I believe one of the most helpful spiritual practices is biblical meditation. Thinking, contemplating, considering, mulling over the word of God is vital to our spirituality.
One of the easiest ways to meditate on Scripture is to take a verse and consider the words bit by bit. For example, if we take the beginning of John 3:16, we can meditate our way through it.
“For God so loved the world”—we can think of the motivation of God to send his Son, or the historical surety of the whole event. Next, “For God so loved the world…”—we think about God, his character, his attributes, his mercy.
Let’s meditate on a classic Christmas text. Isaiah 9:6.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given
— Isaiah 9:6
We’ve probably heard it, read it, and zipped past it every December more times than we could count. But I would like to draw our attention to this verse one more time. Not even the whole verse, just a few of the words, ones we probably haven’t meditated on enough this Advent.
Meditate: For to.
These two little words pack an eternal difference in how we experience Advent. It is not a uniquely Christian spirituality to know and acknowledge the birth of Jesus. There is nothing supernatural in recognizing Jesus of Nazareth was born. Rather, you must know, trust, cling to the fact that he was born for you. You must participate in his arrival. You must see yourself as a recipient of the Christ child. That’s Christianity.
For to us is a constant thread through our life in Christ:
- Christ born for us
- Christ lived for us
- Christ crucified for us
- Christ raised for us
- Christ living for us
- Christ ascended for us
- Christ interceding for us
- Christ leading us
- Christ returning for us
This is the total gift of Christmas. He came to redeem us from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13). As the shepherds heard on the hills of Israel, so you hear today on your screen, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
The prophecy is pluralized. Us. Even the you to the shepherds is a group you. “You shepherds.” This us is significant for our spirituality. Salvation happens in community. There is no salvation outside of the community of the Trinity, or apart from the community of the collected testimony of the Scriptures, or to the exclusion of the community of redeemed sinners. Yes, regeneration is personal. But the Christian life, the lived experience of sanctification, growth, obedience to Christ’s commands, worship, confession and repentance, it all happens among the us.
We must learn to fight the temptation to imagine our spiritual life as occurring in isolation. A lot of spiritual talk in the world focuses on the individual, almost ignoring others’ existence, as though other people are irrelevant to the pursuit of the spiritual life. Wrong. Christ came to us. It’s among the us, the community of Christ, where we learn how to live as Christians.
Lastly, I found a tremendous amount of joy in hope in knowing that Christ came to us in the sense that any of us can be an us. There are no footnotes. No fine print. Luther is right when he said:
“This is for us the hardest point not so much to believe that He is the son of the Virgin and God Himself, as to believe that this Son of God is ours.” — Martin Luther
No one should doubt that Jesus can be their Savior because anyone can be an us.
The Lord doesn’t say: “For to those who grew up in a Christian home…For those who don’t need antidepressants…For those who don’t battle with an eating disorder…For the sexually pure…For those who don’t struggle with anxiety.” On and on. It simply reads, “For to us…” Any sinner. Rather than our sin disqualifying us from receiving Christ, it’s actually the very thing about us that makes us prime candidates for his love. Advent is the arrival of God’s grace for weary sinners.
“The birth of Jesus is a birth with a message. It takes the entire Bible to bring the complete message, but this birth is the core of it: In Jesus, God is here to give us life, real life.” – Eugene Peterson
For to us.
Hallelujah. Merry Christmas.