Archives For Top Ten Reasons Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross

lightstock_59323_small_user_2741517Every year during Advent we let our confirmation students loose through the church building to take an informal poll.

The question we give the confirmands is the same every year:

Why did Jesus come to earth?

In other words, why Christmas?

Every year the questions are the same:

More than 3/4 answer:

that Jesus comes

in order to die.

And the problem with that answer is…it’s wrong.

Or better still, it’s incomplete. As St Augustine argued:

“In the Incarnation of Christ, other things must be considered besides absolution from sin.”

De Trinitate, XIII. 17

#2 Reason Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross:

Because Emmanuel isn’t just the beginning.

Emmanuel, God-with-Us, is the End.

As in, telos.

Whereas Western Christianity- and by Western I don’t mean the flyover states but all of Protestant Christianity and the vast majority of Roman Catholic Christianity- has privileged the Atonement over the Incarnation, Eastern Christianity- what eventually became the Orthodox traditions- historically has treated the Incarnation not as simple prologue to the salvation plot but as constitutive of salvation itself.

The Eastern Fathers (like Maximus the Confessor and Gregory of Nazianzus, whom John Wesley sought to retrieve for Western Christianity) viewed the Incarnation as the eternally necessary outworking of God’s creative act, for God’s creative aim is not creation itself nor creation apart from God nor (contra Jean Calvin an eventual overcoming of creation’s Sin by the Son’s cross).

God’s creative aim is the joining together of divinity and humanity, Spirit and flesh, Creator and creature, heaven with Earth.

God’s eternal aim is Emmanuel: God with us.

In this sense, the God-Man, Jesus Christ, whom Paul calls the first first of the New Creation is presupposed in the first creation.

The with-ness of God’s creative aim or end (telos) thus requires Incarnation quite apart from the Fall. As Russian Orthodox theologian, Georges Florovosky, notes in The Motive of the Incarnation:

This was the main line of reasoning of St. Gregory of Nazianzus in his refutation of Apollinarianism:

“That is saved which is united with God.”

Typically Gregory’s quote gets cited in argument for the full humanity of Christ. Christ must be fully human, encompassing all of our human experiences (male and female etc) or else we- or those of us who aren’t Jewish men- do not have share in his sacrificial death for sin’s sake.

While of course our share in the atoning work of Christ is part of Gregory’s meaning it’s not the full or primary meaning Gregory intends. Gregory’s quote means to point out that the word ‘salvation’ names not only the overcoming of sin but more largely the joining together of God and man.

To paraphrase Athanasius without distorting his original intent:

God became man and was always going to do so;

so that, man could be with God.

Uniting is/was God’s larger, more general intent of which Atoning became a necessary work.

All of this is meant only as preface to this excerpt from Orthodox theologian Sergei Bulgakov‘s ‘Du Verbe Incarne.’ Nesterov_Florensky_Bulgakov

Bulgakov’s book Lamb of God is a must read.

God wants to communicate to the world his divine life and himself to “dwell” in the world, to become human, in order to make of human kind a god too. That transcends the limits of human imagination and daring, it is the mystery of the love of God “hidden from the beginning in God” (Eph 3:9), unknown to the angels themselves (Eph 3:10; 1 Pet 1:12; 1Tim 3:16).

The love of God knows no limits and cannot reach its furthest limit in the fullness of the divine abnegation for the sake of the world: the Incarnation. And if the very nature of the world, raised from non-being to its created state, does not appear here as an obstacle, its fallenstate is not one either.

God comes even to a fallen world; the love of God is not repelled by the powerlessness of the creature, nor by his fallen image, nor even by the sin of the world: the Lamb of God, who voluntarily bears the sins of the world, is manifest in him. In this way, God gives all for the divinization of the world and its salvation, and nothing remains that he has not given.

Such is the love of God, such is Love.

Such it is in the interior life of the Trinity, in the reciprocal surrender of the three hypostases, and such it is in the relation of God to the world.

If it is in such a way that we are to understand the Incarnation–and Christ himself teaches us to understand it in such a way (Jn 3:16)–there is no longer any room to ask if the Incarnation would have taken place apart from the Fall.

The greater contains the lesser, the conclusion presupposes the antecedent, and the concrete includes the general.

The love of God for fallen humankind, which finds it in no way repugnant to take the failed nature of Adam, already contains the love of stainless humankind.

And that is expressed in the wisdom of the brief words of the Nicene Creed: “for our sake and for our salvation.”

This and, in all the diversity and all the generality of its meaning, contains the theology of the Incarnation. In particular, this and can be taken in the sense of identification (as that is to say).

So it is understood by those who consider that salvation is the reason for the Incarnation; in fact, concretely, that is indeed what it signifies for fallen humanity.

But this can equally be understood in a distinctive sense (that is to say, “and in particular,” or similar expressions), separating the general from the particular, in other words, without limiting the power of the Incarnation nor exhausting it solely in redemption.

The Word became flesh: one must understand this in all the plenitude of of its meaning, from the theological point of view and the cosmic, the anthropological, the Christological and the soteriological.

The last, the most concrete, includes and does not exclude the other meanings; so too, the theology of the Incarnation cannot be limited to the bounds of soteriology; that would be, moreover, impossible, as the history of dogma bears witness.

The Incarnation is the interior basis of creation, its final cause.

God did not create the world to hold it at a distance from him, at that insurmountable metaphysical distance that separates the Creator from the creation.

God intended to surmount that distance and unite himself completely with the world; not only from the outside, as Creator, nor even as providence, but from within: “the Word became flesh”.

That is why the Incarnation is already predetermined in the very first human kind.

 

 

 

 

lightstock_59323_small_user_2741517Every year during Advent we let our confirmation students loose through the church building to take an informal poll.

The question we give the confirmands is the same every year:

Why did Jesus come to earth?

In other words, why Christmas?

Every year the questions are the same:

More than 3/4 answer:

that Jesus comes

in order to die.

And the problem with that answer is…it’s wrong.

#3 Reason Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross:

Because Christ is the Image of God

Chreasters coming out for my Christmas Eve service no doubt will be expecting the familiar mashup of Luke and Matthew’s Nativity stories, the one where Mary delivers the baby Jesus nearly upon arrival in Bethlehem, the angels sing a-political songs to the shepherds, the magi don’t show up that night not 12 days later and no innocent children get hurt by the monsters that loom near Jesus’ crib.

Instead of the Nativity story, this is the scripture I’ve chosen:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

– Colossians 1

This text is actually a Christian hymn, earlier than Paul’s letter, likely making it older than just about anything in the New Testament.

The hymn gives a window into how the very earliest community of believers understood and worshipped Jesus.

And what does the hymn sing about?

It praises Jesus as the image of God.

The imago dei.

According to the early Church, Jesus is the imago dei.

Christ is the image of God.

For the earliest believers, it wasn’t just that Jesus is God. It’s that Christ is the created image of God. In other words, he isn’t just true God as the creed says he’s also true man- the true human. img26064

Look at it another way.

If God is Trinity then the life of the Son belongs eternally to God; therefore, when God declares in Genesis 1 ‘let us make humankind in our image’ God’s talking first and foremost about the life of Jesus.

In his desire not for his own furthering but for the Kingdom

In his relationships that paid no regard to prejudice, convention or fear

In his obedience to the way of God no matter the cost to himself

In valuing the Reign of God over the finite kingdoms and power of the world

In his truthfulness

And in his absolute trust in God, that God would vindicate him

The early Church found in Christ a content-filled definition, an embodiment, of what it means to reflect the image of God.

Very often those who formulate the Incarnation strictly in its relation to the Atonement inadvertently idealize the pre-fall humanity of Adam and Eve. Because Eve and Adam sinned in the Garden, humanity became sinful, a condition which worsens exponentially and finally eventuates in the blood sacrifice of the Son.

If only Eve and Adam hadn’t sinned- the thinking goes- Jesus wouldn’t have had to die; nay, Jesus wouldn’t have had to come in the first place.

     No originating sin of Adam’s, no actual sin of ours.

No sin, no Jesus.

Implicit in this logic is the assumption that Adam and Eve were fine before they fell, that they already constituted what God initiated when God declared ‘let us make humankind in our image.’

But according to scripture, Jesus not Adam and Eve constitute the imago. They may have been naked and unashamed. They may have walked and talked with God in the Garden, yet Adam and Eve weren’t anything like Jesus.

I don’t know about pride coming before the fall but trust (a lack thereof) certainly came before the first fall. And trust (in God), if we look to Jesus’ life for clues, is got to be in the top three attributes of what the imago dei means.

All this to say-

I believe there would still have been a Christmas had there never been a need for a Cross because God’s intent from the first week of creation was for the human community to resemble the divine community we call Trinity.

But how would we ever know our purpose apart from seeing our prototype?

Genesis 1 (‘let us make…’) requires a John 1 (‘…and the Word became flesh and lived among us…’).

Indeed I’d argue that not only is the incarnation logically necessary irrespective of the fall, the ‘fall’ is only possible by way of hindsight because of the incarnation.

That is, we now read Genesis realizing something we couldn’t have realized before Christmas: we are not who Jesus is or was in his earthly life.

Our world isn’t the sort of place that welcomes or tolerates a person like Jesus. The world may be replete with goodness and it may show forth abundant beauty but it still crucified Christ. Think of the crowds on Palm Sunday who hail and welcome Jesus only to cry for his death later in the week- we may be good people but we still crucify Jesus. As Paul says, even our best intentions net results that fall far short of Jesus’ life.

It’s not enough simply to say that Jesus comes to die for our sin.

Rather we only know what ‘sin’ means and the extent to which it defines us because God has come in Jesus.

 

lightstock_59323_small_user_2741517Every year during Advent we let our confirmation students loose through the church building to take an informal poll.

The question we give the confirmands is the same every year:

Why did Jesus come to earth?

In other words, why Christmas?

Every year the questions are the same and, remarkably, every year so are the answers. The needle doesn’t move at all.

More than 3/4 answer, year in and year out:

that Jesus comes

in order to die.

And the problem with that answer is…it’s wrong.

So I thought what better way to anticipate the ‘Feast of the Incarnation’ than with a series of posts, mining the riches of saints and church fathers on the logical necessity of the incarnation irrespective of the Fall.

#5 Reason Why Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross:

Because God Can’t Love Us…Without Jesus 

To suggest that Christmas doesn’t need the Cross is not to minimize nor deny the noxiousness of Sin.

To argue for the logical necessity of the Incarnation irrespective of the Atonement is not (necessarily) to argue against the actual necessity for atonement.

To believe that the Son still would’ve taken flesh in Jesus had Adam and Eve never taken flight from Eden is instead to point out that the Incarnation solves problems other than the wrath satisfied by the Cross.

When we say that God still would’ve condescended had Adam never fallen, we’re pointing out the (rather obvious) fact that there are certain metaphysical realities that require Incarnation if our speech as Christians about God is to be more than nonsense.

Christian faith is as distinct from superstition as it is from science.

In the previous post, I noted that our very materiality separates us from God not just our sin.

Our finitude.

God is Creator and we- imago dei aside- and we are creatures, and that is a gulf immune to analogy.

Indeed the problem with many theories of the atonement, which imply that God ‘can’t’ love us- sinners that we are- until someone dies for the infinite offense, is that they neglect to notice how the gulf between Creator and creature is already so inconceivably severe that…

God can’t love us anyway.

Not if ‘love’ is to have any meaningful definition.

timothy-radcliffeAs Herbert McCabe argues:

one of the primary characteristics of any definition of love is equality between the lovers.

Love entails a recognition between two of the other’s existence as as valid as one’s own existence. To put the point more clearly, says McCabe, just consider how ‘fostered inequality’ registers with us as the opposite and enemy of love.

If equality is an essential attribute of a loving relationship, then it becomes evident that ‘whatever relationship there may be between God and his creature it cannot be one of love.’

The relationship is instead as unequal as it can possibly be.

We might think of God as caring benevolently for his creatures or as the Source of all value in them or as a Master rewarding/punishing them, but we can’t, McCabe argues, ‘think of God has giving himself in love to a creature.’

The gulf between Creator and creature is such that to say God loves me is on par with saying that I love yeast creature that made my beer possible.

Those hackneyed Christian songs might speak of the singer being in love with God, but it’s even more ridiculous to suppose the singer could sing about God being ‘in love’ with us.

McCabe, the philosophically trained might notice, takes with complete seriousness Nietzsche’s critique of the Christian God. Nietzsche didn’t argue that God was evil, wicked Boss in the sky; Nietzsche resisted because the relationship between God and us could never be anything other than Boss to slave.

That is, to Nietzsche the relationship between God and creatures could never be a relationship of love (between equals).

Nietzsche, in other words, did not disbelieve God; he rebelled against God. God in his estimation was not worthy of worship, for why would I care if the yeast creature in my beer worshipped me?

McCabe takes Nietzsche’s critique with seriousness and in turn laments how many have reacted to Nietzsche:

‘with a deplorable and idolatrous tendency to diminish God. In order that God may stand in relationship with his creatures, God is made one of them, a member of the universe, subject to change and even disappointment and suffering. Even the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation is interpreted in these terms.’

God CAN’T love us, McCabe (a Dominican priest, no less) argues.

And this is where Herbert pivots to scripture:

“The most important thing Jesus said (and he does not only say it in John’s Gospel but shows it and implies it in a thousand ways) is something about himself: the Father loves him.”

Italics all McCabe all the way.

To sing ‘Jesus loves me for the bible tells me so’ is to miss the point in McCabe’s mind. We should be singing: ‘God loves Jesus…for the bible tells me so.’

For Jesus to claim the Father loves him is itself to announce equality with God, that sort of equality implied by and required for love.

Jesus, the Incarnate Logos, is the (only) One who makes it possible for God the Creator to love his creatures. And we Him.

It’s not just Sin that separates us- of course Sin doesn’t help.

God, McCabe, says, loves Jesus and loves him from before all time as his co-equal Son, ‘owing his existence indeed to God though not created but, as I suggest, loved into existence.’ 

Regardless of what went down in the Garden, the Son would’ve still come down to be Mary’s son because:

‘it is into this eternal exchange of love between Jesus and the Father that we are taken up, this exchange of love that we call the Holy Spirit.

And this means, of course, that we are taken up into equality, the equality demanded by and involved in love.’

Nietzsche was right.

God could not love creatures. God still cannot.

What did Nietzsche miss, according to McCabe?

We’re no longer just creatures. Because the Son became a creature, we creatures now share in the Son.

God can’t love us, but God loved the Son.

And in the Son, through the Spirit, the Father loves us.

We who were once creatures have been made children of God.

 

 

lightstock_59323_small_user_2741517Every year during Advent we let our confirmation students loose through the church building to take an informal poll.

The question we give the confirmands is the same every year:

Why did Jesus come to earth?

In other words, why Christmas?

Every year the questions are the same and, remarkably, every year so are the answers. The needle doesn’t move at all.

More than 3/4 answer, year in and year out:

that Jesus comes

in order to die.

And the problem with that answer is…it’s wrong.

So I thought what better way to anticipate the ‘Feast of the Incarnation’ than with a series of posts, mining the riches of saints and church fathers on the logical necessity of the incarnation irrespective of the Fall.

In other words:

That if Adam had never sinned God still would have taken flesh in Mary’s womb. Or someone like her.

That Joseph (or someone like him) still would’ve laid God in a manger even if God had not needed to die for our sin.

That the Son still would’ve donned golden fleece diapers even if we hadn’t needed a Suffering Servant to bear our iniquity.

#6 Reason Why Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross:

At-One-Ment

It was the Council of Chalcedon in the mid-5th century that hammered out the Christology (‘speech about Christ’) that became orthodox for Christians everywhere. According to the Chalcedon formula, the best way to refer to Jesus Christ is as ‘the God-Man.’ 

Makes him sound like a super-hero, I know, which is unfortunate since that’s the last thing the Church Fathers were after. Their formula was just the best way to insure that latter day Jesus-followers like us didn’t forget that Jesus the Son is true God and true Man, without division or confusion between his two natures.

He is fully both God and Man. img26064

And, in a latent sense, he has always been both.

Eternally.

In other words, the Son who is the 2nd Person of the Trinity was always going to be the eternal Son who became incarnate and thus the son of somebody like Mary.

According to Maximus the Confessor– indisputably one of the greatest minds in the history of the faith, someone who could even out smoke, out drink and punch out Karl Barth:

the Chalcedonian formula necessitates that we affirm that the incarnate Logos is the elect unifier of all things that are separated.

Whether- and this is key- by nature or by sin.

We all know Sin separated us from God. That’s an every Sunday, altar call kind of presumption- so much so, in fact, that we neglect to remember or notice that less nefarious but even more fundamental fact separates us from the infinite.

Our finitude. Our createdness. Our materiality.

That the son of Mary is the eternal-eventually-to-become-incarnate Son of the God we call Trinity shows, says Maximus, that the Logos is the One through whom all things physical and spiritual, infinite and finite, earthly and heavenly, created and uncreated would be united and made one.

Union, says Maximus, was God’s first and most fundamental aim.

At-onement of a different sort.

Jesus isn’t made simply to forgive or die for our sins. Because if Christ is the God-Man, then everything goes in the other direction.

Jesus isn’t made for us; we were made for him. By him.

We are the ones with whom, through him, God wants to share God’s life.

It’s not that Jesus is the gift God gives us at Christmas; it’s that at Christmas we finally discover that we’re the gift God has given to himself.

We’re the extravagance the superabundant love of Father, Son and Spirit gratuitously seek to share with one another.

Jesus is the reason for the season, but the reason for Jesus is that before the stars were hung in place, before Adam sinned or Israel’s love failed God’s deepest desire is, was and always will be friendship.

With us.

 

lightstock_59323_small_user_2741517Every year during Advent we let our confirmation students loose through the church building to take an informal poll.

The question we give the confirmands is the same every year:

Why did Jesus come to earth?

In other words, why Christmas?

Every year the questions are the same and, remarkably, every year so are the answers. The needle doesn’t move at all.

More than 3/4 answer, year in and year out:

that Jesus comes

in order to die.

And the problem with that answer is…it’s wrong.

So I thought what better way to anticipate the ‘Feast of the Incarnation’ than with a series of posts, mining the riches of saints and church fathers on the logical necessity of the incarnation irrespective of the Fall.

In other words:

That if Adam had never sinned God still would have taken flesh in Mary’s womb. Or someone like her.

That Joseph (or someone like him) still would’ve laid God in a manger even if God had not needed to die for our sin.

That the Son still would’ve donned golden fleece diapers even if we hadn’t needed a Suffering Servant to bear our iniquity.

#7 Reason Why Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross:

Because God’s Like Jesus

The ancient Christians had a catchphrase they used to think through this. img26064

In Latin, it’s: opus ad extra, opus ad intra.

That was their way of saying:

Who and what God is towards us in Jesus Christ, God is eternally in himself.

If what Jesus teaches us is really the Word of God, if the Cross is in fact a perfect sacrifice for your sins, if your salvation is indeed assured, if the one born at Christmas is truly Emmanuel- God with us- and nothing less…

then who and what God is in Christ on Earth, God is antecedently and eternally in himself.

If Jesus is the supreme expression of God, then he must’ve always been so. Before he’s Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, he’s the eternal Son, in the Trinity.

That’s what Christians mean when we say that Christ is pre-existent.

That’s what we profess in the creed when we recite that Christ is the one ‘by whom all things were made.’

That’s what the first Christians sang in the hymn Paul quotes in his letter to the Colossians that Christ is:

‘…is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; all things have been created through him and for him…‘

As my preaching professor likes to riff on Leo’s Tome:

He was before was was.

He’s back behind yesterday.

There is not when he was not, and there can not be when he will not be.

What’s that mean?

It means the incarnation only unveils what was true from before the beginning.

It means that what we unwrap at Christmas isn’t simply a rescue package but an even deeper mystery: The mystery that the Nativity is an event that God has set on his calendar from before the first day of creation.

The mystery that the incarnation is God’s primal, primordial, eternal decision not to be God in any other way but God-with-us.

The mystery that there is literally no limit to God’s love.

There can be no time at which you can exhaust God’s love for you.

Because Jesus Christ is before time.

And so Jesus doesn’t just come to forgive us our sins. He isn’t born just to die. Because when we say that Christ is pre-existent, we say that he would’ve come anyway, that he always going to come, that even if there hadn’t needed to be a Cross there still would’ve been a cradle.

Because before he brought forth light and life on Earth, God’s shaped his whole life to be Emmanuel, God-with-us.

 

lightstock_59323_small_user_2741517Every year during Advent we let our confirmation students loose through the church building to take an informal poll.

The question we give the confirmands is the same every year:

Why did Jesus come to earth?

In other words, why Christmas?

Every year the questions are the same and, remarkably, every year so are the answers. The needle doesn’t move at all.

More than 3/4 answer, year in and year out:

that Jesus comes

in order to die.

And the problem with that answer is…it’s wrong.

So I thought what better way to anticipate the ‘Feast of the Incarnation’ than with a series of posts, mining the riches of saints and church fathers on the logical necessity of the incarnation irrespective of the Fall.

In other words:

That if Adam had never sinned God still would have taken flesh in Mary’s womb. Or someone like her.

That Joseph (or someone like him) still would’ve laid God in a manger even if God had not needed to die for our sin.

That the Son still would’ve donned golden fleece diapers even if we hadn’t needed a Suffering Servant to bear our iniquity.

#8 Reason Why Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross:

The Incarnation is not ‘Accidental’

When we say that Jesus comes in order to suffer for our Sin- that he’s born to die- we suggest that suggest that Jesus might not have come.

The incarnation then is ‘accidental’ in the way the philosophers used the term; that is, God taking flesh is occasioned by Sin and not something more determinative and essential.

The incarnation then is something less than an eternal, unchanging decision of God’s.

img26064But that goes against the grain of what scripture tells us in Colossians: that the Son is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation through whom all things we’re made. Or as John testifies, in the beginning, before creation had a beginning, was the Word.

Before God had determined to create us, before God had ‘decided’ to save us from Sin, scripture tells us that God had decided eternally to be God for and with us.

To be God the Son, the God who would take flesh.

Jesus’ arrival can’t be limited to his role in saving creation from Sin because God’s decision to become incarnate precedes creation itself.

Put the other way around, as Nicolas Malebranche argued, if the incarnation is not a metaphysical necessity apart from the Fall then there is no purpose for God’s act of creation itself.

The way we so often speak of creche and cross mis-orders God’s intentions, implying that Christ is made for us rather than we for him.

As the 13th century theologian, Duns Scotus, put it:

“The Incarnation of the Son of God is the very reason for the whole Creation.

Otherwise this supreme action of God would have been something merely accidental or ‘occasional.’

Again, if the Fall were the cause of the predestination of Christ, it would follow that God’s greatest work was only occasional, for the glory of all will not be so intense as that of Christ, and it seems unreasonable to think that God would have foregone such a work because of Adam’s good deed, if he had not sinned.’

To think the incarnation is something less than an eternal, unchanging decision of God’s raises not just scriptural problems, but logical ones too.

If the incarnation is not an eternal decision of God’s, if the incarnation is not something God was always going to do irrespective of a Fall, then that means at some point in time the immutable God changed his mind about us, towards us.

Those who insist that Jesus was born in order to die attempt to safeguard an interpretation of one doctrine (substitutionary atonement) at the expense of an even more fundamental divine attribute:

God’s immutability.

God’s unchanging nature.

And this isn’t simply an abstract philosophical problem, for if God changed his mind at some point in the past about humanity, then what’s to stop God from changing his mind again in the future?

What’s to stop God from looking at you and your life and deciding that the Cross is no longer sufficient to cover your sins?

It’s true that Jesus saves us. It’s true that his death and resurrection reconcile God’s creation. It’s true that through him our sins are both exposed and forgiven once and for all, but that’s not why he comes.

That’s not why he comes because the even deeper mystery is that he would’ve come anyway.

Because he was always going to come.

 

lightstock_59323_small_user_2741517Every year during Advent we let our confirmation students loose through the church building to take an informal poll.

The question we give the confirmands is the same every year:

Why did Jesus come to earth?

In other words, why Christmas?

About 15% always respond that Jesus comes to teach us how to love one another and help the needy (I suppose those are the liberals).

Without fail, a reliable 85% answer, in so many words, that Jesus comes to forgive us for our sins.

That Jesus is born to die.

Every year the questions are the same and, remarkably, every year so are the answers. The needle doesn’t move at all.

More than 3/4 answer, year in and year out:

that Jesus comes

in order to die.

And the problem with that answer is…it’s wrong.

It’s wrong.

We lament the commercialization of Christmas. We kvetch about the war on Christmas. We talk about how Jesus is the reason for the season.

But it’s not clear to me that we’re at all clear on what the reason for Jesus is.

The more time I spend at bedsides and gravesides, the more I hear confessions and listen to struggles, the more people share of their faith and their fears, the more kids ask me questions, the more I’m convinced that the question ‘Why does Jesus come?’ is the most important question we can ask.

And so I thought what better way to anticipate Christmas- what the Book of Worship calls the ‘Feast of the Incarnation-‘ than with a series of posts on the logical necessity of the incarnation irrespective of the Fall.

That if Adam had never sinned God still would have taken flesh in Mary’s womb. Or someone like her.

That Joseph (or someone like him) still would’ve laid God in a manger even if God had not needed to die for our sin.

That Jesus still would’ve donned golden fleece diapers even if he hadn’t needed to bear our iniquity.

Before you think I sound heretical, keep in mind this series will just shamelessly mine the thoughts of saints and church fathers like Maximus the Confessor, Duns Scotus, Gregory of Nyssa, Nicholas of Cusa, Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas and, yes, Herr Dr. Karl Barth. 

#10 Reason Why Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross:

The Finite Doesn’t Determine the Infinite

img26064The problem in thinking, as most do, that Jesus comes to forgive our sins, the problem in suggesting that he’s born to die, is that it makes Christmas determined by us.

It makes the incarnation contingent on us:

on our sin

on the Fall

on Adam and Eve’s disobedience.

Instead of something that flows from God’s abundance, the incarnation is something provoked by our weakness. Like a parent reacting desperately reacting to a child’s temper tantrum- but a God of perfect love and apatheia (look it up) by definition doesn’t REACT.

When we think that Jesus comes to die, instead of a gift God gives out of joy for us, the incarnation is the outworking of God’s frustration and disappointment in us.

Like a parent giving their prodigal child one last chance.

But ask any parent of a prodigal child (or just watch The Super Nanny): it’s most often the child, not the parent, who’s in control.

I know most of think Jesus comes to die, that the occasion of this holiday is occasioned by our sin, but then Christmas isn’t something God freely does of his love and grace.

It’s something God’s compelled to do because of our plight.

It’s something God has to do to rescue us from Sin.

But by definition God- as in the only pure Being whose existence is absolutely necessary, making all else contingent through and through- doesn’t have to do anything.