Christmas is a big deal, and Christians know that they should celebrate it in a big way. In fact, there is something strange about how big a deal we are supposed to make of it. The most important things Jesus Christ did for our salvation, after all, did not happen at the beginning of his life, but at the end of it. His death and resurrection are the central events for our faith, and those lie at the other end of the gospels from the nativity story. At the end of the gospels, Jesus Christ does everything: He takes up his cross, lays down his life for us, offers himself up to the Father, descends into the grave, rises from it, and ascends to the right hand of God the Father.
But at the beginning of the gospels, he just lies there, doing nothing. He is a baby. There is a flurry of activity around him: Mary and Joseph are busy, the angels are running up and down between heaven and earth with messages, and shepherds are coming to adore him. Off in the distance are government censuses, murderous kings, and wise men from the East. Ancient prophecies are ringing in everybody’s ears as they come to fulfillment.
But baby Jesus does nothing. In the Christmas play, you don’t need to cast any young actor in the role of baby Jesus, because there is nothing for him to do. A doll is perfectly suited to carry out all the actions of the little Lord Jesus, because the script does not call for him to do or say anything whatsoever. He is carried around a little bit, but mostly he just lies there in the manger, sleeping.
And that passiveness is the secret of why Christmas is so important. It is not a celebration of what Jesus did, or of what he does, but of who he is. At the cross, Jesus accomplished salvation through what he did. That’s why the heart of the Christian gospel really does lie a few months away in our church calendar, in Easter. But Christmas recognizes that all of his work on our behalf is only possible because of who he is: The eternal Son of God, who took on our human nature in order to work out our salvation.
Of course it’s possible to focus on who Jesus is, even while telling the story of his death and resurrection. But at Christmas, it is unavoidable: the baby is not doing anything, and we can only stand amazed at who he is. Easter may be the festival of what Jesus did, but Christmas is the festival of who Jesus is. That is why so many of the Christmas carols come back to the note of simple adoration: “Come, let us adore him.” It is also why so many of them pose questions to us like “What child is this?” Adoration for who Jesus is, rather than thanksgiving for what he does, is the secret of the strange hush that steals over us at the center of this holiday. It is why all we can do is celebrate, gather with loved ones, and exchange gifts and gratefulness.
In My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers says, “After the amazing delight and liberty of realizing what Jesus Christ does, comes the impenetrable darkness of realizing Who He is.” It is impenetrable darkness because Jesus is not just anybody. He is not just another prophet from God, or a faithful servant, or a messenger. He does not just step into the role of being the son of God for a while. He is the eternal Son of God, the Word who was in the beginning, the Word who is both with God, and is God in person.
Reading: John 1:1-14
Written by Fred Sanders, associate professor of Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. Jenna Bartlo, Media Relations Coordinator, can be reached at (562) 777-4061 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org