At church, our adult Bible study class has been examining the Gospel of John, guided by the BaptistWay Press lessons for the fall quarter. Along the way, we got behind. We couldn’t complete the series by the end of November, as planned. So, during Advent, we’ve fallen out of sync with the rest of Christendom.
Christians all over the globe have prepared for the birth of the Baby Jesus. We’ve contemplated the trial, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.
Of course, preparation for Christmas has moved steadily forward 167 hours a week. But we’ve spent one hour each Sunday morning viewing the Incarnation through the prism of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Instead of studying about ancient prophecies from Isaiah, we’ve been looking at false charges trumped up by the high priest and his cohorts. Instead of the joy of Mary and Elizabeth, we’ve considered the agony of Mary, her sister and friends as they watched her firstborn son suffer and die on a Roman cross. Instead of an angelic chorus, shepherds and wise men, we’ve pondered victory over death, outlandishly shocking joy and eternal life.
And while I can’t speak for the rest of our class, I’ll testify: This has been the most moving and challenging Advent season I can remember.
Why God entered human flesh
Our Sunday lessons have reminded us why God entered human flesh, took on the vulnerability of a baby and descended to Earth to live and move among us. He didn’t come down here so we could coo and purr over a cute little baby. He didn’t arrive to fill us with warm-fuzzy feelings. He didn’t drop in so we’d take a few days off from work and spend time with our families. He didn’t appear to appeal to our misty feelings of love and goodness. And he certainly didn’t invest himself in humanity to provide an excuse to buy gifts and make merry.
That’s not to say all those things are bad and should be dropped from our Christmas celebrations. Life is hard and harsh, and the sweetness of Christmas softens our hearts. We need to slow down and pay attention to the people closest to us. We need to find a place in our hearts for love and care for others. And expressions of generosity lift spirits—others’ and our own.
Keep the epilogue in mind
But too often, I’m afraid, we trap Jesus in a nine-pound, 21-inch box. We make such a big deal of the Little Lord Jesus, we fail to identify God’s Son, the Messiah. And if we can’t keep the story straight and the epilogue in mind, how can we expect the world to get it right?
This time of year, many Christians fret over the “culture wars” and worry atheists and humanists have declared a “war on Christmas.” Yes, it is true some people feel only hostility toward Christianity and despise Christians. But across America and particularly throughout Texas, they’re not numerous enough to present a legitimate threat to our liberty, much less our faith.
Ironically, we’ve aided and abetted their antipathy by failing to present them with a cogent, clear depiction of the Christ. And maybe our failure begins when we make so much of Christmas without including Easter at the same time.
The Baby was dangerous
Of course, the angels proclaimed peace, goodwill and glad tidings of great joy. But that Baby they celebrated was dangerous. He arrived to upset the status quo. I’m sure the shepherds thought he looked sweet, as most babies do. But for Jesus, infancy provided the portal for eternal change. He didn’t come down to gurgle and grin, but “to proclaim good news to the poor … freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
He came to bring the kingdom of heaven down to earth. He came to change everything.
This week, we’ll sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night,” but let us remember “up from the grave he arose.”