There have been many critical moments in the history of the world, moments when the fate of nations was at stake, times when the very existence of civilization seemed to hang by a slender thread. Historians have given much attention to these momentous periods for their significance is great indeed. The period of cultural development in Greece, the time of Roman expansion, the revival of learning, the American revolution, all have a profound effect on our life today. But there is one period of history which in its splendor and wealth of significance eclipses all the others, and that is the thirty-year period of Christ’s ministry on earth.
At many other times kingdoms and nations were destroyed and built up, but during this time a Kingdom was established which far transcends all earthly boundaries of time and space; the foundation was laid for an eternal “city of God”, a people who although their origin is of this world, have a destiny surpassing in glory anything which could be imagined on earth, a destiny in the kingdom of heaven. The climax of Christ’s ministry was his shameful death on the cross, but the beginning of his ministry is also of tremendous significance and a source of unlimited wonder and awe for us. It is this event which we commemorate each year in December, the incarnation, the coming of the promised Messiah.
God humbled himself. The Almighty took upon himself the weaknesses of human flesh. The Son of God, the Word who was with God and who was God at the beginning of time, who operated in the creation of time and who is far above all limitations of time, voluntarily assumed those limitations and became a subject of the very thing which he created. The Every- where-present One bound himself to a particular spot in space, and he who had no need of anyone or anything willingly took upon himself the human body with all the physical needs and defects it contained: hunger, weariness, pain, and even death!
It was a miracle. No one can begin, to comprehend the virgin birth of Christ The Church throughout the age has pondered this amazing fact and, although books and countless articles have been written on it, we today are no closer to an understanding than was the church of the first century. That Mary, who “knew not a man” should conceive seed; it was unheard of. And that this seed, should be the Son of God! Even Joseph was staggered. We do not understand; we do not ask to comprehend; we, only believe. God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.
God suffered. When we think of the suffering of our Lord, our attention is usually drawn to the short time immediately before his death, to the crown of thorns, the buffetings at the hands of the soldiers and the spiritual agony of separation from God. However, this was by no means the whole of his suffering. From the very first moment of his earthly ministry Christ suffered. The simple fact that he was bound to earthly, finite limitations occasioned suffering. Moreover, from the very first he was received not as a king but as an outcast. The Jewish people had been waiting for thousands of years for the promised Messiah; prophets had told of his coming, poets had sung of it, everyone looked for it. But when he came was he received with feasts and rejoicing? No, there was no room in the inn; his only welcome was given by lowly shepherds; he was forced to be concealed in Egypt because of the frantic persecution by Herod; later, during his active ministry, he cried out, “O Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thee under my wings . . . and thou wouldst not!” On that night when all the world was assembled for taxation, the Son of God began to walk a road of bitterness, of rejection, of pain and suffering. He came unto his own and his own received him not.
What does it all mean? Why should the omnipresent God assume the weakness of human form? What was the purpose of such a miraculous birth? Why did God’s own Son have to endure such ignominious pain and reproach? Why? Ah, that is the glory of it; that is what makes “the period of Christ’s ministry significant. When we stop to consider the reason and purpose of this most important part of history, we are overwhelmed. Why did the Almighty come down to earth? Why did Christ begin to walk the way of the cross? In the answer lies all our hope: He did it for us.