Top Ten Reasons Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross: #4

Jason Micheli —  December 19, 2013 — 2 Comments

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.

#4 Reason Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross:

Because Christ is the Image of God

One of the deficiencies in rendering Incarnation according to its utility, making Incarnation secondary to the Atonement, by arguing that Jesus (only) comes to die for our sin and thus would not have come otherwise is that it leaves no redemptive room for the life of Christ.

His birth and life are just prologue.

They may be interesting and even instructive but they’re not essential.

Only Jesus’ death matters for salvation.

It comes as no surprise then that for many Christians our lives are only prologue as well, possibly interesting but not essential. Only what comes after our death matters.

Again, this is not to deny the reality of Sin and the need for redemption on the Cross. Rather to argue that the Incarnation is necessary irrespective of the need for a Cross is to assert that the life of Christ itself has salvific attributes.

Salvation begins not on Good Friday but on Christmas Eve.

This is especially true if you take the perspective of the Eastern Church Fathers who believed the eternal, macro goal of creation was theosis (divinization), the joining together of the the infinite and the finite.

Atonement (our redemption from Sin through the Cross) was a more specific, instrumental means of achieving a larger, prior goal of At-one-ment.

Because theosis is/way the original, eternal, prior-to-the-Fall desire of the Trinity, the Eastern Fathers believed that the incarnate life of Christ changes us or makes a new some things- if not all things- new.

The Incarnation is itself redemptive in nature…because it’s the joining together of Spirit and nature.

In other words:

To argue in this case that Christmas doesn’t need the Cross is not to argue that the Cross is unnecessary.

It is instead to argue that the Incarnation serves a necessary work which the Cross cannot.

396741_267162973337995_300112313_nThis entry comes from Andrew DiAntonio, a student (and part-time pastor) at Yale. He’s got one of the sharpest theological minds I know. Here he is, to my left, in Guatemala. 

A lot of times we throw around the phrase “made in the image of God,” as a way to dismiss others without sounding bigoted.

It’s often “we’re all made in the image of God, but…”

It’s become the theological equivalent of “I’m not racist, but…”

But…what if we took it seriously?

What if in every human being, in every person we met, we truly believed we saw the ‘image of the Living God?’

It’s easy to saw when looking at children, or Mother Theresa, or Nelson Mandela.

But what about Stalin? Or Attila the Hun? Or Sarah Palin?

There are people we see everyday and when we look at them the image that stares back at us could not look anything less like God.

Or perhaps its not even the face of someone else – maybe its the face that gazes back from the mirror that shows no sign of God’s likeness. ______________________

champions-of-the-faith-athanasiusSt. Athanasius took the phrase “made in the image of God” seriously.

An Egyptian bishop living 300 years after Jesus, Athanasius took seriously the claim – the promise – the declaration that God made humanity in God’s image. Imprinted on each of us is a portrait of the God who declared “Let us make Humanity in our image.” – “Let us make them in the likeness of God.”

And Athanasius knew something about images.

Once when he had ran afoul of the emperor he had to flee Alexandria and hide in the tomb of an Egyptian mummy. He would have been surrounded by once beautiful painting – paintings that had faded. Painting that had flaked and cracked. Paintings that were worn away by the elements.

Athanasius imagined that what we see in the prophets – what we see in the life of Israel – what hear from Scripture – was an attempt to repair, to repaint our portraits. Moses and Isaiah, Daniel and Miriam, Jacob and Ezekiel, they all briefly saw God.

They saw what the original subject of the portrait looked like.

They caught a glimpse of God’s likeness and returned to their people.

But its hard to reproduce a painting from memory. Whatever restoration they attempted was second hand at best.

A vague reflection, a vague memory of the original.

In Jesus – in God made flesh, “God with Us,” the original subject – the likeness of God is made flesh.

In Jesus we can look at God and restore our image.

In the life of Jesus the perfect image of God is manifest – made available to all of us.

When Mary looked at the baby she had carried for 9 months, when Joseph looked at the son he would raise, that he would love and take care of – when they looked at Jesus they saw God’s image for the first time. In Jesus’ life and faithfulness, in his words and deeds, we discover not only the image of God in which we were created but also the possibility of our own image.


Jason Micheli


2 responses to Top Ten Reasons Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross: #4

  1. I wonder if you haven’t moved the goal posts from where you started. You began this series arguing that salvation from sin wasn’t the main reason Christ came. You are now saying that the incarnation is salvific. Well, yes… The entire incarnation is salvific, but it reaches it’s climax in the cross. That’s uncontroversial enough.

    You talk about the incarnation (which I believe you mistakenly distinguish from the cross, since the incarnation includes the cross) being both salvific and “redemptive.” Fine. But what does it save us from? What does it redeem us from? Sin. The devil. Hell. That was my point all along.

    “Divinization” would be an unnecessary process without the Fall. We are being restored or healed from the destructive effects if sin.

    From my perspective you’ve made no progress toward proving your main point: that the incarnation would be necessary even if we’d never sinned. Unless you’re redefining what everyone means when they use words like “salvation” and “redemption.”

  2. I very much liked your thoughts on Jesus as the “imago dei.” Jacob’s Old Testament Theology, has very much influenced me of the years since my days at theological school in Been Town. While it is now an old book it has been important in terms of the image of God from an OT perspective. Thanks again.

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