Wednesday, December 28, 2016

In Swaddling Clothes

Here is the challenge for all of those who would call themselves faithful, even Christians today, who know how the story turns out: can we appreciate the unrest that comes after the silent night?

It's tempting, far too tempting (and so tempting that most of us cannot withstand the temptation), to let the manger fall in the shadow of the Cross, to look right past Christmas with confident assurance in Easter Sunday. But at that very moment when God came into the world in flesh, those who had waited with such expectant hope, those who had followed a star to the little town of Bethlehem, those who had heard the cries of a newborn babe, could never have imagined such a thing as Sunday morning.

They would have thought we were crazy.

But our modern theology refuses to wait. It cannot comprehend a Christmas story that does not carry at least the echoes of Easter. And this is a tragedy.

It is a tragedy because it reduces God to what He has done for us, not what He is. It is a tragedy because we live in this perpetual liturgical calendar that lives and dies on Golgotha, but never cries in Bethlehem. It is a tragedy because we focus so intently on the Savior that we miss entirely Immanuel.

God with us.

I have written before, many years ago, about the difference between the coming and the Cross, about the importance of this God who has decided to be with us, who has come in a form that we can recognize, who has condescended to live here among us. This is the miracle of Christmas, not that God has become such that we can put Him in our homes somehow or wear Him around our necks, but that God has become such that He can walk into our homes. We do not establish Him in our homes, as all of the pagans have always done; we welcome Him.

God with us.

When we are looking so much at the culmination of Jesus' life, we miss the true miracle of it, the miracle, yes, even of a babe who must grow before our very eyes. We are missing the angst, the troubled hope that must find a way to hold on as revelation develops into first a boy, then a man, and only finally a Savior. We are missing what it means that God dwells among us. And our theology has been reduced to, "Oh, Jesus? Yes, He died for me."

He died, yes, but He lived. Our modern theology argues that He lived in order to die, that His life was necessary only for His death, but we must not buy into such short-sighted theology. We must not accept such a self-centered faith. Yet, we have. We have accepted a faith that believes that Jesus' entire life can be summed up in the Cross and that that Cross was for our sake. Therefore, our Gospel is simply self-serving and nothing more.

But Jesus' entire life cannot be summed up in the Cross; it must be anticipated in the manger. It must be embraced in the stable. In swaddling clothes, this is the Son of God, who has so much in our day become the Christ that we have forgotten the Immanuel.

God with us.

So again, here is the challenge for all who would call themselves faithful, even Christians today: can we live in light of Christmas without rushing toward Easter? Can we love a little town in Bethlehem as much as the spectacle of the Cross? Can we appreciate the unrest that comes after the silent night?

Can we let our Christ be also our Immanuel?

God. with. us.

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