It’s Christmas. That should come as no surprise. The traffic around the malls has been backed up for two weeks. Christmas carols have been playing on the radio since Thanksgiving. And stores have been decorated since before Halloween. If anything, we should be saying, “Thank heaven it’s finally Christmas.” But Christmas is anything but final.
For Christians, there are constant reminders that Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus. Slogans such as “Jesus is the reason for the season” and “Wise men still seek him” appear on Christmas cards and sweatshirts and Facebook posts—reminders that it isn’t about the gifts or the decorations or the food. But I have to say this: Christmas is NOT ALL about the birth of Jesus.
If Jesus had only been born, we would have nothing to celebrate. If God had come to us in the form of one of us and . . . what? Just lived and died? Lived and ascended? Lived here forever? . . . Christmas would not have the meaning it does for our lives.
The celebration of Jesus’ birth is only fulfilled by the agony of his death and the glory of his resurrection. When we bask in the gentle glow of the manger scene, it is with the certain knowledge that of all babies everywhere, this baby was born to die—and not just to die but to die for us. And everything in that scene and everything in our celebration points to that certainty.
o The infant sleeps in a manger because people did not make room for him.
o The man will walk the road to the cross because people do not accept him.
o The nighttime sky turns bright as day at the announcement of his birth.
o The daytime sky will turn dark as night at the moment of his death.
o His mother wraps him in swaddling cloths—a tight wrapping all around his body.
o Friends will wrap his body tightly in cloth to prepare it for the grave.
o Sometime in his early years, and still associated with the Christmas story, wise men bring him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
o The gold is a symbol of kingship, the frankincense a symbol of priesthood, but the myrrh is a foretelling of his death. John says that Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about 100 pounds to be used in the preparation of the body for burial.
o He is laid in a borrowed manger, which was probably a hollowed-out stone.
o He will be laid in a borrowed tomb, which was probably a hollowed-out stone.
Even our Christmas traditions echo the reality that this birth is also about his death.
o Loving family around us reminds us that through this child’s sacrifice we become part of God’s family.
o The feast we eat at Christmas reminds us of his final meal with his disciples and of the feast we will share with him forever.
o Evergreens remind us of the eternal life this child will suffer to bring us.
o Cutting down a tree reminds us of his cross, made from a tree, and of his life cut down.
o Carrying the tree reminds us that he carried his cross.
o Lights on the tree remind us that the child in the manger is the light of the world, the light that shines so that no darkness can overcome it—but the darkness will try.
o Sharing with the poor reminds us that he came to earth poor, that he cared for the marginalized people of his society, and that he told us to do likewise.
o Wrapping gifts reminds us that he was wrapped as an infant and again wrapped for burial.
o Opening gifts reminds us that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was opened and the empty wrappings lay folded there.
o Giving gifts reminds us that God has given us the best gift of all—the gift of himself.
For the most important comparison of the season is this:
o At Jesus’ birth, the angel said, “Fear not—he is here.”
o At Jesus’ tomb, the angel said, “Fear not—he is not here.”
And that is why we celebrate Christmas.
It’s Christmas. Make room for Jesus. In everything you do, remember the infant, remember the man, remember the sacrifice he made for us, remember his resurrection, and remember that he loves you beyond measure. Follow his light, for on this night of all nights Bethlehem is everywhere, and Christ is here, God is with us. Fear not.