Christmas is not Easter. They each hold a meaning that is in danger of getting lost when it all collapses into one thing. For the purpose of this conversation, I would like to even pull apart the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Each of these three is essential, and while there is a unity that ties them together, there is something particular to each one – a uniqueness that we don’t want to lose.
[if you get what I am saying – go ahead and jump down to the main point… you can just skip the side thought]
Listen to the Podcast [here]
Side Thought: I generally do not like when things get mashed together – especially when I am not sure that they belong together. I think that it often takes away from the very thing that it is suppose to provide our understanding.
There are four gospels. We love to ‘harmonize’ them make it one gospel – which can be a helpful study tool – but let’s not be under the impression that there is only one gospel account.
Then there is that crazy thing people do with the Anti-Christ. When most people talk about the mythical character, what they actually do is mash together 5 biblical bad guys from various genres and centuries. You end up with the Prince (of Daniel 9), the False Prophet, the man of Lawlessness, and the Beast jammed into one Big Bad Guy that – if you actually read the four passages in John – don’t sound like a single person or in a single time period.
We already covered the whole Heaven & Hell mashup and the Devil mashup last month (and earlier). But it is a real problem! It’s this darn thing that when Jesus says “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction” and people automatically swap out ‘destruction’ for ‘hell’ when that passage is clearly not about hell.
So as you can see, this is a real problem. I love that every modern Christian can have a Bible in their hand. But as with most things, there is both an upside and a downside. The downside is that a lazy condensing or mashing together can result in something that leads to monstrous amalgamations.
You might think that I am overstating it, but I actually think that the amalgamations are perverse. This whole shorthand thing that we do with Heaven & Hell, the Devil, Salvation, the Anti-Christ and prophecy drives me crazy. I actually have come to think that they are a form of false-religion that keeps us from true religion (as defined in James )
Oh – one more… when we talk about Jesus‘ miracles by simply saying “he was God” , that sunday school answer actually becomes a real problem. By not celebrating Jesus’ humanity we cripple ourselves when it comes to participating is the kind of miraculous religion that we (who love the Bible) celebrate so much in the book of Acts.
But that is a side note.
Main Point: Leading up to Christmas, I love to ask church and non-church people of all ages “why did Jesus come?” The most frequent response is ‘to die for our sins’ or ‘to save us’. Which is fine enough I guess (on one level) but is really more of an Easter answer and not a Christmas answer.
One of my favorite professors in Seminary made the point (I think that he may have been quoting James McClendon) that if the whole point is for the just to die for the unjust then Jesus could have been ‘created’ by God as a sinless little baby and plopped in the Arctic, to die in the harsh elements. That would have satisfied the sinless life expectation of ‘the righteous for the unrighteous’.
But that is not how it happened. Jesus was born to a family, in a place, learned a language, and participated in a culture. That was not a random detail or an accidental circumstance. That is important and central to the story.
If God could have accomplished the atonement in the Arctic – having made Jesus to suffer and die the cruel effects of human existence and to experience an unjust death that would satisfy the wrath of God and heal the broken gulf between God and his creation… since that is how it could have happened (and it could have) – then there is something significant in the fact that it did not happen that way.
No, Jesus was born via painful labor, to a family, with a family name (Bar Joseph), and he learned to speak their language and practice their religion. He participated in ceremonies and cared for his sibling and mother. This is all a part of the incarnation. It is not secondary or inconsequential – it is central.
So here is my theory: Christmas is not primarily about the salvation of mankind or the redemption of the world. That is what the crucifixion and resurrection are about! (they – by the way – are not the same thing either and there is something that we are suppose to learn from each of them as well – by resisting the temptation to mash them together into one… but that is for a Pod about 4 months from now.)
Christmas is about Incarnation. Incarnation tells us that God has drawn near to humanity. We know that God has bridged the gap and that this is in order to restore the broken relationship. In fact, God did not just visit for a day and import, impose, and implement a new order… God dwelt with us. Literally (in the original language) God tabernacled with us. As The Message has it “God moved into the neighborhood”.
God is not afraid of our sin. God is not offended by our presence. In fact, God became one of us. And here is the wild twist – God became like us so that we may become like God. This is an ancient tradition called Theosis – made famous by St. Athanasius of Alexandria.
In fact, what the Incarnation is to the beginning, Pentecost is to the middle. Not only did God become one of us – but God gave us the Spirit of God as a gift to help us along the way and God’s Spirit remains on the earth as a constant presence … but I don’t want to get ahead of myself and mash things together that do not go together.
Bottom Line: the Christian life is not to simply to believe that in a time long, long ago in a land far, far away that God did something … and that if you just believe and receive that ‘truth’, that after you die, then God will take one part of you (your soul) to another place.
No. There is something else going on in the Christmas story. It has to do with the fact that God loves the world. That God became one of us, spoke human language (not heavenly or angelic language) and showed us the way to live.
The goal is not so much to believe right things so that I go to a better place after I die – but to behave like Jesus showed me so that I experience that life of the ages (the eternal life) before I die and then impact this world that God loves so much that God came and visited in person – becoming one of us.
We miss most of that when we mash Christmas and Easter together. Incarnation is the thing that God did and it is what we are suppose to learn (and do) with Christmas: move into a neighborhood, learn a language, give our life and show the way.
The Christian religion is to be – first and foremost – relational. It is transformational (of both person and place) and this is accomplished by being incarnational. Christmas is suppose to remind of this every year: live in the place, speak the language, love the people, and show the way.