As we celebrate Christmas, I can’t help but think of what I believe was the first year we were away from the States – and our family and usual traditions – during the holidays. We went to a Christmas Eve service in Nigeria with some other missionaries, and there was a time for sharing thoughts. Many people, some also experiencing the holidays without their network of family and friends for the first time, related to Joseph and Mary traveling on that first Christmas. And of course there were thoughts about Jesus leaving His home in heaven to live among us – Jesus, the ultimate missionary, leaving behind far more than any of us had.
But the thought that has really stayed with me over these past couple years is something else. When we talk about Jesus coming to earth – the Creator of heaven and earth, of you and me; the King of kings and Lord of lords – we know, of course, that he took on an incredibly humble and vulnerable form. He came as a baby, a baby who was dependent upon others for His every need. The God of the universe needing someone to change His diapers (or swaddling cloths, or whatever was used back then….), to give Him food, to meet His basic needs…. When Jesus came to earth the first time, one woman reminded us, He came as a lamb – mild, meek, needing people to care for Him (and who would eventually become the sacrificial lamb in our stead).
Judah used to always say a disclaimer when he talked about Jesus coming to earth, though – “Jesus came to earth as a baby – but he didn’t stay that way!”
And of course he didn’t.
The other side of that story, of the lamb-like nature of Jesus, is the side we don’t think about as much: Though He initially came as the Lamb of God, when He returns, it will be as the Lion. The next time He comes, it will not be wrapped in swaddling clothes or in a humble stable while most of the world goes on, unaware that the most significant event in history has just happened. When He returns, there will be no question as to His majesty, no question that He truly is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He will not come meekly, but with a roar as the judge, the King coming to claim His rightful throne… and quite honestly, that’s a little scary. And certainly not the image that we as believers project most of the time. Sometimes we seem to prefer the lamb aspect of His nature, finding it easier to not dwell on that troubling lion part.
It’s a reminder I need, though, especially during this holiday season when we celebrate the sacrificial gift of God sending His own Son to earth. It’s a reminder I need when plastic Santas far outnumber the plastic mangers that decorate storefronts and lawns. It’s a reminder I need when the evils of the world seem to be in abundance, when I become discouraged and sometimes view Jesus in just that moment in the manger, frozen in time: a weak baby who can’t REALLY do much of anything, a helpless child who doesn’t ACTUALLY have control over my circumstances, much less the world itself.
The images of Jesus, meek and mild, laying on a bed of hay on the fronts of Christmas cards are a reminder of the sacrifice He made for us – one I also need – but they’re just one slice of a fuller picture that we will one day see. Nope, as Judah – and the Bible! – reminds me – He certainly didn’t stay that way.
May your celebration of Jesus, the Lion and the Lamb, be a blessed one this year!