Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.
-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
It seems strange to me that a King who lacks nothing would choose to craft a few pounds of dust into a creature bearing His image. It is even stranger that He would grant this creature dominion over all that He called good, knowing full well that He had also granted him the capacity to ruin it all. It seems strange to me that He would watch quietly as this creature not only ruined it all for the transient pleasures of a fruit, but also managed to sell himself and all of the creation under him into the captivity of the greatest of all deceivers.
What would you do, if you were that King? I know what I would do if a creature of my making chose to sell himself into bondage, after I had endowed him with freedom and dignity, made him master over all my creation, and stooped low enough to commune with him. I would wipe him out of existence, or if I felt particularly merciful, damn him to suffer the rest of his days under the master he had chosen. He deserved no better.
To add to the strangeness of it all, this King did something unexpected. He declared war. Not on the creature who betrayed Him, but on the master that the creature had sold himself and all of creation to. He swore to destroy the head of the captor with a weapon that was prepared from before the foundation of the world; a weapon that would free the captive and reclaim the territory that was now occupied by the enemy.
Stranger still, this weapon appeared far from destructive. It was the King Himself, emptied of all His glory, stepping into enemy-occupied territory in a servant’s garb. In addition, He chose to come into this world on an unremarkable winter night, in an inconspicuous little town, amidst the smell of hay and dung, in the form of a mewling little baby, his first crib being a manger. All of this confuses and amuses me in equal part, for it was He who had orchestrated it all. It was not for the lack of more auspicious days, more important cities, cleaner mansions, or finer beds; it was not due to His inability to find a virgin in a king’s palace to give Him the entrance He deserved. No, He chose to enter our world that way. Perhaps it was to demonstrate the depths of His condescension, the depths from which He would win His final victory and be glorified above all things. Perhaps it was for this reason that when the King stooped the lowest, the heavens cried out in rapturous praise, singing, “Glory to God in the highest!”
Even so, the rest of His life was no Cinderella story. When all the men born into this world desired to prosper and live, He desired to suffer and die. The manner of His birth foreshadowed the life He was to live among us; He would have no place to lay His head, not enough money to pay His taxes (or even use for a sermon illustration), no home to have one final meal with His friends before His execution, and no tomb of His own that His body could be laid in. All that the world offered Him was a dirty little manger at his life’s beginning and a bloody old cross at its end. When He breathed His last, He was hanging on that cross, His bones out of joint, and His body riddled with open wounds. One of His final acts was to mouth the words of an ancient psalm, asking why His own Father had forsaken Him.
It might have seemed to the enemy that the war was won. The King had gone down without putting up a fight, His reign ended with Him nailed to two planks of wood.
Yet, they were wrong, for He did not lose His life on that cross; He gave it up as a ransom. And in doing so, He freed the captives and disarmed their captors, making a public spectacle of the latter. And He did not stay dead, but used His death as a means to defang death and the grave, for three days later, He rose to life again. The King had not gone down without a fight, for He had not gone down at all; it was the enemy who had been caught unawares by the manner of His victory.
There would be something strangely amiss if I failed to emphasize the strangeness of the consequences of this victory, a victory that necessitated His going from a lowly manger to the lowliest of deaths, only to be raised to the highest of pedestals. The world that had no space for Him at His birth was now His footstool. Through His poverty, He enriched many, and now sat enthroned as the protector of unfathomable riches and the possessor of all authority. He had come out of a bloody war, with no blood shed but His own, and yet no victor but Himself.
There was a war on Christmas. A war that began millennia prior, when a just King declared war to reclaim those who had sold themselves to His enemy. Christmas was the day on which this King finally landed on enemy-occupied territory, disguised as a whimpering child, to fulfill a mission that paradoxically resembled both Dunkirk and Normandy. For in what appeared to the enemy a dastardly defeat, He orchestrated a great escape, leading captives in his train, but not before He had also invaded the kingdoms of death and hell, crushed the enemy, and reclaimed power, dominion, and authority over all things.
If He tells you today that the ransom has been paid for you, and invites you to join in His triumphal procession, will you go?