Christmas concerns the cross, more than the manger.
Last December, my eldest daughter texted me a photo of a garden decoration in her neighborhood that spoke this truth deeply. A brown wooden nativity scene stood directly in front of and below a prominent white cross about six feet high, the cross itself crowned with a shining star of Bethlehem. The image was startling in its statement of the deeper meaning of Christmas and Advent.
Matthew and Luke tell the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth with both the crucifixion and the resurrection in their minds, I’m sure. John, the great theologian of the significance of all this, illuminates even more fully the mighty work of God in the Fourth Gospel. Altogether, the purpose of their accounts is to show the intention of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the infinite plan of Yahweh of Israel, in the birth of the Messiah, and the completion of that plan in the crucifixion and the resurrection. Their joy is expressed by recording this incredible Advent of the Redeemer of mankind in the birth of Jesus the Nazarene, and the promise fulfilled by God in his Son.
Both human and divine, the baby in the manger is the Son of God the Father; Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the very incarnation of God, the historic entry of God into human existence by our side; He is God with us.
As the very entrance of the holy God into our very humanity, bodily in human flesh and blood, Jesus suffers our trials and troubles, even to death at the hands of the religious elite. His joys are the truest of all human joys, namely those of friendship, love, purpose, self-giving, sacrifice and joyful obedience to the will of the father. In the life of Jesus, these gifts are perfectly received and perfectly lived.
The baby in the manger is divine, the second person of the Trinity, the second member of the Triune God: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. He comes to the manger for the holiest of purposes and missions, namely, the redemption of us sinful men and women, powerless to redeem us. God is glorified.
Because of Jesus, His incarnation as one of us, unique both fully divine and fully human, but free from the chains of sin, and because of His gift of self on the cross, and His eternal victory over the peach ; because, too, of his consequent victory over death by bodily resurrection, and his exaltation in glory as our high priest and advocate before the Father, the whole created natural order is forever, unquestionably, completely restored. . The original order of God’s creation is reorganized, radically changed, by the ultimate divine and all-powerful will of the sovereign creator. The laws of gravity and algorithms, the laws of cause and effect and other natural laws remain in place; but the spiritual and eternal life conferred by the radically transforming power of Pentecost now constitutes a new order of being in Christ Jesus, seen first in the appearances of the resurrection of the Risen Lord.
Therefore, there are now only two kinds of people. The redeemed and the unredeemed. Redemption is the only difference between us that matters to God. Not our color, race, ethnicity, social status, level of education, money, property, etc. And that matters forever, absolutely. God reorganized his created order for redemption. Completing his mission in a miracle of resurrection revealed first to a redeemed woman, repentant and forgiven of her sins, perhaps forgiven of sins beyond even our own, Jesus approaches this confident believer and calls her by name .
She is Mary of Magdala, chosen first by Jesus, because of her consummate trust in Him. This strong confidence had kept her present and praying, fearless, at the foot of her cross, throughout her death. We will not forget his name. John has established his place in our biblical memory.
Christmas and Easter are inseparable. This is why the decoration of the courtyard containing the manger and the cross tells the sacred story of Christmas in a more vivid and complete way than a manger alone can.
In a year when a religious Christmas card is hard to find in most stores, and one of the U.S. Postal Service‘s Christmas stamps offers mugs of steaming coffee as a Christmas image, the front yard of the neighbors of my daughter, the strong and Christian witness may be considered outdated by some observers, perhaps perceived by some neighbors as an intrusion into their vacation. Pray they don’t.
“Oh come on, let’s worship him!
Thanks to God.
Dr. Elizabeth Barnes is a retired professor emeritus of Christian theology and ethics at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va., And a resident of White Lake.