It’s a simple and well-worn idea, but to zoom out and take a look at the Christmas story from a broad perspective can be just as enlightening as getting in close to the earthy and gritty details. Because while there is great fruit in studying and pondering the role of Gabriel, the response of Mary, and the beauty in the brevity of old Simeon’s role in the Christmas story, the big picture also provides joy and insight in at least one enormous shift that the Incarnation brought to the world, to us.
I read this today in the writings of the prophet Micah:
For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.Micah 4:5
Now to be clear, this isn’t a verse filled up with hidden prophetic meaning. And it isn’t the key that will unlock all of the oddly shaped doors in the universe of apocalyptic and prophetic writings that so many are consumed with. It’s actually pretty unassuming from the perspective of deep and heavy revelation if we’re being honest. The fact that the people groups of the world have their own gods, and that Israel has a Lord God is not new territory.
But sometimes new territory isn’t what we need. What we actually need is to pay closer attention to the places that have been pre-prepared for us.
During this Christmas season there have been no shortage of Amazon packages that have found their home on my porch. I feel a bit of compassion for the Amazon vans and drivers who accelerate and then brake more in a single day than I do in a given year. They’re bringing us all a little bit of joy, one delivery at a time.
But, retrieving all these deliveries has taught me that there is a difference in the way the packages are designed. Boxes are taped across the seem, and you have to either rip the box or grab some type of bladed edge to slice the center of the strip that secures the cardboard flaps. However, the pouch-type packages are designed to give the consumer a way to avoid searching for scissors or straight edges, because there is generally a perforated line across the top of the packaging. This perforation gives me guided assistance to start in the right place, to help me tear the top off and provide access to the goodies inside.
And this is what reading Micah 4:5 during the Christmas season did for me. It wasn’t a new reality, it was a perforated area that helped me more easily see what was inside of the story of Jesus’ incarnation.
Micah says that there are two categories of people in the world:
- 1. Those who have a god
- 2. Those who know the Lord God
I make the distinction between these two because of the language that is specifically used. The word “god/God” in Hebrew is Elohim. It speaks to the office of a powerful and high-up being. It is not used simply about the Hebrew God, but as in Micah’s language it is used of literally any elevated deity whether real or manufactured. It isn’t a word of great specificity by itself; it points to a generalized focus point.
However, the word “Lord” in Hebrew is different: it is Jehovah. And the simplest way to explain this, as I understand it, is to say that this is the personal name, or proper name of the God the Hebrews worshipped. It seems that the difference here is similar to the title that I hold, “dad,” and the name that I have been given, Kristian Andrew. There are a lot of dads in the world, millions of them. But to my son and daughter there is only one “Kristian Andrew Dad.” I am not a generalized office to my children, I am a specific person.
So Micah, by comparing these two titles – “god” vs “Lord God” – gives us a perforated edge to open the packaging of Christmas and see the beautiful fullness of what the Incarnation means. We are pointed to the right way of seeing Jesus by the words of the prophet Micah as he declares boldly: the God we serve is not without distinction, but he is full of specificity. Even the angel is adamant with Mary and Joseph: “his name shall be called Jesus, because His life, calling and impact cannot be adequately understood without a distinct and personal identity.”
Micah will go into this again in the next chapter of his prophetic writings when he points out that the hope of the world will show up in Bethlehem of Ephrathah – a town so small and unassuming that no one would have guessed it would be important in God’s promised global reconciliation project. And we see once again: not just any old town, but this specific town will be of great importance.
We don’t celebrate and worship just any Hebrew baby born at some point in history any more than the Jews worshipped some random idea or undifferentiated office of “god.” No, we speak of and serve Jesus. Out of all the babies born throughout time we choose this specific life to praise and elevate and surrender to. Because Christmas isn’t about the birth of a baby, it’s about the birth of that baby – the specificity unlocks the power of it.
So it makes sense, doesn’t it, that we would take the package of Christmas and open it where Micah has created a perforated edge. This is where we’re supposed to start. At a unique time, in a certain town, with a particular Person. And the power of this specificity is profound. The Bible says that into the darkness of the world a light shined, and that light had a name: Jesus. And in the darkest moments of our life we are not left crying out generally to a cosmic corner office, hoping for a policy change that will bring us relief…no, we cry out specifically to Jehovah, to Jesus. We speak to God by name because He has a name. And that name is above every other name. And that name has power when it is spoken in humility and surrender by His people.
The story of Christmas isn’t the story of a promotion or a position, it is the story of a Person. The Person who was sent to us because our Father in Heaven so loved each of us so very much.