Two weeks ago I was preparing for a monthly men’s group meeting that I lead. I was praying and thinking about what to talk about and thought, since it was Christmas, I ought to talk about that. So I skimmed all four Gospels for their accounts and noticed some interesting things: Mark and John don’t even discuss it at all. Mathew and Luke devote a total of 3 ¼ chapters to Jesus’ birth and early life before He started His ministry. Whereas all four Gospels discuss his years of ministry at great length and his death and resurrection consume 13 chapters.
It seems that our over-emphasis on Christmas is not in alignment with scripture. Why is that? Well, certainly, the story of Jesus’ birth is a much more pleasant one than the story of his horrific death. Of course, it could be argued that the thousands of parents of baby sons that Herod murdered as he tried to snuff out Jesus’ life would disagree, but of course that aspect of Christmas is hardly mentioned. Much better to stick to the more pleasant parts of the story. And of course, Christmas is great for business so the commercial over emphasis can be explained. But even churches tend to over emphasize Christmas. Many have special Christmas programs that are planned for months in advance, but Easter doesn’t get near the same emphasis.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas—such a beautiful, crazy story of God entering this hopeless, helpless world on a divine rescue mission. I mean, an old man and woman who are past child-bearing age having a son, John the Baptist? A virgin giving birth? This the stuff of a severely deluded mind if it’s not in fact true. It’s truly incredible and immensely beautiful! But really, it’s just setting the stage for the final act, the denouement: the sacrifice of God’s lamb for our sin and His resurrection. In fact all of the Bible and all history from the fall of man in Eden leads up to the final act, the culmination of God’s plan to redeem a lost world. The Christmas account in Luke captures this especially well: there’s this sense of tension as the incredible events unfold, and many are pondering the significance of the events. The story is building to a crescendo, which is Easter.
So, we should enjoy Christmas, but keep a right perspective on it.
Then I started thinking: when do more people get saved, at Easter or Christmas? I was saved on Easter, but a sample size of 1 is hardly statistically compelling. I tried to look on the internet for some stats, but couldn’t find any. But God’s word is interesting, I think: although many were impacted, no one was converted at Christmas, but a few were at Jesus’s death and resurrection, and shortly after His resurrection, at Pentecost, the numbers exploded. Jesus’ death and resurrection was the real deal.
My thinking wandered some more: what if Jesus had just come and lived among us and just died? Even ignoring the obvious theological issues of an eternal God dying, this creates all kinds of problems for us. We would have known what God is like, but had no access to Him, no way to be intimately related to Him. As well, if He had come, lived among us, and just been zapped up to heaven, we would still be stuck in our sin, with no way to get out. All the beauty of God’s creation, all the majesty of His character, even Jesus’ life as a man among us would mean nothing to us because we would still be lost.
Without the death and resurrection, history would have been much different. My personal history would be vastly different, might have even been terminated, if not for his sacrifice. And, I believe, the history of the world would have been much different. Christians took down the Roman Empire, Christians fought for the end of slavery, just to name a few. As bad as our world is, how much worse would it be if not for the influence of people whose hearts have been changed by the love and mercy of God?
The central event that changes everything is Jesus’ death and resurrection. Enjoy the Christmas season, by all means, but remember the real reason. “For God so loved the world that He gave us His Son, so that we might have life and have it abundantly”. This act of God was the death sentence to our lust, our greed, our sense of entitlement, our rampant selfishness, our hopelessness, our misery, our anger, our murderous tendencies…the list goes on and on. When Christ died, we died; when He rose, we rose. And we can never thank Him enough.