Why do I think about his death when I celebrate his birth?
I have mixed feelings during Christmas. I don't think it's your typical "holiday blues." I've always enjoyed the festivities. This growing restlessness has more to do with making sense of the celebration. Forgive me for saying so, but sometimes our sermons/songs sound rather morbid: "He was born to die," "From the womb to the tomb," and especially [quoting Isaiah] "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders." Even as a child, I remember thinking, "that sounds like a huge weight for such a little baby." The ominous tone of our hope, the pressing weight of the human condition makes me realize that we jump to the end of the story without considering the middle of the story. The beginning merely leads to the end. Mangers and crosses, birth and death, Christmas and Easter. Indeed, the sacrificial language that usually accompanies Christmas sayings makes us sound like a bunch of cannibals: "Give us your child so that he can die for us." Like monsters, we call for his blood before he even had the chance to live. In the midst of the hue and cry, I want to bellow: "But he lived such a beautiful life."
There's a rather unfamiliar saying of Jesus that keeps looping in my head, over and over again. I can't get the refrain out of my mind. As he carried his fate to Golgotha, Jesus noticed Jerusalem women weeping. He found the sight troubling. He told them not to cry for him. They should cry for themselves because, "If they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?" Even Jesus knew he was too young to die. For all the splendor of the gospel story--a man came from God and offered himself as a ransom for many--the tragedy of that day still shakes me to the core. Jesus showed so much promise. He was such a lovely man, a kind heart, a confident soul, a gracious human being. Then, evil raised its ugly head and struck with the venomous poison of all hatred and malice. It wasn't that Jesus was startled by all of this. He knew how bad things had gotten down here. He knew what would happen when the irrepressible force of God's love and mercy crashes against the powers of the world. And yet, living in the shadow of that inevitable collision, he cherished life. Every ounce of it, every shred of it, every pulse, every creature, every one of us. Which is why he said, "don't cry for me." I'm so glad he said, "don't cry for me." Because sometimes, in the midst of celebrating his birthday, I feel like he got the short end of the stick.
Even though green trees are still felled, and many of us have grown dry, I will take comfort in the brief life of a man who taught us how to live . . . and die.