This Advent meditation first appeared in the December 15, 1940 issue of the Standard Bearer, and was written by editor Herman Hoeksema, pastor of First PRC, Grand Rapids, MI.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. . . . Luke 2:10.
The Word of joy!
Good tidings of great joy!
Do you hear this Word, and does the joy of it fill your heart?
Thus, indeed, is the meaning, and this is the purpose of this brief but wonderful sermon preached by the angel to the shepherds in that Night of nights. A “thing” has happened, a “word” has come to pass. No, it is not a word of man that is realized,—how could it be the cause of great joy?—but a Word of God, in fact, the Word of God is become; and this “thing” that has happened is really a cause of great joy; and we would never believe it, we would never be able to see the great joy this “thing” really is, so wholly unlike it is to any human thing of joy; and, therefore, the angel is sent to preach this joy unto us, that we may hear and believe, and that the great joy may be kindled in our hearts. . . .
Do we hear?
And hearing do we believe?
And believing does the great joy fill our hearts? And we are quite sure that our joy is, indeed, caused by this “Word” that is to come to pass in Bethlehem?
Yes, the shepherds heard. And they believed. And their hearts thrilled with joy. And they immediately responded to the Word that was spoken unto them that night. Having heard the tidings concerning this “Word”, and being directed by the angel as to the place where it had come to pass, they said: “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this “word” which has come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” And they went and saw: “the babe lying in a manger”; and still they believed, and still they rejoiced; and in turn they became witnesses of the “thing” they had seen and of what they had heard concerning it. And they returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen!
Do we so hear this gospel of great joy?
O, apparently all the Christian world hears and rejoices. Who does not celebrate Christmas?
But are they rejoicing in the “word” that is come to pass in Bethlehem? Have not men’s wicked imaginations changed also this Word of God into a word of man; have they not changed this “thing” into an idol after their own desires? Have they not so changed the manger and the babe, that even in Bethlehem the “world” might preserve its self-respect, its goodness, its righteousness, the righteousness of Man?
No, the world as “world”, not even the “Christian” world, not even the “modern” Christian world, cannot and does not rejoice at this “thing” that is come to pass!
And the question is an important one: Do we really hear the Word concerning the “Word” that is become in Bethlehem?
The Word of great joy indeed!
Let us go, then, to Bethlehem!
And let us see this “thing” or “word” that has come to pass!
But go there, not to see whether this Word which the Lord hath made known unto us is come to pass; go there not in the expectation to have your hearts filled with joy by what you see with your earthly eyes; but go there, simply to see the “word” that is become, believing not because you see, but because the Word was preached unto you!
Something, indeed, you may see in Bethlehem!
Something might be seen there by any reporter for the “Jerusalem Press”, something that might, indeed, be good material for a “front page story,” if viewed merely with our earthly eyes.
For, on the previous day, in the evening, while the setting sun was already flooding the Western sky with glowing glory of gold and purple, two strangers had made their weary way up the terraced hills and olive yards to the ancient City of David. Long and wearisome had been their journey from Nazareth through the trans-Jordanic regions and again into Judea to Bethlehem, and the hope that soon they would find some place of repose had lent strength to their aching limbs to finish the last stretch of the way before darkness overtook them. But in this hope of rest they were to be disappointed. Crowded to capacity the little town was, and even in the inn they could find no room. And so, fearful lest they would have to spend the night under the open firmament, in the chill of that winter’s night, they returned to one of the grottoes in the outskirts of the village, where often passing caravans would lodge, and find stables for their beasts. There they determined to spend the night, still hopeful that they might find more convenient lodging on the morrow. . . .
And there the woman that was a virgin brought forth her firstborn son.
And she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in the manger!
All because there was no room for them in the inn!
Go there, then, because you have heard the Word preached and have believed!
Above all, go there not to pity and to help. Go there, not to take this silent mother out of this stable, and to lift that babe from his manger-bed, in order to show them your human philanthropy. Do not call in an agent of your social welfare, to remove these circumstances that bespeak deep misery and abject poverty, for by doing so you would only obliterate the “sign” of this “thing” that is come to pass, you would silence the “Word” of God that would bring unto you good tidings of great joy. Do you not remember that the angel said unto you: “And this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in an manger”?
To Bethlehem let us go, having heard the Word preached, not to pity and give aid, not to act at all!
Only to see the Word of God, the Word which the Lord hath already spoken unto us!
And these circumstances, this stable, this manger, this misery and poverty, all belong to the Word which God speaks to us in Bethlehem!
Let us worship and hear!
For, indeed, God is come down to us! He is there, wonder of wonders!—in that Babe in the manger! He came to us, mystery of mysteries!—as the firstborn Son of that silent virgin! The heavens did rend, and He came! He, Himself. No idol of our imagination, but very God, God who is GOD, came in the flesh, in human nature! God became also man. The Unchangeable was also born. The uncaused Absolute became also relative. The Eternal became also temporal. The Infinite is also wrapped in swaddling clothes. The sovereign Lord of all also came under the law. The Holy One of Israel is also in the likeness of sinful flesh. The Supreme Potentate is also servant. . . .
The heavens were rent and God came down unto us!
And there is no room for Him in the inn. We cannot, we will not receive Him!
Nay, do not speak! Above all do not contradict! Do not object that it is a mere accident that this babe is born in that miserable stable, that his bed must be a manger, that all the world, and especially the world of today, the modern world, the civilized world, the philanthropic world, the “religious” world, will gladly send aid to this stable; that, as soon as it is only known that this Child is, indeed, the holy child Jesus, the Son of the Highest, God of God, it will exchange the stable for a palace, the manger for a canopied bed, the swaddling clothes for royal purple. Do not say that, had the world only known, it would gladly have celebrated the advent of God, even as it now celebrates Christmas. . . .
For, then you speak your own word!
Then you only contradict the Word of God!
For, this stable and this manger and these poor swaddling clothes are the Word of God, which you may not change.
Through them God speaks! Are they not “the sign unto you”?
And He says: the world always meets me with its No! Four thousand years before this Christmas night I was in the world, and ye would Me not! Ye contradicted My Word; ye rejected My commandment; ye violated My covenant; ye despised My friendship; and ever since ye hate Me above all that is to be hated; ye cast Me out to make room for the devil; ye preferred darkness to light, sin to righteousness, corruption to holiness, death to life! And I come into the world on this Christmas night, not because I expect that you will hail My advent, but witnessing by this sign of the manger that you will make no room for Me, that even the “wisest” and most “civilized,” the “noblest” and most “religious” of you will crowd me out of your city and out of your world, will presently say: “This is the Son, come, let us kill Him!”
This shall be a sign unto you!
You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger!
It is the Word of God concerning your No!
Do you hear?
Nay, but you will not and cannot hear. And you will contradict and make yourselves pious, and speak of the “beautiful Jesus,” and celebrate your Christmas. . . .
And know nothing of the great joy!
For as long as you wrap yourselves in cloaks of self-righteousness and religion and piety and “common grace,” you shut your hearts to the streams of pure joy of which the angel spoke!
And again, you will indeed hear, if but the almighty Word of God makes its way irresistibly into your inmost soul!
And hearing you will tremble before Him. And trembling you will acknowledge that His Word concerning your No is, indeed, the truth. And acknowledging you will repent in dust and ashes. And repenting you will ask Him to make room for Himself in your inmost heart!
And He will hear and come! And coming He will flood your hearts with the light of life!
Let us go, then, unto Bethlehem!
Not, indeed, to see with our earthly and carnal eyes what anyone may see of this “thing” that is come to pass!
Not in order to speak our own word, the word of man, concerning this child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger!
But with the Word preached by the angel in our heart. In the light of that Word let us consider the swaddling clothes and the manger. Above all, believing that Word let us look at the Child and rejoice!
For, He is Savior, Christ, the Lord!
Savior He is, because He shall surely save His people from their sin! It is from sin they must be saved, in order to be saved at all. Apart from redemption and deliverance from sin, there is no salvation. For, sin is their guilt, that rises up against them, that accuses them day and night before the face of God, that condemns them and makes them worthy of damnation, of death and hell. And sin is also the power that keeps them in bondage, that has dominion over them, that shackles them from within, so that they love the lie, contradict the Word of God, follow after corruption and iniquity, hasten to destruction. Held in the power of sin, burdened with a load of guilt they are, because in themselves and by nature they, His people, are of this present world. Children of wrath, even as the others. . . .
And from that bondage of sin they must be saved!
Themselves they can nevermore redeem nor deliver. As far as they can see their condition is quite hopeless. There is no way out. Atone for their guilt they cannot, for to atone is to satisfy, and to satisfy is to pay, and to pay is to bring the perfect sacrifice of love. And how shall they, who are dead through trespasses and sins, who can only increase their guilt every day and every moment, ever bring that sacrifice of perfect obedience? Nor could they ever break the shackles of corruption and darkness that hold them bound, and deliver themselves from the dominion of the devil. They have not the right to be delivered, neither the power or the will to deliver themselves.
But He, that child in the manger, is a Savior unto them!
And let it be repeated with all emphasis: He saves!
He delivers from all the power of sin and death, and He makes us heirs of all the glory of righteousness and life! He takes us out of darkness and translates us into the light! He redeems us from the guilt of sin by His perfect sacrifice, and He clothes us with eternal righteousness, that makes us worthy of eternal glory. He finds us enemies and He makes us friends. He finds us slaves of the devil and He makes us servants of the Most High. He cuts the shackles of sin and sets us into the perfect liberty of God’s covenant. He comes into our death and brings us with Him into the glorious life of His resurrection. He finds us in hell and lifts us up into the highest glory of God’s heavenly tabernacle!
Do not change this gospel into a word of man! Do not say, that He is indeed willing to save; that, when He descended into very hell, He intended to save; that, in His Word He declares unto all men His willingness to save, but that the actual realization of this salvation depends upon man’s consent. Do you forget the sign of the swaddling clothes and the manger? Do they not bring the Word of God, testifying that we have no room for Him, cannot, will not and never shall make room for Him? If to the slightest conceivable extent His salvation depends upon our “yes,” the case is hopeless, He cannot be a Savior, for we will always say “No!”
Yes, but He is Savior, because He saves!
He is ordained to save, for He is Christ, the Anointed. He is God’s Christ, the Friend-servant of the Most High par excellence! Ordained and qualified to be Heir of all things, the Head of all creation, and therefore, empowered in the Name of God to destroy the power of the devil and all the dominion of darkness and to renew them into the eternal Kingdom of heaven, wherein the tabernacle of God shall be with men. God’s Prophet, God’s Priest, God’s King is He. Christ, the Lord!
The right to save is His!
And He saves to the end! For, He saved us by the blood of the accursed tree, tasting death for every man; and He saved us by the power of His resurrection, the justification of all that are given Him by the Father. . . .
And He saves us by the grace of His good Spirit, overcoming our “no,” and making us willing subjects unto His “yes.”
Unto you is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!
Glorious gospel of glad tidings!
Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) was born in Groningen, the Netherlands on March 13, 1886 and passed away in Grand Rapids, MI on September 2, 1965. He attended the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church and was ordained into the minitry in September of 1915.
"H.H." is considered one of the founding "fathers" of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. He and his consistory (Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI) were suspended and deposed from their offices in 1924-1925 because of their opposition to the "Three Points of Common Grace" adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the Synod of Kalamazoo, MI in 1924. He, together with Rev. George M. Ophoff, Rev. H. Danhof and their consistories continued in office in the "Protesting Christian Reformed Church" which shortly thereafter were named the "Protestant Reformed Churches in America."
Herman Hoeksema served as pastor in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI (1915-1920), Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1920-1924), and First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1924-1964), He taught in the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches from its founding and retired in 1964.
For an enlarged biography, see: Herman Hoeksema: Theologian and Reformer