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.
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.