“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised up and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness—so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.” Isa. 52:13-15 (NIV)
I confess, Christmas carols have been filling the air at my house since the first of November. I am one of those people who think one month is simply not long enough to savor Christmas! Songs like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “O Holy Night” are among my favorites.
Not only are they beautiful, but these songs never fail to paint the scenes of Christ’s miraculous birth in weighty, majestic strokes that spark wonder inside my heart and mind. As I listen to the words of those hymns and engage my imagination, I am filled with awe, just as I imagine Mary must have been.
Picture it: when Mary gazed at the newborn Jesus, she was also looking at the Word made flesh. When she held her baby, she was holding God made touchable and tiny, the Infinite wrapped in the finite flesh of humanity. Christ, the Savior in swaddling clothes.
In the old carols, we hear of the angels and the shepherds joining the story, adding to the glory and the mystery of God’s stunning intervention in history for fallen sinners like you and me. These hymns capture wonderfully both the sacredness of his birth and the triumphant salvation he would grow up to win for us. But there is more to the story—the how of our salvation.
Songs like “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” and “Mary, Did You Know?” focus on the unexpectedly humble nature of Jesus’ earthly mission. Yes, Jesus was born to usher in God’s kingdom and bring salvation to humanity, but not in the way most of Israel expected, with glorious political and religious supremacy over their enemies. Quite the contrary.
Jesus was born to serve. Jesus was born to suffer. And by his service and suffering, Jesus himself became the way of salvation for all who repent of their sins and put their trust in him.
Isaiah records the prophecies foretelling that God’s Messiah would be a Suffering Servant. Yes, Jesus would be (and ever will be) glorified—“raised up and lifted up and highly exalted”—but first came his sacrificial service for us. Few adored him while he walked among us, healing the sick, forgiving and delivering those oppressed by sin, and then bearing the full wrath of God on the cross, not for his own sin, but for all of ours. The baby King in the manger was born to serve.
Before being exalted by God, he was first rejected and despised, falsely accused and persecuted by those he came to save. He willingly endured an inhumane death on a torturous cross, experiencing in our place the just penalty for our rebellion—separation from God and death. By shedding his blood to “sprinkle many nations,” he provided cleansing for the sins of the whole world through his agony. The innocent baby in swaddling clothes was born to suffer.
Only after triumphing over death and hell itself by his resurrection and ascending back to his rightful place at God’s right hand in heaven was Jesus once again exalted as he always deserved to be. One day, Jesus will return. He will finally be revealed to all creation as King of kings and Lord of lords, silencing the kings of the earth who will, at last, see him in his glory.
As we celebrate this Christmas, let’s take time to meditate on the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ first coming. As we focus on the wonder of the baby in the stable, let’s remember God’s perfect Son was born to serve and to suffer for our sake, and let’s worship him all the more. More than that, let’s allow ourselves to be humbled by his love and resolve to follow his example. After all, we, too, were born to serve, to the glory of God.
How does meditating on the prophecies of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 about Jesus the Suffering Servant affect how you celebrate his birth?
Read Mark 10:45; What will you do to love and serve others this Christmas with the attitude of Jesus?