Laurin opened the front door and discovered rose petals strewn along the path from her foyer to her living room. The end of the trail was lit with dozens of LED candles, and in the center of the room hung a ball of mistletoe, suspended with white ribbon from her ceiling fan. Taking her by the hand, I guided her across the rosy walkway and retrieved a small box dangling from the kissing ball. Inside was a diamond ring, representing just about every last dollar I had in the world. Then, I got down on one knee and told Laurin how much I loved her heart. I told her I didn’t want to spend another Christmas apart from her for the rest of my life, and I asked her to marry me.
That was Christmas Eve, one year ago. And now, as Laurin and I get ready to celebrate our first anniversary-of-our-engagement-Christmas together, I am convinced there’s nothing more appropriate than a Christmas engagement. After all, Christmas is when Jesus got engaged, too.
Before you condemn me as a heretic or write me off as some Da Vinci Code conspiracy theorist, let me explain. Jesus didn’t quite get engaged on Christmas, but He did begin the engagement process.
Jesus Pays a Visit
In the first century, when a Jewish man wanted to marry his beloved, he would visit the home of his potential bride and ask her father for permission to marry his daughter. In those days, the groom would pay a price to the father for his daughter’s hand. Once paid, the couple would be engaged but would immediately be considered legally married. (That’s why, when it was thought that Mary had become pregnant by another man, Joseph planned to divorce her; see Matthew 1:18-19. Their engagement had the same legal status as marriage.) At Christmas, Jesus came to earth, visiting the home of His bride. And His visit wouldn’t end until He had paid the price for her. In the case of this bride, however, the cost was far greater than money. Jesus paid with His life.
Forget the red-and-green decorations. Forget the trees and the classic cartoon specials and the eggnog. Contrary to what some people may tell you, Christmas is about the gifts — one beyond-belief, incredibly undeserved gift actually. Christmas is about Jesus, our Immanuel — “God with us” — as the prophet Isaiah declared (see Isaiah 7:14). When He was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago, God took on flesh. He came to live with us and die for us so that we could someday live with Him as His bride for all eternity.
Of course, God comes near in the Old Testament. He speaks to the patriarchs and prophets, sometimes as a man speaks to a friend (see Exodus 33:11). Other times, He speaks through a messenger or through signs and wonders. He fills the wilderness tabernacle with His presence, and later He does the same with the temple in Jerusalem. But all of these things are done in anticipation of Jesus, “the Word [who] became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, ESV).
Jesus’ life on earth was a visit. To fulfill all of the purposes God had for sending His Son, Jesus had to die and be raised to life, and then ascend to the Father. But just like a groom visiting the home of His bride to arrange their upcoming wedding, Jesus came to earth to set the future in motion.
During the betrothal period, a Jewish couple in the first century would live apart, both preparing for married life. That’s where we who know Jesus now find ourselves in the story. The price has been paid, the covenant begun, but Jesus is no longer physically present with us on earth. He is preparing a home for His bride. That’s why He told His disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). As we celebrate Christmas, we look back on Jesus’ earthly life, to His visit that began in Bethlehem, heralded by angels and the stars in the sky, and witnessed by shepherds and wise men. And we look forward to the day when Jesus will return to call us home.
Jesus Makes a Promise
On our wedding day, I promised to love Laurin — to cherish her, protect her and provide for her. I promised to be with her for the rest of my life. But on Christmas Eve, as I kneeled beneath the mistletoe and held out her engagement ring, I made Laurin another promise — that one day soon, I would marry her. Jesus too made a promise at Christmas. His birth was the beginning of a new kingdom — one where the curse would be reversed and where the powers of darkness would be forever silenced. The groaning that exists within the heart of every man and woman will someday be answered by God’s goodness, but the promise of that kingdom came 2,000 years ago with the first cries of life, echoing from within a manger on Christmas day.
Writing more than 700 years earlier, Isaiah looks forward to Christ’s birth, saying: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). He goes on to prophesy that Jesus’ kingdom would be established and upheld “with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (9:7).
Jesus’ mother, Mary, recognizes this theme of justice too as she sings praise to God, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). Through Jesus Christ, God is making the world right again.
One of the common objections to the Gospel in our day is the so-called problem of evil. Simply put, people doubt God’s existence, or at least His good intentions, because there is so much evil in our world. How could a good God allow it? For the believer, though, there is a mark — a sign to serve as evidence that God’s promises are true in Jesus Christ. Just as I gave Laurin a diamond ring to serve as evidence of my good intention to marry her, Jesus too left His people with a pledge, “with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Jesus Pays the Price
When Laurin and I walked down the aisle of a small chapel in the woods of northeastern Georgia for the first time as husband and wife, we began a new life together. The apostle Paul wrote that the mystery of marriage — the reason couples have been pledging themselves to one another since the beginning of time — is that it points to something beyond itself: Marriage is a picture of Christ and His bride (Ephesians 5:31-33). Laurin and I said our vows and celebrated what God had done in bringing us together, and we became a living image of Jesus’ love for the church.
In my vows, I promised to love Laurin as Christ loves the church. More than just being a romantic gesture, Christ’s love for His bride is sacrificial: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). The price Jesus paid for His bride went far beyond a diamond ring or any earthly security; Jesus paid for His bride with His blood.
Isaiah wrote about the Suffering Servant, and centuries of animal sacrifices pointed a neon arrow to it, but the high price of the cross was something no one expected Christ to pay. That’s how God’s love is, though — beyond expectation, beyond imagination. It wasn’t an accident, and it wasn’t an afterthought. Jesus came to earth to die for you and me. He was born among the animals in the backwater town of Bethlehem, celebrated by shepherds, and hunted by a king — all of this in order to lay down His life. That’s why Christmas doesn’t make sense without Good Friday and why the manger must be seen in the shadow of the cross.
Someday, just like any faithful groom pledged to be married, Jesus will return for His bride. Until that day, we celebrate the promise. We celebrate Christ’s love in our marriages and at every wedding we attend. We celebrate Good Friday because, in Jesus’ death, we have life. And we celebrate His resurrection on Easter morning. Death has been conquered, and God has accepted Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. But without Christmas, there would be no Good Friday, there would be no Easter, and there would be no looking forward to Christ’s second coming. New life began at Christmas. And it’s the reason Christmas should be the time when we marvel at God’s goodness most of all.
Copyright 2013 John Greco. All rights reserved.