This is an excerpt from my book, “Ruining Christmas,” which is guaranteed to shatter all your warm-and-fuzzy feelings about the holiday. It’s available on Amazon as a stocking stuffer for your most obnoxiously holly-jolly relative.
You know how the Christmas carol goes, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright?” What a bunch of malarkey. I was there at the birth of my son, and I can confidently report that it was not a silent night. My wife is a trooper, and certainly braver and stronger than I would have been in her shoes. And at the end of the process, we held our son and it was all worth it. And yet “the miracle of childbirth” doesn’t look like a miracle and is not silent: it is a bloody, screaming horror show.
This is not so much an analyzation of the biblical text as it is an observation that our Christmas celebrations have become so sanitized and domesticated that we’ve forgotten what we’re actually celebrating. (Although, in our defense, I suppose the same could be said about any birthday celebration). The incarnation is not just a theological concept or a comforting thing to think about in December—“God with us, isn’t that nice?” The incarnation was messy. Literally. God entering the world involved blood everywhere. A crying mother and crying infant marked the arrival of Immanuel.
This needs to be said and remembered because, once again, sentimentalizing the Christmas story causes us to miss the gospel here. The rescue that began with blood and pain on Christmas would culminate with blood and pain on a Friday thirty-three years later. The incarnation was necessarily messy because the execution required for our salvation was messy. Flesh and blood were required for this Savior, because flesh and blood were required for the cross.
You see, the reason we need Christmas is not because we need twinkle lights in dark December, or another excuse to get presents, or an opportunity to gather with family. Christmas is not good news because of nostalgia or warm memories or happy celebrations. The reason we need Christmas is because we need Good Friday. The reason Christmas is good news is because this baby was born to die.
It turns out that the celebration of the incarnation pushes us to consider the most fundamental claims of the gospel: that Jesus died to forgive our sins. He was nailed to a Roman cross and suffocated in his blood as a sacrifice, a substitute hanging in the place of guilty sinners as the Father poured out the punishment for our sin on his perfect Son. His sacrifice paid my debt in full, so that a holy God could be both just and merciful towards me, a sinner. He took my sin and died my death, thereby disarming Satan of all his accusations against me and freeing me from the eternal consequences of my crimes against heaven.
The book of Hebrews puts it this way:
“Since therefore the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death… For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” –Hebrews 2:14-17 (NIV)
Do you see the connection between Christmas and Good Friday, the incarnation and the crucifixion? “He shared in their humanity so that by his death…” The messiness and pain and blood of the incarnation was the whole point. This Savior had to be fully human, because only a human could bleed for suffer for sins. God became flesh because only flesh could have nails driven through.
The classic Christmas carol, “What Child Is This” has a verse that is often forgotten. It asks and answers the most important question that could possibly be uttered as one considers the nativity:
Why lies he in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spears, shall pierce him through,
The cross be borne for me and you
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the son of Mary!
Why lies he in such mean estate? Why the manger? Why the lowliness? The shocking, saving answer: Because nails and spears will pierce this Savior through. The meanness of the manger is the message. The pain is the point. This child has come to save us; this baby was born to die.