Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why Celebrate Christmas?

This time of year, our culture discusses Jesus. For some it is the controversy over whether crèches are legal on public property. For others it is about what greeting we use this time of year. Some, disturbed by the materialism that can be so rampant, focus on the spiritual. The uproar really should not surprise us. His first birthday also brought diverse reactions. The shepherds were surprised. The wise men from the East knew it was coming. Both these groups fell down and worshiped. His mother pondered. Herod rose up in anger and killed all the infants in the Bethlehem region.

For those who get past the political agendas, we tend to focus on the sweet little baby in the manger. We see the pastoral scenes with his parents, him and some farm animals, the shepherds with their sheep, the star in the sky and the wise men with their camels. These are good things to remember and meditate on but in our contemplation of these things, we do well to remember the incredible, awesome, mind-blowing mystery of God taking on flesh and living among us. He came to show us the Father. He came to build a bridge for us back to God's presence that we could not build ourselves. This little baby, whose birth we celebrate this time of year, was born to be the Passover lamb. He grew up. He's not a baby in a manger anymore.

Jesus had several goals in His time here on earth. One of those, perhaps the greatest one, was to bring us life. We are born dead, separated from God. He came to give his life as a ransom for humanity. He was the perfect lamb, sacrificed on our behalf that we might live, giving us a restored relationship with the Father. He was born in the shadow of the cross. His offering and death we remember on Good Friday. We remember the beating, the whip, the torn flesh, the nails and the sword in his side. However, in all this we need to remember that is past. He's not a broken man on a cross.

For Passover, God died. For the first time in eternity, the Son and the Father did not live in dynamic relationship. He experienced what every human has lived under: separation, loneliness, death. It was a dark day. Creation moaned. His body went to a tomb. His spirit went to the place of the dead, Satan's dominion, and preached the nearness of God's kingdom. On the third day, he demonstrated his authority by taking the keys to hell and breaking the chains of death. On the Feast of First Fruits we celebrate that He didn't stay in the grave.

After that first Easter morning, he spent 40 days with those he knew. He talked with them. He ate with them. Many saw him. He instructed them on what they were to do. Finally, He left, caught up into the sky and out of their sight. Ten days later, during the Feast of Pentecost, the Spirit of God poured out to empower them to carry out his instructions. This all took place approximately 2000 years ago. Given that things have not changed for two millennia, it is easy to forget that the time we are in now is temporary. We were promised when he left so long ago that He's not staying in heaven forever.

So why celebrate Christmas? Is it the taking on of flesh by God? Is it that for the first time we could look on God and live? Is it for the 30 or so years he demonstrated God's love for us? Is it for the sacrifice he made on our behalf? Is it for the power he demonstrated on Easter? Yes! Absolutely, it is all this. It is also more because the story is not over yet.

Jesus came and did all the things we celebrate on Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost for an as-yet unrealized purpose. These were not ends in and of themselves; they were a means to another end. You see, since the Garden, God has wanted relationship with us weird creatures called Humans. He created us unique beings. Angels do not have bodies and animals do not have spirits. Humans alone have both. Uniquely created, we can live in the spiritual realm with God and the angels as well as the physical realm with the animals. In the beginning, Adam had this relationship with God; they walked together each day. When Adam, and with him the rest of humanity, rebelled, the intimacy of this relationship was lost. Our bodies could no longer exist in his presence. Terror, even for the righteous, was the normal response when he revealed just mere glimpses of his glory.

Because of this, the first time he came, he began restoring the intimacy of our relationship with him. He came as an approachable, weak baby. He grew into a loving, compassionate man. He left with a small demonstration of his authority and power. He will return with a full revealing of all his glory. There is a progression from intimacy to power in his revelation because he wants us to live fully with both realities. He wants us to experience the exhilarating presence of the power and might of his glory without falling apart. At the same time, he wants us to live in full intimacy with his heart, walking with him as compassionate rulers of creation.

It is for this future dwelling of God and man together that I celebrate the beginning at Christmas.

Italicized words are lyrics from Misty Edwards' "People Get Ready
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