Last week, Patty and I attended a performance of a Living Christmas Tree at my church, the First Baptist Church of Naples, Florida. It was the best I'd ever seen. The performers did not simply offer music and a manger scene; they also brought out flags. One read: "The Great I AM"; another proclaimed "King of Kings." Yet another said "Lord of Lords."
In other words, the program was not confined to warm thoughts about a chubby-cheeked Baby Jesus. It made the point that Christmas is about the Incarnation.
Too many pastors, music directors, and rank-and-file Christians miss this point. We wander happily through the weeks of Advent, buying gifts, trimming trees, throwing out Aunt Ethel's fruitcake, and listening to Eartha Kitt warble "Santa Baby." All good fun, of course, but what we often miss is the huge, central truth of Christmas: the fact that the birth of Christ represents an invasion of Planet Earth-an assault on territory occupied by a violent and vicious enemy, Satan.
Viewed properly, Christmas is a matter of life and death for billions. God invaded in order to smash the reign of Satan and to establish His holy rule.
We see hints of the battle plan in Scripture-evidence of one kingdom pitted against another. For example, in Matthew 3, John the Baptist announces that the kingdom of God is at hand. John later warns that "even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." In other words, we are told to make a choice-God's kingdom, or Satan's.
Beginning in Acts, we find the first signs of the kingdom of God-believers banding together to form the first church, holding all things in common. Peter and John announce: "The kings of the earth set themselves . . . against the Lord and against his Anointed" (Acts 4: 26). We've seen the signs of the two kingdoms at war ever since-a holy kingdom assaulting the gates of hell.
Think about it for a moment. What is the kingdom of Satan? It's a kingdom that celebrates mass murder, sex trafficking, abortion, pornography, addictions, and any other horror you might imagine.
But we don't hear much about this at Christmas. The problem, you see, is we've slipped into classic American reductionism. We take a big idea, like the Incarnation, and reduce it into something small enough to cope with.
We can handle the warm, fuzzy baby in the manger bit. But that babe in swaddling cloths matured in 30 years and triumphed over sin and death and conquered the kingdoms of this world. As we hear in Handel's Messiah, "The Kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ."
What about you? This year, will you celebrate a holly, jolly Christmas? Or will you stretch yourself to recover the huge, real, violent, beautiful meaning of the Incarnation?
So, yes, the birth of Jesus is a glorious moment, and the manger scene brings comfort and joy and Christmas cheer. But it should also inspire a holy terror in us-that this Baby, born in the manger, was the thrilling signal that God had invaded the Planet Earth. This baby is God incarnate, the mighty King who came to set the captives free through His cruel, bloody death on the cross as atonement for us, His unworthy subjects.
This commentary originally aired December 21, 2008.