If you were in church these last few days you probably heard someone talk about Christmas in light of the cross – or some configuration thereof. It seems that trend is rather popular these days. I must admit that this was a powerful thematic bent that I have taken in the past with regards to Christmas. the basic idea is this: The significance of Christmas is deepened by viewing it as the starting point to the ultimate redemptive act – the cross. Preachers, songwriters, etc use the images of suffering to draw us away from the party party attitude that is so prevalent at Christmas and ask us to pause to think about the destiny of the child in the manger. To be sure this is a sobering image. The Christmas tree morphs into a rugged cross, etc., etc.
If you look at the passage in Matthew a few significant ideas pop out which I think are overlooked. The instruction from the angel in Mt 1:21 is to call the baby Jesus ‘for he will save the people from their sins.’ That is where this cross in Christmas theme tends to stop. Saving his people from their sins must refer to the cross. Mary did you know…
If you read further however you see that the complete message of the angel to Joseph is that the baby would be Immanuel – God With Us. In fact it is not out of line to read the text in verse 23 as a direct explanation of how verse 21 was to be accomplished. Salvation comes through incarnation.
Read on a little further and you get to the story of the Magi.
Great story but something struck me.
Why not have Herod kill off Jesus with all the other babies. I mean the baby Jesus would have been just as perfect as he was at 33 years of age. And coming back to life again would have been an exceptional triumph. Jesus could have paid the sin debt almost directly after coming to the earth and foregone the bulk of his earthly life. Of course there would have had to have been some wiggling with prophesy but…
It is my contention that paying the sin debt could have been accomplished a myriad of ways even with the boundaries of prophesy. What could not be altered was the fact of the incarnation. God becomes human. God becomes human – not dog, not angel, he becomes human to save his people from their sins. It is in the becoming human that the salvation occurs. Paying the sin debt is not insignificant – far from – it is an important act of payment of debt. But the really significant act is the incarnation since it the way people engage with God. God shows us how to live life like he designed and allows us to see how we can be free from sin debt but even more actually please and love the God we claim to believe in. That is powerful stuff. That is why Jesus has to live with us – to show that salvation is not just some magic trick that we can access like we tack on an app to our phone. Salvation is getting hooked into the life changing power of the principles he taught and more importantly lived out in front of us.
Maybe that is why I get a little perturbed at the cross behind Christmas messages. To me it seems like so much commoditizing: Christmas becomes little more than a cheap ticket to the already cheap grace that is doled out too often especially in evangelical parlance. Christmas is ugly, confusing, messy, gross, and disturbing – unsettling – ALL ON ITS OWN! God becomes human tell me you can boil that down to 4 easy steps or neat little outline for your next blockbuster ‘Christian’ book.
Here’s the deal - talk about the cross at Christmas but when is the last time you heard anyone talk about Christmas at Easter?