It is so very hard to imagine that sin and its death could be found more horrible and terrible to God than they are to us! We wrestle with all sorts of ways to find a clear conscience and run from guilt and shame. We invest all sorts of unrealistic hopes in medicine, technology, and natural cures to ward off death for as long as possible. Yet we approach the season in which we see exactly how terrible sin and its death are to God -- they moved Him to send forth His Son into our flesh and blood, into our world under the law, to be sin for us. That is what the manger witnesses -- not some fairy tale story of romance, rejection, and a happy outcome but sin, evil, wickedness, shame, guilt, fear, and death. He came for us and to come for us He came for these.
If only we see could see this, Christmas would be far more in our eyes than it too often ends up. We don't need picturesque scenes or quaint settings or magical stories or tearful sentiment. We need a God who will come down to get dirty with us and for us -- so great is His love that He would take on our worst enemies and fate in the loneliness of an obedient life a world could not understand and a sacrificial death that was even more confounding and confusing to our sensibilities.
Yes, this is the God we meet in the manger and who reveals His great love for us on the cross. We sheds the tears for sins we should shed. He cries out for the reality of death while we try to find fake comfort in the idea that death is natural and that the brief cycle of birth, life, and death should leave us somehow content enough to celebrate life and go home with our memories. But not Jesus. He refuses fake comfort or fake hope and even though it cost Him all, He willingly entered into the suffering and death of the cross for us and our salvation. This is Christmas, too!
The way I see it, Christmas has been relegated to a secularized "feeling" and an idea associated with "good will" and gift giving, but the true message is still shared in churches and homes in America by the hymns and choirs which point to the Savior as the reason for the season. It is true that Christ was likely born around October, and that December 25th lined up with a pagan holiday, and it is true that Nativity scenes showing the three kings at the stable at the same time as the Shepherds are incorrect. Jesus was likely about two years old when the three Kings appeared. For the sake of honesty, I have often wished we Christians celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday in October or close to the birth of Jesus, that the true story be told and celebrated in our churches and homes, and that we let the world keep Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny.
C. S. Lewis was wrong! To say that may seem scandalous, but I really do not think Lewis thought this through.
Hebrews 9:15, “For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgression under the first covenant.” This says that we cannot be saved unless someone dies for us. We also know that when we are baptized, we are “baptized into His death”, Romans 6:3. So death plays a key role in our redemption, a role our Lord, who suffered death for us, certainly knew. Would He have wept because of His own imminent death, when He raised Lazarus? Surely not, since he knew what His death would mean for His children. Instead, “for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame…”, Hebrews 12:2. What we need to remember is that the Gospel changes everything: without it, death is eternal punishment; with the Gospel death is how we enter the Kingdom of God in this world when we drown in the water of Baptism, and later when we enter the Heavenly Kingdom. That is why St. Paul writes in that great Chapter 15 of 1Corinthians, “54…Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory, where O death is your sting.”
Indeed, as we read in that same great Chapter 15, “26 the last enemy to be destroyed is death”. But by that time, God Who makes “all things work together for good for those who love God”, Romans 8:28, will have made full use of death for our good, and it will no longer be needed, because we will live in eternity with Him.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart
Our fault we are in this positon. Lord, forgive us for our laxness in teaching the Faith...
In this connection, I could not help but remember the Eastern Orthodox Easter Troparion:
Christ is risen from the dead!
By death he trampled Death;
and to those in the tombs
he granted life.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart
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