Whew! Christmas is over! The New Year is upon us. Many of us are taking down our trees, putting the lights away, returning gifts that didn’t fit or weren’t right, shopping after Christmas sales, and trying desperately to get rid of all the sweets so we don’t gain another 5 pounds (that might only be me….).
Is Christmas really over?
For me, Christmas is more than just a day. More than a single celebration. Christmas is something we experience in our hearts every day as a follower of Jesus. But Christmas, by itself, is incomplete.
The incarnation of God himself in the baby Jesus, the second person of the trinity, God’s only son is, the most amazing gift. Christmas is the beginning of God making good on his promise of salvation. It’s an invitation for the unbelieving world to witness God’s immeasurable love for us; to wrestle with the idea of a love so big that it takes on human form. It’s an invitation for the believing world to, again, bring our weary selves to him and find rest.
But there’s more. At the risk of sounding slightly heretical, I propose to you that the baby Jesus is not our Savior. Stay with me. Many of our hearts are opened to God at Christmas. Many of us have come to faith through the manger. If that is you, I praise God for your salvation, because yes, if you believed in Jesus as your Savior at Christmas, you are saved, fully reconciled to God.
Too many of us leave Jesus in the manger. Christmas is only the first chapter in this redemption story and we cannot fully understand or embrace the baby if we do not view Christmas through the cross.
See, the baby grew up. His purpose was not completely fulfilled in his birth, but in his life, death, and resurrection. Through the life and ministry of Jesus portrayed in the Gospels, we are beckoned to grow in our knowledge of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh. We join the disciples walking with him, learning from him, hearing his words, and witnessing his miracles. The life of Jesus confronts us in our own lives, messing with our attitudes and our priorities. We are a long way from the cute baby in the manger when Jesus asks us, just like he asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Christmas demands we answer that question.
The climax of the story that God begins with Christmas comes with the events of Holy Week when Jesus fulfills the prophecy of the suffering servant. We experience the drama of the last meal Jesus shares with his disciples; the stabbing wound of betrayal by one of his own; the heart wrenching desertion and denial by his closest friends. We watch as Jesus is beaten, ridiculed, and crucified. We wonder why he doesn’t say anything in his defense.
It’s the man Jesus who is nailed to the cross. It is the man Jesus who bears the crown of thorns and has his side pierced. It is the man Jesus who is buried in a tomb. We are a long way from the baby in the manger when we join Mary at the foot of the cross watching her son die. But faith in the baby means join her we must.
On the third day, the incomparable power of God raised what was dead in the flesh into glorious, and eternal life. The risen Christ claims complete victory over death. Jesus, fully man and fully God, is the perfect and final sin sacrifice reconciling all of mankind to God. When God gave us the gift of his son at Christmas, he also gave us the gift of the cross, and the gift of the empty tomb, and the gift of our place in his family forever.
What God begins with Christmas, he culminates in Easter. To separate Christmas out as a stand-alone event is to miss the breadth of God’s pursuit of his beloved. In fact, we can’t separate them. Christmas and the cross are a package deal.
Is the baby Jesus our Savior? Yes. But not if we leave him in the manger. Our faith must grow, just like that baby did, to include the cross and the resurrection.
Christmas is not complete without Easter. As we leave this time of outward celebration, take steps to ensure the celebration of the birth of the Savior continues in your heart. Engage in a community of faith where you can study and learn God’s Word. Let the life of Jesus inform your mind and transform your heart. Experience the glorious power of the resurrection that is your inheritance in the risen Christ.
Don’t let Jesus stay a baby in a manger in your life.
Don’t let Christmas be incomplete.