Top Ten Reasons Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross

Jason Micheli —  December 3, 2013 — 11 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?

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.

Jason Micheli

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11 responses to Top Ten Reasons Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross

  1. “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.”

    I am nit sure you thought this through. Or maybe you are just looking to debate or vent. Either way, it is clear that your premise, just from a logical perspective does not resolve itself to the outcome you are predisposed.

    Please consider for discussion some dissent based on bible fact:

    1. Jehovah purposes to have a earth populated by sinless obedient mankind.
    2. The earthly progenitor of Jehovah’s purpose for mankind was Adam.
    3. Adam, for a time, was without sin and obedient to Jehovah.
    4. Once his obedience was tested, he could choose to remain obedient thus remaining without sin and live forever or he could choose to rebel and incur sin in the process which would lead to death.
    5. He chose to rebel. He incurred sin which leads to sickness and death.
    6. Adams decision did not stop Jehovah’s original purpose from going forward.
    7. The earth was populated and subdued by mankind except mankind was not sinless or obedient. Yes, Jehovah allowed mankind to populate the earth owning that there lives would be cut short as a result of what they inherited from their Great Grand Father.
    8. To resolve and reverse what Adam had done, Jehovah purposes to send a savior, someone capable of of remaining obedient and faithful under test.
    9. The person that was sent was the first born or first creation of Jehovah. This person is referred to as Jesus, the Son of God.
    10. If Jesus remain obedient under test, part of his reward, would be having the privilege of redeeming mankind. He did and the rest us history.
    11. It is not so much about Jesus as it is about Jehovah. It is Jehovah that redeems mankind. Jesus is the person that Jehovah want to use to redeem mankind. Yes, he could have used other methods to accomplish his purpose but he chose the process.

    • Well, first I’d just say that this is the initial in what will be a longer series of arguments so not all points are contained in this point. Suffice it to say, however, that the statement ‘that which is finite cannot determine the actions or disposition of that which is infinite’ is about the most logical statement I can think of off the top of my head. In fact, I think the obvious logic of it is revealed by the (base, in my opinion) conclusion that some like Luther and Calvin drew: that God ordained the fall in order to display his glory in the cross and resurrection. Even their cross-centered perspective recognizes the need that the cross cannot be a way by which God reacts to something we’ve done. To call the torture and death of an innocent person ‘glorious’ is a problem for another day.

      On a more textual, biblical note, which seems to be the tack you’re choosing, I’d just say that A) the term ‘Jehovah’ is itself a faulty rendering of the DIVINE NAME YHWH as the letter J does not appear in Hebrew, Latin or Greek and B) any understanding of the incarnation/atonement must start not in Genesis 1 but in the Trinity or, scripturally, in Colossians 1 and the recognition that Jesus, the Son, is preexistent and eternal as the 2nd Person of the Trinity.

      • “that God ordained the fall in order to display his glory in the cross and resurrection.”

        So, the Bible (in this case God) is incomplete in your view in speaking for himself? You would rely on imperfect man to interpret bible truth differently than it confirms for itself?

        You have nor do the people you reference have a shred of biblical context to support your quote above. You have completely forgotten that the heavens were contaminated first before the earth and as such was cleanse first before the earth. So, I guess if we follow your logic, Jehovah wanted all the angels to suffer as well to show is glory. Really?

        Or maybe the angel call the Devil and Satan was really was obedient after all. Maybe he was given a commission from God to go reek havoc amongst his fellow spirit brothers in the heavens before given a commission to attack earth.

        I could go on with this madness according to my own egoistical desire to draw attention to myself. But what would be the point? It seems that you view the bible as some kind of philosophical template for debate.

        So, I ask you Sir. State your evidence for the quote above based on our creator’s words and not the “Higher Criticism” philosophers who are now dead, if that is possible.

        • The quote above isn’t mine but is instead a paraphrase of the thought of Martin Luther, Jean Calvin and, before them, St Augustine. Again, ‘Jehovah’ is an improper-to-the-point-of-being-heretical mistranslation of YHWH and your angeology seems determined more by John Milton than anything in scripture, to say nothing of the fact that the biblical assertion that Jesus Christ is the preexistent Logos forces us to bring philosophical constructs to biblical texts that were not written with those constructs in mind.

          • I do not know anything about a John Milton. And the fact that you insist on quoting and dare I might say, relying on the thoughts and philosophical ear tickling for what I contend to be self importance.

            Again, you have produce no evidence for the statement you believe to fact. Where is the consistent scriptural support? I suggest there is none. You have had two bites at the apple and not once have you allowed God to speak for himself. Rather, you rely on others to speak for him. There are 66 books in the Bible. Surely you could find something to support your premise. Sadly you have produce none.

            But to clear up something else you seem to have any facts on, the common use and pronouncement of God’s name. Below is a brief chronology of events and facts that can be substantiated from numerous sources including Jewish history.

            1. First, no one truly knows for certain how God’s name was pronounced back in biblical times. Language used in writing the Bible was Hebrew, and when the Hebrew language was written down, the writers wrote only consonants, not vowels. So, when the inspired writers wrote God’s name, they naturally did the same thing and wrote only the consonants

            2. What we do have is the Tetragrammaton which is read from right to left in Hebrew and can be represented in many modern languages as YHWH or JHVH. God’s name, represented by these four consonants, appears almost 7,000 times in the original “Old Testament,” or Hebrew Scriptures.

            3. Ancient Hebrew was an everyday spoken language, this presented no problem. The pronunciation of the name was familiar to the Israelites and when they saw it in writing they supplied the vowels without thinking (just as, for an English reader, the abbreviation “Ltd.” represents “Limited” and “bldg.” represents “building”).

            4. However, two things happened to change this situation. First, a superstitious idea arose among the Jews that it was wrong to say the divine name out loud; so when they came to it in their Bible reading they uttered the Hebrew word Adho·nai (“Sovereign Lord”). Further, as time went by, the ancient Hebrew language itself ceased to be spoken in everyday conversation, and in this way the original Hebrew pronunciation of God’s name was eventually forgotten.

            5. In order to ensure that the pronunciation of the Hebrew language as a whole would not be lost, Jewish scholars invented a system of points to represent the missing vowels. They placed these around the consonants in the Hebrew Bible. Vowels and consonants were written down, and the pronunciation as it was at that time was preserved.

            When it came to God’s name, instead of putting the proper vowel signs around it, in most cases they put other vowel signs to remind the reader that he should say Adho·nai. From this came the spelling Iehouah, and, eventually, Jehovah became the accepted pronunciation of the divine name in English. This retains the essential elements of God’s name from the Hebrew original.

            6. There are 37 forms of the name Jehovah in different languages, indicating international acceptance of the form Jehovah. Of these forms, the first letter of the name start with J, I, U, G, Y and E. The abbreviated form of the name Yah is Jah in the Latinized form, as at Psalm 89:8 and in the expression Ha·lelu-Yah’ (meaning “Praise Jah, you people!”). This is where the letter J used.

            7. There are multiple songs written using the divine name.

            8. Churches and monuments have some form of Jehovah inscribe on them. For instance, consider the detail of an angel with God’s name, found on the tomb of Pope Clement XIII in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican. Also, consider the National Monument to the Forefathers, just to name a few.

            9. Many coins were minted bearing some form of Jehovah (God’s name).

            10. Numerous manuscripts and bibles contain some form of Jehovah.

            The evidence is overwhelming as to the accepted spelling and pronouncement of God’s name in common use today and centuries past. Of course there are some detractors. But they are far and few between. So, if you want to use Yahweh, be my guest. I see nothing wrong with it. But Jehovah has been the most commonly accepted God’s name for centuries.

  2. Oddly enough, I disagree. Or I think you overstate your case. Saying that Jesus “came to die” is an inelegant, un-nuanced way of expressing the truth that Jesus did, in fact, come to rescue us from our sin and reconcile us to God. I don’t know from Maximus the Confessor (we didn’t read him at Candler), but to say that Jesus came primarily to reconcile us to God is about as uncontroversial a doctrinal statement as I can imagine. “For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven…”

    So even the creed expresses the Incarnation as being a response to a problem: namely, our sin and our need for salvation. This accords with scripture and a hundred Christmas hymns, including Wesley’s.

    To say that God chooses to respond to our need, out of love for us, isn’t to say that our need compels God to do anything. But give and take is the nature of any relationship, including God’s relationship with humanity.

  3. Hmmmm….while the philosophical idea of God would necessarily make him non-reactive, the Scripture seems to portray God as fully interacting with and being affected by actions and reactions of his creation.

    So obviously you have to apply a philosophical grid to the Scripture in order to get anything resembling what the Fathers discussed when they discussed God’s emotional capacity. Not sure I’m willing to do so….

  4. PS: I also recognize that the Scriptures are culturally conditioned and steeped in anthropomorphic attempts to describe the indescribable.

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