At Christmas time we can get so caught up with celebrating the fact of Christ’s coming that we forget the purpose of his coming.
The birth of Jesus Christ is a unique event in human history because it involved the incarnation of God. God the Son became a human being in the womb of a young virgin woman named Mary. He was born in a stable and laid to sleep in a feeding trough. Angels announced his birth, shepherds worshipped him, and wise men gave him gifts. A king tried to kill him, but his stepfather kept him safe by smuggling him out of the country. Remarkable events, well worth remembering and celebrating! But why did they happen?
God the Son became Christ the child for a reason. There was a purpose to his coming; and he himself explained that purpose when he grew to be a man and began his ministry.
He said to the people of a certain town, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God … for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).
The Son of God came from heaven to earth for this purpose: to “preach the good news of the kingdom of God”. What is that good news? It is this: “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).
God’s gift of his Son to us required the death of his Son for us. Jesus understood this perfectly well and he spoke about it several days before his crucifixion. He said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. … Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:23, 27).
The Son of God came from heaven to earth for this purpose: to experience the terrifying hour of his death, to be glorified by being lifted up on a cross, to be crucified as a sacrifice for sinners.
It is interesting to note that Jesus did not command his disciples to remember the hour of his birth, but he did command them to remember the hour of his death. Just before his crucifixion, at the Last Supper, he instituted a memorial service whose sole focus is his body broken and his blood shed for us, a service to be conducted repeatedly by Christians throughout the world until he returns (Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
This is not to suggest that we should not celebrate Jesus’ birth: it is simply to emphasise that we should never forget his death. His birth finds its meaning in his death. Hence, to be fully meaningful and beneficial, Christmas celebrations should be tinged with Easter lamentations.
“What Child is this, who, laid to rest,/ On Mary’s lap is sleeping?/ Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,/ While shepherds watch are keeping?”* Oh, this, this is He who came/ To die for us and take our blame!
At Christmas we remember that the Son of God came to earth. But we should also remember why he came. He came for this purpose: to preach the good news of the kingdom of God and to open a way for us to enter that kingdom by facing the hour of his death.
* “What Child Is This”, a Christmas carol by William Chatterton Dix.
Scripture quotations are from English Standard Version of The Holy Bible (2001)
Copyright © Andrew Lansdown, 2013