By Allan R. Bevere- pastor of FUMC- Cambridge, Ohio.
Many years ago during an art history course I took in college, I noticed an intriguing picture of the nativity in a book of paintings. It was a very warm, peaceful scene of baby Jesus and his parents. The child is in the manger with a typical look of serene divinity on his face with Mary and Joseph looking down at him with smiles on their faces. But as one looks more closely at the painting, the serenity gives way to a sense of foreboding. There is a shadow being cast right over the manger, right over the child Jesus. It is a shadow in the shape of a cross.
What must it feel like knowing that you were born for the sole purpose of dying? All of us must die, of course, but what must it be like knowing that the reason for our birth was our death? That is exactly the reason that Jesus was born.
It is practically impossible today to visit any church and not find a cross hanging prominently either on the outside of the building or in the sanctuary. People around the world are more familiar with the symbol of the cross, than the logo of Coca-Cola (and that's saying something!). The crucifixion of Jesus stands at the center of the faith and two of the church's most important rituals of worship emphasize the importance of the cross of Christianity. St. Paul tells the Corinthians that when they celebrate the Lord's Supper, they "proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). In baptism Christians are buried with Jesus into his death (Romans 5:4).
Sin has terrible consequences. Sin has not only made trouble for individuals, it has made trouble for whole peoples and entire nations. Hate, greed, lust, the desire for power and other sins have hurt and continue to hurt people all over the world. On a personal level sin hurts the sinner and those around her or him. This is surely not what God intends for us. When one watches the news and reads the newspaper, it seems clear that human beings have truly made a mess of things. We may be well-intentioned at times, but it seems we are unable to get out of the hole we have dug for ourselves, and the more we try to get out of it the deeper it gets.
But fortunately for us, God has something better in mind and he sent Jesus to give to us the goodness we could not achieve for ourselves; and nothing less than Jesus death would achieve that goodness. Jesus indeed came to die.
Jesus came to die, and his death was necessary. We human beings are slaves to sin. Sin is not something that we can get rid of with a little more education, or keeping the right company. Temptation always bothers us and there are many fun and exciting things in the world to do that attract us because they are fun, even though they are wrong. Sin is like an infection in each and every one of us. Sin is, therefore, serious business and the consequences of sin are very destructive. It is so destructive it cost Jesus his life.
We celebrate Christmas only because Jesus died on a cross. Without Jesus' sacrificial death in our place, Christmas means nothing. If Jesus had lived a long life dying of natural causes somewhere in Jerusalem, there would be no celebration of Advent and Christmas, there would be no Christmas trees and decorations, no Christmas dinners, no children's Christmas pageants, no shoppers pushing and shoving each other to buy presents, and we can rest assured, that if Jesus had not died on a cross, there would be no chance for "peace on earth and goodwill to all people."
Over the manger hangs the shadow of the cross. Jesus has died for all; he died for Simeon, who waited his entire life to see "the consolation of Israel," but would never see him grow up, and he died for the Magi who would return to their homeland far away. Jesus died for Joseph, who would himself die while Jesus was still a young man, and he died for the mother who held him in her arms as a baby, who would care for him as he grew, and who would cry beneath the crushing experience of his painful, agonizing death on a cross-- and Jesus died for each and every one of us.