"Waybread" is food designed to strengthen travelers on a long journey. This little weekly column is intended to offer reflections that will strengthen and encourage you in your own long journey in following Christ.
THE BABE BORN TO DIE
In the midst of your busy life, may I share a somewhat shorter word with you today? I'd like to share a few words about remembering and hope in these last days before we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ.
I've been reading a wonderful book by Fleming Rutledge lately called The Crucifixion, a deeply profound exploration of Jesus' death on the Cross. It's especially interesting because over the last few months as we were planning for Advent, one of the phrases that kept coming into our conversation (mainly from Jean Holt) was that Jesus was "born to die." The truth is, friends, that when we purge the Christmas season of all the superficial baggage it's acquired over the years, there is an awe, a wonder, a glory, that can fill our hearts when we consider that this innocent little child will, in the fullness of time, die the most brutal of deaths.
I was reading just this morning about the role of remembrance in The Lord's Table (I know, what's that got to do with Christmas? Just wait…we'll get there in a minute). Rutledge reminded me that "remembrance" in the Scriptures is far different from what we normally mean by it in the 21st century. Remembrance for the ancients was about becoming aware in the present moment of Jesus' "active presence with power."
I'm thinking about this during the Christmas season because, although Rutledge was talking about remembrance in the context of Communion ("Do this in remembrance of Me"), I think this idea also fits very well into how we ought to be thinking about God becoming incarnate in the Christ child. In her message a few weeks ago, Jean talked about "the three comings" of Christ. Pop quiz: Do you remember what they were? First, His coming as a baby into the manger, the Christmas story we hear so often. Second, His future Return to judge the Earth in power and glory. And third, His coming into our hearts by faith, trusting His atoning work on the Cross in order to make a way into His Father's Kingdom.
It's this third coming I want to reflect on today. We ought to remember Christ's birth in Jerusalem all those many years ago not so much as a past event (although it certainly was that), but as an event that can become for us present all over again. We remember Christ's birth not as a past event on the remote fringes of historical memory, but as Christ's "active presence [among us] with power."
When we believe Jesus, trust Jesus, look upon Jesus, open our eyes to our gaping need for Jesus, and reach out to take hold of Jesus by faith, we receive the very Spirit of Jesus in our hearts. Christ Himself, the living Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, the One by whom all of creation was spoken into being, this living, resurrected Jesus comes to live in us! And He lives in us so REAL-LY that the Apostle Paul can say, marvelously and mysteriously, "It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20, emphasis mine).
Friends, just think of the wonder of it all! Stop for a moment and remember (the active, powerful presence of Jesus is with you right now!) what it means for us to say that Jesus was "born to die."
His death was no barrier to His ministry. It did not thwart the Father's purposes. It did not take Jesus by surprise. Though it tore the veil in the Temple, it mends our lost relationship with the Father. As He told His disciples in John 10, He purposely, of His own free will and choice, laid down His life: "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again" (v. 18a).
When we behold with the eyes of faith that (literally) innocent little boy in the middle of a filthy manger made only as clean as was possible with the meager means at hand, when we behold with the eyes of faith this little One who called worlds into being, who spoke the heavens and the earth, the stars and the sky, the mountains and the oceans into existence out of nothing, and we remember that it is His calling, His destiny to die the most shameful, humiliating, torturous death known to man, then and only then do we begin to enter into the meaning and the mystery of Christmas.
It may be a somewhat jarring transition, but let me here mention the powerful telling of the Christmas story in A Charlie Brown Christmas (because I'm reasonably sure you all know it). The passage Linus recites there is Luke 2:8-14 (go look it up, and for good measure make it the King James Version!). But notice that the passage, true and powerful as it is, says not a word about why Jesus was born into the world He Himself had made: that the chains of Sin and Death held enslaved God's own people, and that by the Cross of Jesus liberty would be bought for the captives, a way opened into life, joy and freedom in the very presence of God.
And now, today, as we remember the miraculous birth of Jesus, His present power is active for you! And remember, too: This power Jesus possesses is the very same power that brought Him to life again after He was dead and buried in a tomb. He has broken our chains and set us free!
The Christ Child, Jesus the Son of God, truly was born to die. Let us remember Him as we bend the knee this week.
"Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and as we are sorely hindered by our sins from running the race that is set before us, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen."
Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.