Each day during this year's Advent season, I will be sharing a devotional here to help aid our hearts in preparing for the coming of Christ. These come from a book entitled "Come, Let Us Adore Him" by Paul Tripp. I pray that these thoughts will aid your heart in worship.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ is a gracious rebuke to all who put their hope in human righteousness, wisdom, and strength.
Rebuke has a bad reputation. If I told you that I was going to come over in the morning and rebuke you, you probably wouldn’t be very excited. When we think of rebuke, we envision pointed fingers, judgmental words, loud voices, and red faces. These things, however, have nothing to do with what rebuke is actually about. To be rebuked means to be compared to a standard and to be found lacking. Your morning mirror rebukes you because it confronts you with the difference between what you think you look like, or would like to look like, and what you actually look like. James 1:24 likens the Word of God to a mirror. Look into the mirror of the Bible and you will learn who you are, how you were designed to live, and what it is that you need.
The Christmas story confronts our delusions that we can live healthy and wholesome independent lives. If we were capable of being what we’re supposed to be and doing what we’re designed to do, and if we were able to solve our deepest and most foundational problems, then there would have been no need whatsoever for Jesus to take on human form, to be born as a baby, to live, die, and rise again. The Christmas story confronts us with our dependency. The Christmas story tells us that we need help. The Christmas story tells us that spiritual need and spiritual dependency are universal and inescapable. It makes no sense to celebrate the birth of Jesus when you strive for independence.
Here’s what is important to understand: there are only two ways of living. You are either confessing that you were created by God to be dependent on his wisdom, power, and grace, or you are believing that you have within yourself everything you need to live well on your own. You are either doing everything you can to deepen your faith in yourself or you are preaching to yourself a gospel of personal need and divine provision. To build belief in yourself you have to convince yourself that you are more wise, strong, and righteous than you actually are and will ever be. We do this by comparing ourselves to the people around us, rather than to the perfect standard of God’s law. The problem is that it is always possible to cite someone who seemingly is not as wise as you, not as strong as you, not as holy as you name yourself to be. Horizontal comparisons tend to stimulate self-righteousness. Think of the contrast between the words of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Jesus’s parable in Luke 18.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14)
In comparing himself to other people who are obviously more sinful than he is, the Pharisee essentially tells God that he doesn’t need him, and he surely doesn’t need his forgiveness. How ironic it is to tell the One to whom you are praying that you don’t need him. How strange is it to turn prayer into an argument for your independence rather than a humble confession of personal need. The argument of the Pharisee has two parts. First, he compares himself to others, and then he offers evidence that he is really quite righteous. Sadly, in this man’s prayer, he is participating in his own deception—a deception that will be his doom.
The tax collector does just the opposite. Why is he so quick to cry out for God’s mercy? He’s quick to do so because he’s looked into the mirror of God’s Word. You cannot read God’s Word without becoming deeply aware that you are a person in desperate need. You cannot read God’s Word without being confronted with the sin that lives in your heart. You cannot read your Bible without facing the fact that you constantly fall beneath God’s wise and holy standard. You cannot properly celebrate the Christmas story without also being willing to receive its clear and loving rebuke.
The birth of Jesus destroys the logic of human independence. It crushes the belief that our lives belong to us to live as we choose. The Advent narrative doesn’t let you hold onto the belief that you can live as you were created to live without any power or wisdom but your own. The coming of Jesus levels the playing field. It puts us all in the same category. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, young or old, where you were born, how much money or education you have, what race you are or what natural gifts you possess: if you are a human being, the Christmas story confronts you with the depth of your need for help. But the Christmas story doesn’t just confront you with your need; it also introduces you to the ultimate helper. The Christmas story is about help coming to earth. He lay in that manger, and he will soon hang from a cross, all to provide for us the help we desperately need.
For further study: Philippians 3:1–11