Let’s play a game. I’m going to say “Christmas” and you focus on the first thing that comes to mind. Ready?
What did you think about? A word? An image? A smell? A Sound? Perhaps you saw the memory of your family Christmas tree, decked out in all of its glory; maybe the word “merry” came to mind. Did you smell peppermint and chocolate? Did you hear the jolly call of “HO HO HO”?
Christmas is a beautiful time of year. The snow, the green tree adorned in shimmering red and gold, the fragrance of fresh pine, the warmth of a lit hearth… All of this is unique to the Christmas season. Cozy get-togethers, gift exchanging, a haze of glittering lights, and the story of the Babe in the manger all serve to bind us in a spell of fuzzy feelings and a sleepy sort of joy. But there’s another side of Christmas: the dangerous side.
No, I’m not talking about the commercialism this time (although that’s still a big issue). This time I want to warn of another danger: leaving the Baby in the manger.
It’s a beautiful story we all know well! Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, but are met by full houses everywhere they look. Things get more complicated when Mary goes into labor. Joseph finds a stable, the only available space, and tries to get Mary settled in comfortably. Jesus is born, quietly, with little acknowledgement. His mother wraps him in swaddling clothes, then gently places Him in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. Not long after, angels appear to a group of shepherds, telling them the glorious news of the Messiah’s birth and sending them to worship. The privileged bunch hastens to the city, finds the poor little family, and worships the newborn King.
It’s a humble account of the humble arrival of the Lord to this humble earth. I love the story! So what’s the problem? We leave Jesus there.
We tend to forget that Jesus did not stay a baby; He grew up. He studied, He worked, He prayed, He performed miracles. He was perfect and sinless. And when the time was at hand, He died. That was the sole purpose of His life: the Lord Jesus Christ was born to die! THAT, my friends, is the “reason for the season”. Christmas may be a celebration of the miraculous birth, but it’s also a celebration of the Gospel– and the Gospel does not stop at the manger.
In the long run, Christmas is about the cross. It’s the story of the God that chose to limit Himself in the most drastic way– by wearing humanity– and then die for His enemies. We would do well to keep this in mind, lest we be consumed by the splendor tradition has ascribed to this holiday.
Christmas is for joy and peace– but praise God that this joy comes from the finished work on the cross, and that Jesus was not left in the manger! And the peace comes from the salvation we have in a Baby that grew up to die for us.
So let’s play the game again. When I say “Christmas”, what comes to mind?
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace… And thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins… And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots… For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form or comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not… Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand… For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
~Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 1:21; Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 53:2,3,10; John 3:16