty-six Tanzanian queen bees were accidentally released from a research facility in Brazil.

Whatever you think of, one thing is clear: Events are called invasions because of the immense impact that they have on a place or a group of people. One more thing is also clear: Invasions can be positive or negative, depending on your perspective.

This Advent, let’s add to our list of invasions the most important one of all. It happened about two thousand years ago, when the eternal Son of God took on human flesh and entered time and space. Let’s look at Christmas as the crucial moment in history when heaven invaded earth.

Of course, God’s grace had come to earth over and over again long before Jesus was born. Think, for instance, of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. But there is something so powerful and profound about the incarnation of Christ that it outstrips all the others. In fact, we can say that every spiritual invasion before this one was meant to prepare for it, and every invasion afterward was made possible because of it.

As we enter this Advent season, it can be very exciting—as well as deeply encouraging—to look at what exactly Jesus brought with him when he came to earth. What did this spiritual invasion accomplish? If he came as a kind of heavenly invader, what force or power did he overcome in his invasion, and how has that affected our lives here and now? If Jesus came with an invasion of divine love and divine power, what new things did this love and power make possible for us today?

An Invasion of Heavenly Teaching. One clearly new thing that Jesus brought was a new teaching (Mark 1:27). Throughout the Gospels, we read about Jesus showing people how to pray, how to think and act, and how to relate to others. He taught how to please God and live in a way that gave him glory. He taught how to act when things don’t go our way. He taught about what we should do after we have sinned. All of these insights can help form the basis for a new philosophy of life—a philosophy that continues to bring heaven to earth, even in our own hearts!

Using sermons and parables, Jesus gave us spiritual wisdom that will retain their power and freshness until he comes again. In his Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus taught that it is not only those who commit murder who violate God’s command against killing but "whoever is angry with his brother" as well (Matthew 5:22). He also taught that loving only those who love us does not go far enough. "Love your enemies," he taught, "and pray for those who persecute you" (5:44).

In parables Jesus taught that big sins—like those of the prodigal son—as well as little sins—like those of his older brother—can be forgiven because our Father in heaven is loving and merciful (Luke 15:11-32). He told us that our gifts and talents are not really ours. We are more like stewards entrusted with our Master’s treasures. God expects us to develop our talents and produce a good return on them (Matthew 25:14-30).

These are all teachings that Jesus wants us to put into practice—not just to admire from a distance. However, amazing as these teachings are, they are only part of what Jesus brought with him during his divine invasion. He came to do more than just teach us how to live. He came to heal us so that we actually could live according to this new way. And quite often, the healing that he does in our hearts is coupled with miracles—signs and wonders from heaven to earth.

A Miraculous Invasion. It is virtually impossible for people to talk about Jesus without bringing up the many miracles that he performed. These miracles served to prove not only that God existed but that this God has power—and that his divine power had come to earth and was now within our reach.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke recount many of Jesus’ acts of divine power—healing the sick, opening blind eyes, casting out demons, even raising the dead. Quite often, in fact, they will tell us simply that Jesus "cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons" (Mark 1:34). John, on the other hand, limits himself to just seven specific miracles, all of which he places in the first part of his gospel. This "Book of Signs," as it has come to be called, covers chapters 1-12 of John, and it is followed by the "Book of Glory," which covers chapters 13-21. While the Book of Signs focuses on these seven miracles, the Book of Glory focuses exclusively on Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.

In the first of these miraculous signs, John tells us how heaven’s power touched earth at a wedding banquet, when Jesus changed water into wine (John 2:1-12). As with the six signs that follow, this miracle points beyond itself to give us insight into why Jesus came to be with us. At the wedding banquet, Jesus didn’t change bad into good; he changed good into better. He turned the good water of earth into the holy wine of heaven, showing us what our lives can be like when we let his own power and love invade our hearts. This water-to-wine transformation is a sign telling all of us how Jesus wants to transform every person from good to better. It tells us how he wants to take all of our natural skills, gifts, and talents and fill them with spiritual power and purpose.

This kind of transformation is proof that Jesus is at work in our hearts. The signs—miracles—that John talked about are signs we too can see in our lives, and in a special way at Christmas. We can see miracles like the fruits of the Spirit and a new ability to overcome sin. We can see a greater desire in our hearts to serve the church.

But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus also wants to give us miracles of healing, words of divine encouragement, and an increase of faith. He wants to do this so that we would come to trust in him more deeply and be more ready to follow him wherever he leads us.

An Invasion of Salvation. And yet, as impressive and remarkable as all of Jesus’ miracles were, even they were not the most important blessing to flow from the spiritual invasion of Christmas. In fact, the seven signs in John’s Gospel all point to and find their culmination in the last and greatest sign of all: the glory of the cross.

Popular writer and philosopher C. S. Lewis once called the Incarnation the "Grand Miracle." Echoing the approach of John’s Gospel, he wrote: "The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. . . . Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this
. . . . It was the central event in the history of the Earth—the very thing that the whole story has been about."

Some counter Lewis’ statement by saying that Jesus’ resurrection is the greatest miracle. After all, it is the basis of our salvation. But Scripture tells us about many other people being raised from the dead—Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and Eutychus, for example. The difference in Jesus’ case is who it was who was raised from the dead.

When Jairus’ daughter was raised up, Jairus and the rest of his family were very happy to have their girl back with them. The miracle may have affected their neighbors or even the whole town, bringing them all to a deeper faith. But when Jesus rose from the dead, sin and death themselves were destroyed. The very gates of heaven were opened. The whole of creation was changed!

Unlike Jairus’ daughter and the others, Jesus is God made man. Everyone else was simply mortal beings. Easter holds such power because of Christmas—because it was the eternal Word of God who died and rose again. Only Jesus is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God. Only he has the authority to destroy death forever.

Celebrate the Incarnation. Brothers and sisters, the Incarnation is a great mystery. It is every bit as incomprehensible as the Trinity. How can the Creator enter into his creation? How can the eternal enter into time? How can spirit become flesh? Yet despite our inability to comprehend this great event, Christmas still has the capacity to fill us with wonder and joy, simply because "today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord" (Luke 2:11).

Christmas is about a holy invasion by a God who loves us deeply and who wants to lavish us with his love. It’s about God descending into his own creation so that by ascending again he might raise all of us up with him from death to life, from bondage to freedom, from shame to glory.

Our Christmas celebration is entirely about God’s "Grand Miracle." So let’s celebrate it! And let’s humble ourselves before Jesus just as he humbled himself before us. Two thousand years ago, he entrusted himself to the care and love of a human being. Let’s follow his lead and entrust ourselves to his care and to his love.