“Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman's breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother's arms. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter's despised son.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon
This time of year you’ll see “baby Jesus” everywhere—on cards, in stores, even on front lawns of homes. Some churches even have a live nativity scene, complete with an infant, lying in for “baby Jesus.” I’ve always wanted our church to have a nativity scene. I think that it’s the one time of year that those who don’t know the Lord are much more heedful of what the message that we are communicating even with our symbols.
One of the reasons though that “baby Jesus” is nearly everywhere is that “baby Jesus” is safe. Please understand, I’m not some Grinch who’s anti-baby. I like babies. It’s just that “baby Jesus” isn’t what Christmas is all about. Even our multi-cultural, pluralistic world is fairly comfortable making Christmas only about “baby Jesus” but it’s an unbiblical reductionism.
A little girl of ten years went with a group of family and friends to see the Christmas light displays at various locations throughout the city. At one church, they stopped and got out to look more closely at a beautifully done nativity scene. "Isn't that beautiful?" said the little girl's grandmother. "Look at all the animals, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus." "Yes, Grandma," replied the granddaughter. "It is really nice. But there is only one thing that bothers me. Isn't baby Jesus ever going to grow up? He's the same size that He was last year."
But Jesus did grow up! Did Jesus enter into human history as a baby? Yes. Is Christmas meant to celebrate the coming of Jesus into human history? Yes. What’s the problem? The reason we celebrate the coming of Jesus is not because He was born in a manger. It’s because of what He did on the cross about thirty years after His birth. If the most critical aspect of Jesus’ life is that He was born of a virgin, that there was no room for His parents in the Inn, that He was born in a stable and laid in a manger, that angels appeared to shepherds who were the newborns first visitors – if that’s it, then we have nothing to celebrate. If Jesus was born, lived for about thirty years, and died…even if it was a tragic death, but that was it, end of story, then we have nothing to celebrate.
When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are only celebrating because of what He came to do and that Jesus accomplished what He came to do. To only celebrate “baby Jesus” is to forget the reason why He came. To only celebrate baby Jesus may be safe, yet it’s sentimentalism.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah writes of all aspects of Jesus’ life. In chapter 9, He writes of this special child being born to us. But we find Jesus’ mission toward the end, in Isaiah 53. While it begins with His childhood, it ends with His sacrificial death. “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities” (vs. 2). “He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (vs. 12).
That sounds more like Easter than Christmas. Yet, we only celebrate Christmas because of Easter. For more than 300 years after Jesus' time, Christians celebrated His resurrection but not His birth. That’s because if there had been no Good Friday and no Easter, then Christmas isn’t even “Happy Holidays.” We’re left with a world where Scrooge, Mr. Potter and the Grinch are the “heroes” because there is no hope. At best Christmas would be about bribes, not gifts because God’s great gift to a lost and guilty world had never been given. While most don’t realize why we give gifts, it’s because God the Father started it, “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Some years ago a powerful Christmas card was circulating with the title "If Christ Had Not Come." It was based upon our Savior's words "If I had not come." The card represented a pastor's falling asleep in his study on Christmas morning and dreaming of a world into which Jesus had never come. In his dream he found himself looking through his home, but there were no little stockings in the chimney corner, no Christmas bells or wreaths of holly, and no Christ to comfort, gladden and save. He walked out to the street, but there was no church with its steeple pointing to Heaven. He came back and sat down in his library, but every book about the Savior had disappeared. The doorbell rang and a messenger asked the preacher to visit his poor, dying mother. He hastened with the weeping child, and as he reached the home he sat down and said, "I have something here that will comfort you." He opened his Bible to look for a familiar promise, but his Bible ended with Malachi. There was no Gospel and no promise of hope and salvation, and he could only bow his head and weep with her in bitter despair. Then, two days later he stood beside her coffin and conducted the funeral service. There was no message of consolation, no hope of heaven. Without the Gospel, we have no hope.
But it isn’t enough that Jesus came, it’s that He came with a purpose…He came to die. That was God’s purpose even before Creation. God in His omniscience knew that man would choose to sin and follow Satan, that we would choose sin and death rather than Paradise. The cross wasn’t Plan B. It was God’s plan from before the beginning, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:18-20). Baby Jesus not only grew up, He grew up and gave His life for our sins. He was the first Christmas gift sent from God the Father to pay the penalty for our sins.
Like any gift though, it’s not yours until you receive it. This Christmas, have you embraced Good Friday and Easter? In others words, have you accepted God’s gift of salvation? Have you repented of your sins and thrown yourself on Christ’s cross, believing that it is only in Jesus’ death that we can be forgiven and have hope? The Christmas story always begins with “For God so loved…” He loved you and me, even though we were so unlovable. Have you accepted His gift of salvation for you?