I don’t know if you have noticed, but we tend toward a Good Friday kind of faith. Even on Christmas.
You see it in Christmas ornaments featuring crosses. It always strikes me most strongly when we sing the Appalachian Christmas Carol, “I Wonder as I Wander”:
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
Wow, that kind of fast forwards to the end, doesn’t it? Right there in the first line.
We have a very hard time focusing in on Jesus’ birth and seeing it have anything to do with our salvation. In a Christian culture that thinks only about Christ’s suffering and sacrificial death, his birth is, ironically, an afterthought. Just a prelude to what we think has to be the main event.
In 1563, the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism seemed to think this was a reasonable question:
36 Q. How does the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit you?
It is obvious that the Cross benefits us. When we have that down it is pretty clear how the resurrection benefits us. But Christ’s birth?
Actually it was a bit of an afterthought in the early centuries of Christianity as well. First they celebrated the new life that came with the resurrection. Then they backed up a bit and celebrated the cross that preceded the resurrection.
And around the fourth century they seemed to realize that the very fact of Jesus coming to us, his birth in Bethlehem, was important too. No birth, then no death. No death then no resurrection.
They needed to celebrate Jesus birth. And thus, my friends, we still celebrate the Feast of the Nativity, a.k.a. Christmas.
So how do we get to a Christmas kind of faith? How do we think about the baby in the manger as something central to salvation? There are several roads leading to Bethlehem. Here’s the one suggested by the Heidelberg Catechism:
A. He is our mediator, and, in God’s sight, he covers with his innocence and perfect holiness my sinfulness in which I was conceived.
Humanity has a problem. The Bible calls it “sin” and it seems to be a much bigger deal than your misbehavior or mine. It seems to be something we are steeped in as a species.
The sheer innocence of Jesus shows us that in him God is solving our problem. Every little baby you hold in your arms seems so very innocent — and yet Jesus is born with innocence of a whole different dimension. Born without the stain that marks the rest of us, new creation begins in him.
Salvation didn’t have to wait for the cross — important as the cross is. The fact that Jesus was born means we have a mediator — He has come to bridge the gap between us and God by the fact of who he is.
How does it shape your faith to think of Christ as a baby?
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