As it turns out, the conclusion of our GodSpeak series in Matthew coincides with Advent and Christmas. The irony is not lost on me. The crucifixion occurs during Holy Week, not Advent. Resurrection is for Easter, not Christmas… or is it? For as long as I can remember, the Christian church has complained how America has steadily pushed Christ out of Christmas. But what are we really complaining about? Are we upset that the culture stole our holiday, or are we grieving the fact that millions upon millions will go through the Christmas motions yet again without a single thought of how God came to die and rise for them?
I hate to say it, but while we insist that Christ take his rightful place in Christmas, I have observed that a surprising number of Christians don’t even know what the word “Christ” means. “Christ” is the Greek word for “Messiah” or “Annointed One.” This is the promised redeemer to be sent by God. This man was longed for by generations of oppressed Israelites. This man, when he finally did come, came in total humility and died in total humility. In that short meek existence he gave humanity what we didn’t deserve: a second chance. Nobody was looking for this Christ. In 2000 years nothing has changed.
Ever since Christ’s death and resurrection, many “Christs” have come promising peace, justice and mercy much like Jesus did. It sounds so good we put them on pedistals and entrust them with power and prestige. They all eventually disappoint, sometimes tragically. Christmas has become the same thing, a false Christ. Every Christmas our society recommits itself to live in peace, justice and mercy, only to find that our yearly secular holiday has a strange tendency to inflict just the opposite: conflict, exploitation and selfishness. We’re looking for the wrong Christ. The Christ we need doesn’t inhabit this “Christmas” any more.
The Christ we really need bore a cross from the day he was born. In Jesus’ day, the cross was a symbol of public shame, ridicule and inferiority. It doesn’t get lower than being stripped, beaten and hung to die for the world to see and mock. That lonely night when Jesus was born, God was laid in a feeding trough. God! The creator of everything! Throughout his life Jesus preached humility, total dependence on God and compassionate concern for others. Jesus lived the cross before his humble compassion led him to suffer our death for us on a wooden one. The God who causes every beat of every heart allowed his own heart to stop for us.
Want to show people what Christmas is all about? Then let’s keep the cross in Christmas by taking up our crosses and following Jesus. Jesus’ cross gave us a gift we could never deserve. In response, let’s follow him in the kind of life he lived. It’s the life of humility, total dependence on God and compassionate concern for others. It’s the life of love, even for those who might subject us to public shame, ridicule and inferiority. It’s the life of peace, justice and mercy delivered in a Bethlehem stable. Merry Christmas!