Tuesday, December 12, 2006

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.

Happy birthday.


Darryl Schafer said...

I've said similar things as Christmas approaches, and people look at me like I'm Scrooge. Am I a cynic? A realist? Do I dare to go so far as to say that it's the love I have for Jesus? There's this tension in living between the sadness of his death and the joy of his life.

Re: Communion
Thanks for your input -- it is ALWAYS welcome (for what it's worth, I hope you never stop teaching me). I'm shooting for unity and community (hey, that rhymes) at the Lord's table. What unites us? Why are WE (not why am I, although that's important) at the table in the first place? I'm praying it's received well.

matt gallion said...

i just like the way your brain works.

Joshua Collins said...

I really enjoyed that reminder about Jesus' life, especially with that otherwise ignored saying of his regarding to the weeping women. We also see in the Magi's gifts in Matthew and Simeon's saying in Luke about a sword piercing Mary's heart the pointers to the "tragic" end hovering over the birth accounts. time to get back to studying for finals like I'm supposed to be doing...

simul iustus et peccator said...

Glad to see you are on the web, glad to see you any time at all :)

Tom 1st said...

Wow, great thoughts. I must admit, I've never really thought of those 'from the manger to the grave' sermons in this manner. Possibly this is b/c those sermons are at least more theologically sound than most Christmas sermons I hear.

Well, Darryl told me about this blog, so I'll keep checking it out.

JR. Madill said...

Good morning Good Doctor!

Welcome to the wide wide world of blogging. Xanga is still cooler, I think, but blogspot is okay.

Christmas is always a hard time of year for me. I struggle to maintain the joy of the celebration in the face of so much hypocrisy - pagan rituals and commercialism have encroached so far on what we do.

your reminders are - as always - timely and helpful. i hope all is well! i'll be down to visit soon.

Rodney Reeves said...


I don't know what "cool" is. Sounds like I'm boasting, doesn't it?

Look me up when you come to town.