by Timothy Keller, 2016
A short, beautiful book examining the familiar Bible passages and carols of Christmas and revealing how mind-blowing the Christmas story actually is. We have become jaded and clouded over but this book helps you see anew the reality that God came to earth to be with us: Immanuel. Our God loves us so much!
Mom read it first, her first Tim Keller book, and she LOVED it! Said it was intellectually and spiritually fulfilling. She wants a copy.
Here are some favorite passages:
“When God showed up in Jesus Christ, he was not a pillar of fire, not a tornado, but a baby. … Why would God come this time in the form of a baby, rather than a firestorm or whirlwind? Because this time he has come not to bring judgment but to bear it, to pay the penalty for our sins, to take away the barrier between humanity and God, so we can be together. Jesus is God with us.”
“What are the elements of a genuine, personal relationship with Jesus? It requires, as does any close relationship, that you communicate with him regularly, candidly, lovingly. That means not simply “saying your prayers” but having a prayer life that leads to real communion with God, a sense of his presence in your heart and life. Consider Psalms 27, 63, 84, 131 to see this kind of prayer. On the other hand, being in a close relationship means he communicates with you. That comes from a deep acquaintance with the Bible, the ability to read it, understand it, and meditate on it. Consider Psalms 1 and 119 to see how to have the Bible become a vital force in your life. Those are only the most individual “means of grace” that enable you to draw near to God. There are other, more communal means, such as worship and prayer, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the other resources available in the gathered church, the people of God (Hebrews 10:22-25).”
“At first sight, our text seems to side more with the first theory. After all, Herod was an unjust ruler, abusing his power, slaughtering the innocent. and indeed one of the great themes of the Bible is that God is against those who oppress the poor. However, the full teaching of the Bible is that the source of the world’s evil is every human heart. King Herod’s reaction to Christ is, in this sense, a picture of us all.
If you want to be king, and someone else comes along saying he is the king, then one of you has to give in.”
“And that shows us one of the hidden truths of Christmas. This dark episode of King Herod’s violent lust for power points to our natural resistance to, even hatred of, the claims of God on our lives W We create Gods of our liking to mask our own hostility to the real God, who reveals himself as our absolute King. And if the Lord born at Christmas is the true God, then no one will seek for him unless our hearts are supernaturally changed to want and seek him.
That is why Paul can say that all human beings are naturally God’s enemies (Romans 5:10). That is even true of religious people. In religion we try to tame God, seeking to put him in our debt; we do many things so he has to bless us in the ways we want. Read Romans chapters 1 through 5. You will see Paul is claiming that religious people are just as hostile to the sovereignty of God as the irreligious. They just find religious ways to express it and hide it.
“Where’s the true King?” That question is the most disturbing question possible to a human heart, since we want at all costs to remain on the throne of our own lives. We may use religion to stay on that throne, trying to put God in the position of having to do our bidding because we are so righteous, rather than serving him unconditionally. Or we may flee from religion, become atheists, and loudly claim that there is no God. Either way, we are expressing our natural hostility to the lordship of the true King.”
“I also have a word of advice to Christians. You might say, “How can we be enemies of God? Doesn’t Paul say that through Jesus we have been reconciled to him, at peace with him (Romans 5:1-11)?” Yes, that is wonderfully true. He has forgiven us and we are reconciled to him. But you must recognize (as Paul shows us in Romans 6-8) that you still have a heart with residual anger and hostility to God. It is still there. Until we get to the very end of time and are glorified, and we get our perfect bodies and our perfect souls, it is still there. Always take that into consideration.
“Why do you think it is so hard to pray? Why do you think it is so hard to concentrate on the most glorious person possible? Why, when God answers a prayer, do you say, “Oh, I will never forget this, Lord,” but soon you do anyway? How many times have you said, “I will never do this again!” and two weeks later you do it again? In Romans 7:15 Paul says, “What I hate I do.” There is still a little King Herod inside you. It means you have got to be far more intentional about Christian growth, about prayer, and about accountability to other people to overcome your bad habits. You can’t just glide through the Christian life. There is still something in you that fights it.”
“In ancient times, when the oldest son always got all the wealth and the second or younger sons had no social status, how does God work? Through Abel, not Cain. Through Isaac, not Ishmael. Through Jacob, not Esau. Through Ephraim, not Manasseh. Through David, not his older brothers. At a time when women were valued for their beauty and fertility, God choooses old Sarah, not young Hagar. He chooses Leah, not Rachel–unattractive Leah, whom Jacob doesn’t love. He chooses Rebekah, who can’t have children; Hannah, who can’t have children; Samson’s mother, who can’t have children; Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, who can’t have children. Why? Over and over and over again God says, “I will choose Nazareth, not Jerusalem. I will choose the girl nobody wants. I will choose the boy everybody has forgotten.”
“Why? Is it just that God likes underdogs? No. He is telling us something about salvation itself. Every other religion and moral philosophy tells you to summon up all of our strength and live as you ought. Therefore, they appeal to the strong, to the people who can pull it together, the people who can “summon up the blood.” Only Jesus says, “I have come for the weak. I have come for those who admit they are weak. I will save them not by what they do but through what I do.”
“There is a kind of doubt that is the sign of a closed mind, and there is a kind of doubt that is the sign of an open mind. Some doubt seeks answers, and some doubt is a defense against the possibility of answers. There are people like Mary who are open to the truth and are willing to relinquish sovereignty over their lives if they can be shown that the truth is other than what they thought. And there are those like Zechariah who use doubts as a way of staying in control of their lives and keeping their minds closed. Which kind of doubt do you have?”
“When she says, “I am the Lord’s servant,” she is grounding her obedience in the reality that he is God, our Creator and Keeper, and so he deserves our service. We do not have the knowledge, the power, or the right to tell him what he must do.
“Decades ago I heard a talk at a Christian conference center on turning our lives over to Christ and doing his will, not our own. Two questions were put to us. First, are you willing to obey anything the Bible clearly says to do, whether you like it or not? Second,are you willing to trust God in anything he sends into your life, whether you understand it or not? If you can’t answer these two questions in the affirmative, we were told, you may believe in Jesus in some general way, but you have never said to him, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Those questions were startling to me, but to this day I believe they are accurate indicators of what Christians are being asked for.”
“The penultimate is to recognize that if we commit ourselves to God, we can trust that he is committed to us. Jesus once asked his disciples, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?” (Luke 1:11) He then reasoned that God is infinitely more generous than earthly fathers and will “give the Holy Spirit” to anyone who asks (Luke 11:13). This does not mean the Bible guarantees that life will go well for Christians–far from it. However, when disappointments and difficulties drive Christian believers more into the arms of God–to make him more and more their meaning, satisfaction, identity, and hope–they will find as time goes on that they are becoming far more grounded, resilient, happy, and wise.”
In “The Shepherds’ Faith:”
“This is a serious problem for a society like ours, which seems to have a culturewide attention deficit disorder. It is extraordinarily easy to not really hear the Word of God because it comes to us through such nonspectacular means. The Bible is a long book and is by no means a simple read. Preachers and teachers are famously flawed, and every time one of them stumbles, it seems to be a warrant for turning away from the whole Christian enterprise, Bible and all.”
“Remember that there is more than one way to express our hostility to God’s rule. The irreligious person explicitly asserts his or her independence from God: “I want to live any way I want to live!” But the religious person much more covertly asserts his or her independence from God. The religious person says: “I am going to obey the Bible and do all these things, and now God has to bless me and give me a good life.” This is an effort to control God, not trust him. When you obey God in order to earn God’s blessing and heaven, then you are, as it were, seeking to be your own savior.”
“Christmas means that, through the grace of God and the incarnation, peace with God is available; and if you make peace with God, then you can go out and make peace with everybody else.”
“That was the original plan for the human race. Do you see why there would be no fear? We fear rejection and failure, but if you were completely filled with God’s love, you would not care what people thought. We fear the future and circumstances, but if you knew God perfectly, and that he is good and in control, you would trust him. And you wouldn’t be afraid of death because you would know you would be with him forever.
“But when human beings chose to throw off God’s rule in their lives, it broke the relationship with God, and they were filled with fear and became subject to terror (Genesis 3:8-10). The lie of the serpent went into our hearts. He said: “You need to be in charge of your life. Don’t let anybody else be in charge–including God–because then you won’t be happy. You will miss out on what is best for you!” That distortion has been passed down into every human heart, and it creates a fear of trusting God. But it is indeed a lie, because try as we might, we can’t possibly get control of our lives in this world. If in order to be at peace we need to be in control, beholden to no one, then we will constantly be afraid, because we learn as life goes on that we are at the mercy of people and forces we can neither predict nor manage.”
“Fear always haunts and then overwhelms you when you seek to save yourself, to earn your own sense of worth, and to construct your own identity.”
In “A Sword in the Soul:”
“In Matthew 10:34 Jesus goes so far as to say, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He quickly goes on to show he does not mean that he comes to incite violence. He means rather that his call to allegiance brings conflict–conflicts both among people and within people. Just like any peacemaker who has ever lived, Jesus makes people mad, and he often causes struggle and strife. Yet this is the way his peace comes.”
“Traditional Christian beliefs are once again seen as dangerously intolerant, and some kinds of restrictions and exclusions may be in our future as well. So the Gospel message brings hostility because it is seen–now as then–as intolerant.”
In “The Doctrine of Christmas:”
“In 1 John 1:1 he is called “the Word of life,” and then Jesus is called “eternal life” in verse 2….We are not being told merely that Jesus Christ has eternal life or even that he gives it. This verse says he is eternal life, salvation itself.
“This is one truth that we have found hidden in every Christmas passage. In every other religion the founder points to eternal life, but because Jesus is God come in the flesh, he is eternal life. To unite with him by faith, to know him in love, is to have this life. Period, full stop. There is nothing else for you to achieve or attain.”
Last paragraph of the book:
“Don’t be put off by the ordinariness of the means of joy, for in that ordinariness is hidden the extraordinary riches of the Gospel. Don’t make the mistake that the world has always made. Instead, remember:
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.”