“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn
from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
Early Christians did not say, “Look what the world has come to,” but said in delight, “Look at what has come to the world!” (E. Stanley Jones, Abundant Living) That is the joy with which Christians of the first century, or any century, have celebrated the coming of God’s Son into the world! All of life is now different!
This year I had the wonderful privilege to join with other Christians worshipping at the Church of the Holy Nativity, the world’s oldest church used for worship. The church was constructed over what is thought to be the cave in which Jesus was born. Origen, theologian and church father, visited that cave in the year 220 and wrote:
“There is shown at Bethlehem the cave where He was born, and the manger in the cave where he was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And this sight is greatly talked of in surrounding places, even among the enemies of the faith, it being said that in this cave was born that Jesus who is worshipped and reverenced by the Christians.” (Origin, Contra Celsum, I, 51)
That day I was moved in the Church of the Nativity to hear joyful people praising God in different languages for what He has brought to the world.
It was a Roman census that took Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, known as “the City of David”. The Dead Sea Scrolls, when viewed together with recent archeology, indicate that a small clan from King David’s family emigrated from Babylon to Galilee around the year 100 B. C. They returned to the homeland, filled with messianic fervor, to build a village they named “Nazara” or “Nazareth”, meaning “Branch”. They anticipated the Coming of Messiah the Branch, from David’s family, as prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 11:2).
“Seeing that the Davidic family of Nazareth, as portrayed by the Evangelists, did not only consist of the holy family but also of other clan relatives (see Mark 6:4), one may well take it for granted that most of the inhabitants belonged to the same extended family.” (Bargil Pixner, With Jesus through Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel)
Nazareth was a close-knit, backwoods village praying for the coming of David’s Son, the Messiah, to the world.
Paul writes in today’s scripture about the coming of God’s Son into the world in Jesus, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” This means that in the holy Child of Bethlehem all the fullness of divinity lives in a human body, “so that he might come to have first place in everything.”
With these words Paul takes on the false teachers who have crept into the Colossian house church, saying that Jesus is prominent, not preeminent. While not rejecting Jesus, they relegate Him to a lesser place in a pantheon of cosmic spirits and angels. Their teaching must be seen as all the more dangerous because, while not denying Christ, they have dethroned Him. (See Curtis Vaughn, “Colossians”, The Expositors Bible Commentary) They give Jesus a place, but not first place. They find Him interesting, but not Lord over all.
Concern is often expressed this time of year about Christ being left out of Christmas. Many rightly remind that Jesus is the Reason for the Season. Along with Santa Claus, Elf on a Shelf, dazzling new decorations, and gift giving, we might struggle to stay focused on Jesus. But for myself, I am now seeing that the problem is not Jesus being left out of Christmas. The greater problem is leaving Jesus out of all other days of the year!
Look at what has come to the world! He who is preeminent over all of creation, preeminent over His body the church, and preeminent over you and me!
- What do you see as the difference between Jesus being “prominent” and Jesus being “preeminent”?
- How do you see the culture giving Jesus a “place” this Christmas, but no “first place”?