Born to Die?: Why the Cross Doesn’t Belong at Christmas

Born to Die?: Why the Cross Doesn’t Belong at Christmas December 12, 2012

Yesterday, I passed a church sign that proclaimed Christmas was the story of a baby born to die. It seemed a macabre, odd way to wish passersby a merry Christmas. Apparently, though, quite a few Christians root the story of Jesus’ birth in his death, as if they are determined to nestle the cross into the manger’s hay, right next to Jesus.

But Jesus was not born to die. He was born to live.

At first, I thought I was angry at the theological ineptness of this trend of making Christmas about the cross and its fundamental misunderstanding of the point of the incarnation.

But then, I realized I wasn’t feeling anger. Rather, it was sadness.

I was sad that anyone could look at the infant Jesus, still coated in vernix caseosa, and see only his death.

I was sad that anyone could read the radical story of a baby in a manger and think only of a cross.

I was sad that anyone could reduce the mystery of incarnation to the tragedy of crucifixion.

I was sad because of what it said about who people think Jesus is. It says that Jesus was a dumb lamb, carefully cultivated as pure and blameless, so that God might have him slaughtered to set things right in the world.

But it wasn’t his death and crucifixion that set things right in the world. Rather it was his incarnated life that shows us what a world set right might look like. It looks like the kingdom of God — the hungry fed, the wealthy and powerful doing violence for their own sake toppled with nonviolence and solidarity, the oppressed raised up, the outsider welcomed, the end of condemnation and guilt pressed upon us by religious elites, the end of a life absent of hope, full of death.

It looks like shalom.

Like Jubilee.

Like life lived eternally.

And Jesus proclaims that this eternal life begins now, not when we die; that heaven is a place called earth, if only we have the eyes to see it and the courage to live it.

So how is it that we can trade three decades of a redemptive, tragic and revolutionary life for the final three days? How can we reduce the transfiguring life of Jesus to a transactional death?

Because we don’t understand salvation.

The salvation Jesus offers is his life, not his death.

The point isn’t the crucifixion, or the resurrection for that matter. Rather, it’s the incarnation. Our creed proclaims as much: “for us and for our salvation, he came down … and became incarnate.” That’s why the cross doesn’t belong in the Christmas story. That’s why Jesus wasn’t born to die. The cross wasn’t predestined so sinless human sacrifice would eventually allow an angry God to forgive sinful humanity. Rather the cross was human reaction of powerful oppressors to Jesus’ radical message of liberation and justice.

So, the point isn’t that Jesus died for us.

It’s that he lived for us.

Dying for others isn’t nearly as hard as living for them. Remember, there is no greater love than the one who lays down his life for others.  But this verse from John’s gospel isn’t about the crucifixion and martyrdom. It’s about how we live our lives outside the grips of petty selfishness and into the wholeness of community. It’s about relinquishing our claims to care only for ourselves and our own well-being, about giving up our right to retaliation in favor of reconciliation, about forgiving others, about forgiving ourselves.

It’s about seeing others as brothers and sisters to join hands with rather than as competitors and enemies to wrestle with. It is about opening our clenched fists so that all have enough and so that none have too much.

The salvation of Jesus is in the Way he lived. It’s in his proclaiming and incarnating — living! —  the good news that God loves us, that God is with us, that a better world is possible, that there is hope when all hope fails.

And that hope is here on earth, in us and with us.

Christmas reminds Christians that hope can come anywhere and in the most unlikeliest of places. And wherever that hope comes from — a baby born among beasts of burden to an unwelcomed, suspect girl perhaps — we hold onto it during dark, cold nights, refusing to let the specter of death diminish the beauty of this moment of life.

This hope is the star, the spark of divinity, that pierces the pitch black.

Death is inevitable, but this is the hope of the incarnation: that life happens, that eternal life happens, and that it happens right now.

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  • Mark Sandlin

    Loved, loved this piece David. Well done.
    I think the reason we try to place the manger in the shadow of a cross is because the death of Jesus feels much safer than his life and teachings.

  • Jacqui N

    Beautiful… thank you. Sharing this.
    One of the saddest Christmas cards I have seen is the baby in the manger, star shining above but casting a cross shaped shadow across the crib

    • Anna

      Wow, that is sad, Jacqui N!

  • I’m in a different place than you insofar as I see a positive role for Christ’s atoning sacrifice that’s closer to a Girardian understanding of purging the community of violence than the sick neo-pagan divine appeasement understanding. But I do think you’re right to say that it’s a tragedy for us to jump right from “Born of the virgin Mary” to “Suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

  • Peter Adrian

    Amen. Thank you.

  • RevMatt

    Wow! Excellent statement. And, like any self-respecting member of the clergy, I am going to “borrow” profusely for a sermon. Because, as we all know: All work and no plagerism makes Matt a dull preacher!” Thank you for sharing this.

    • Rout

      You are some sort of preacher and you don’t know Christ’s death was required as an atonement for our sins?

      • Andy

        Amen, Rout!

  • Jennifer Winters

    Wonderful! Just what I needed on a tough day.

  • Tcoombs

    Jesus was born to live, but there are foreshadows of death in the story, like Anna’s prophecy at the presentation, Luke 2;34-35, the giving of myrhh by the wisemen which is used primarily in embalming, and of course, the massacre of the innocents by Herod.

  • Intjcelis

    Excellent! It’s about the incarnation, the life lived doing the Father’s will, the life lived in service to others, the “good news” that the Kingdom of God is here on earth if only we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart willing to love God through his creatures and his creation.

  • Judith Medearis

    Sorry, but the death and resurrection IS the story. Without the incarnation there would be no God among us in a physical body (fully God and fully human) but without the resurrection we would have no Savior.

    • What I show in the post however is that it is not the death and resurrection that make him the Christ nor the savior. Rather it is his life.

      The incarnation is the story. The death and resurrection are a part of that.

      • Bob Weise

        Scripture is filled with the death and resurrection of Christ being the seminal moment of Christianity. Even Peter referred to the predestination of the crucifixion and resurrection by saying that Jesus was, “handed over to you (the Jews) by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” Acts 2:23. Yes, the death and resurrection were God’s plan from the time of the birth of Christ, and any separation of those events dilutes the value of the entire story of Christ.

      • Andy

        David, you need to reread your New Testament. This time pay attention to *all* the verses.

    • Selkirksghost

      If the Pharisees had not evolved into the leaders of a death cult, hungry for power over others, we would have never HAD the crucifixion. That so many are still blind to His life and instead worship His physical death is testament to the true struggle of Christianity. The Resurrection is the lesson that the death cult has no real power over living.

      • Pastor Pit Bull (aka Hal)

        Dear Ghost, please recheck your history. Romans crucified Jesus as well as tens of thousands of others (a low ball estimate). How did the Pharisees become a “death cult”?

      • Andy

        But we could just as easily say, “If man had never sinned, Jesus would never have had to die for our sins – cuz there wouldn’t be any sins to die for!”

        But that’s a moot point: man *did* sin and God *did* plan to take on human form and die for our sins. And He sovereignly *used* the evil of both the Sanhedrin and the Romans to fulfill *His* divine intent.

  • Stanleygarland

    You claim to have a greater understanding of the purpose of Christ’s redemption but at the same time you deny the importance of the cross. The most shocking statement that you make is that ” The cross wasn’t predestined so sinless human sacrifice would eventually allow an angry God to forgive sinful humanity. Rather the cross was human reaction of powerful oppressors to Jesus’ radical message of liberation and justice.” What! The cross not predestined? You must read our creed again then. Yes, Christ came to give us life more abundantly but that spiritual eternal life ONLY come through the blood of Jesus on the cross. There is no salvation aside from the blood and the cross. Otherwise, Jesus was just a nice Jewish boy from Nazereth. Without his death the incarnation would be meaningless. The view that Christ was born to die is not a new trend but rather many of the early church fathers all made similar statements.

    • Dvanme00

      “Without his death the incarnation would be meaningless.”

      So you’re saying that without death, God coming to earth in human form has no meaning? I doubt that any of the people Jesus healed, protected, taught, or comforted would agree with you.

      • Andy

        But all those miracles were designed to help those people _believe_ in him as the Messiah – and by believing in him we benefit from . . . his death and resurrection!

        So it’s precisely his death and resurrection that gives those temporal miracles eternal meaning.

      • Bryan Shufelt

        It would be meaningless .. The greatest thing was not their physical healing but their spiritual healing! They could become crippled again they would die again .. It was salvation by forgiveness of sins that made it worth while this article is pure heresy!

    • Aakinasan

      I agree 100%. And if Jesus healed you and didn’t die for your sins then yes, it was meaningless because many of whom he healed followed him. They wouldve been doomed to hell. A lot of valid points but he was born to die. To die for all of Gods people. I agree the church do not talk about his resurrection enough, but his death and torture (the cross he took for us) is equally important

  • Ish70

    This strikes me as Pelagian. Jesus’ death not atoning, but us choosing to live like Him. Making the right choices, our work, not our acceptance of His offering (as explained profusely by Paul in most of the rest of the Christian scripture).
    I appreciate the point, but think it makes just as bad mistake, actually worse.

  • Katrina

    An interesting perspective/interpretation of various scriptures….I think the point of the church posting was their emphazing the point that if Christ had not died (and then resurrected), we would not be saved. We had to have atonement for our sins. Jesus was predestined to be the sacrificial lamb for us. Scripture supports all of that. But, I do appreciate your emphasis on us living out the gospel in the community. He does live through us, and that purpose was also predestined according to scripture.

  • Christina Szrama

    ..that just doesn’t fit at all with any of the Bible, though, which talks a LOT about sin and about the need for its guilt to be atoned (the whole sacrificial system, and all the prophets of the Old Testament). From Genesis 3:15 (“I [God] will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He [first hint of a coming Savior] shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” this Savior would be a descendant of the woman, and would be bruised by the Serpent)
    to the Christmas narrative itself (John 1- “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God [clearly, we were not already God’s beloved children without Jesus’ coming]…Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! ”
    to Revelation 13:8, where Jesus is called the “lamb (atoning sacrifice for sin) slain before the foundation of the world”
    and everything in between (1 Cor 15:17- “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”), the message is clear: on our own, without a Savior to be the Final Lamb, the Perfect Man who succeeded beyond where Adam fell, to live a sinless life that always perfectly pleased His Father, and then died the death that we deserved and whose perfect sacrifice was shown to be perfectly accepted (as Jesus put it: “It is paid!”) BY His resurrection from the dead, then “at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”
    According to all of Scripture, Jesus absolutely was born crucified. 2 Cor 5:21 doesn’t present the Cross as an unfortunate mishap done by men, but rather a Divine act intended to make God’s estranged creations into creatures partaking of His own righteousness: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

    It’s why He came as a human– so He could die under the Curse we brought upon ourselves in the Garden. “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, …because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor 1:23, 30)

    Christmas Jesus and Easter Jesus are both passionately pursuing those running away from God, desperately in need of a Savior to come rescue them. Every aspect of Jesus’ birth was carefully orchestrated to fit dozens of prophecies about the One who would Come and Break the Curse– not just a nice guy who would come and live and love and be misunderstood. If we could save ourselves by being good all the time, we would have figured it out long ago… instead, Scripture is full of failures. No one lives up to it. All of them had guilt. So….

    “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (remember what this word means!??) by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21 ff)

    “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)

  • chris

    Wow, that’s a kickass perspective of the cross and its meaning. Thanks.

  • Justjess9

    I understand everything you are saying and I agree, however I think a lot of people think of the story of Jesus as a whole. They think of that wonderful journey into the world and they think of his journey out of this world. All in one because he was born for the purpose of making that supreme sacrifice for all of us. And there really isn’t a simple for his rebirth so people use the cross as a sign of his sacrifice instead. And it wouldn’t have been such a sacrifice without having had a life in the first place. I think we may all be to quick to judge when we should, especially this time of year be looking at the whole picture. And spreading love and joy to all those we come in contact with. After all that is what his birth, life, death and rebirth where for.

  • a renewed focus on the incarnation, with all this beauty and messiness and fresh this-story-is-nuts perspective, could offer a helpful corrective as only seeing the jesus story as a story of death and resurrection. the jesus story, as you so eloquently state, encompasses it all – the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. the incarnation and, dare i say jesus’s life in general, have been shafted over the past couple of hundred years, reducing this beautiful, powerful, incredible story to just the death and resurrection of the christ.

    may we all see the incarnation, the story of god pitching a tent among us, with new eyes this season.

  • Adam Davis

    I do appreciate your post and certainly considering Christian liturgy and the scope of the Christian seasons, churches do not want to fold these together into one act of God. That said, I would like to ask you one question, if incarnation is the act of God’s salvation, i.e. God LIVING among us, then why the cross? Is it the simple cause of a man squeezed between the Temple and Roman elite? Or was God doing something even in that act of human power and brutality to redeem a fallen world that could by its own will kill the son of God?

    • There is nothing simple about the political execution of humans. Forgive me for the VAST oversimplification of what I’m about to say. It has no nuance (and I’ve written about Holy Week elsewhere, so I won’t belabor the point) and needs to be unpacked at length. But this is a response to a blog comment, so I will be as brief as I can: The cross is the human response to the incarnation. The resurrection is God’s response to the crucifixion.

      • Bryan Shufelt

        If you miss the Cross you miss Christmas David. What you say sounds good, but it does not line up with scripture! The cross was not human response, not Mans idea. Jesus said in John 10:18 (which I’m sure you know) NO man takes my life I lay it down! It’s a short walk from Bethlehem to Calvary. Ppl prefer little hands and baby smiles to a bloody face and nail pierced hands. But if you miss Calvary, you have missed Christmas! It doesn’t say with out a manger.. No without the shedding of blood! Their is no remission of sin!

  • Josh Johnson

    That will preach my friend. Death is indeed the last enemy to be destroyed so it is right that we should revel in the life of Christ when we celebrate his birth. Thank you for this most excellently written article. I might have to borrow some of it for a sermon, with our permission of course. Merry Christmas!

  • yes, I agree with you, the way you frame it, David. Although I think there are some excellent theologians who include the cross not because they want to have a simplistic “born to die” theology, but because this is part of the risk of incarnation, and sometimes we have a tendency to sentimentalize the Christmas story (sometimes?) your comment halfway through “the cross is the human response to the incarnation. the resurrection is God’s response to the resurrection” is an important part of the story.

    • David R. Henson

      Agreed. The experience of dying is a part of the incarnation, as much as the birth. I think I’d say, if pushed, that the story is the incarnation, and the death and resurrection are a part of that story. FWIW, I wrote an entire series on the radicality of the death of God that you are referencing here in your comments. THanks for engaging.

  • Enjoyed your piece! I will share it with friends at my church, St Mary’s Episcopal in Savannah, MO. Merry Christmas!

    • David R. Henson

      As a fellow Episcopalian, I am totally cool with your disagreement. 🙂 Which is kind of what I love about TEC. Thanks for taking the time to read and engage!

  • Kaiyoti

    The cross means nothing , everyone dies. The resurection is the whole story.

    • Andy

      Huh? The resurrection means nothing without the cross. Have you paid the least bit of attention to what the New Testament has to say about the cross/death of Christ…?

  • I’m so glad you took the time to comment. With the references to scripture, you poured out a most beautiful and compelling “argument” (for lack of better word). How sweet it is! Thank you so very much…

  • Skk

    This is self indulgent political claptrap born out of the ludicrous attempt to absolutely ignore almost everything Jesus said about his mission as reported in all 4 Gospel accounts. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” begins his public ministry and and his pronouncement that he would go to the Cross and die (that was met with the same sneering disdain we hear now) came near the end of his ministry. He died on Passover. Jesus was not the first young Republican but he wasn’t the first inner city community activist either. In reality you suburbanites embrace this 19th century modern project northern German historical Jesus Christology because it makes you popular at cocktail parties and the faculty club.

  • Steve Olson

    Is this what they are teaching now in seminary? I am not denigrating the assertion that the life Christ modeled is the life we are called to…indeed we are challenged by Christ that in doing so, we are to take up the cross. Of course we can argue for hours, or perhaps not, the idea that these were words ascribed to him by both Mark and Luke to promote their own agenda. So then there is the problem of what can we truly ascribe to Jesus and what to his followers and ancient biographers. What a conundrum. Unless we have the cross.
    The cross is central and it does belong in the manger. They are both important symbols of the radicalness of the incarnation. A king born in a lowly state, a king executed as a criminal. The manger foreshadows the cross and the cross reflects the manger. Ultimately the cross validates the incarnation for without the cross, without the death and the ultimate victory of the resurrection we are left with an itinerant preacher, the latest of a long line of prophets and one of many to whom miracles and healings were assigned. The incarnation does not exist without the proof of the cross and then the empty tomb. The cross does not occupy the central place in our Advent preparation and birth clebration and should not but to banish it from even this part of the story is to render the 3 decades moot. Something so radical happened on the cross, and in the aftermath that the birth and the life between had meaning. Of course the cross belongs in the story. Christ on so many occasions testified to it himself.

  • Barbara

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You’ve captured exactly what bothers me about “classic” atonement theology. The 6 inch nail on the Christmas tree is another symbol that affects me the same way. Advent blessings!

    • Andy

      Barbara, the reason “classic” atonement theology is classic – is because it’s true. It’s thoroughly rooted in Scripture (and not just the New Testament). If you haven’t grasped this, then you simply haven’t been paying attention to God’s word. If you had been, you couldn’t possibly have missed it.

  • David,
    While we certainly need to recognize that the Incarnation should not be reduced to the cross, the cross stood at the center of the apostolic proclamation and needs to stand at the center of our message today. It seems like several of your statements, perhaps because you are trying to be thought-provoking, directly contradict Scripture. For instance, compare:

    David: “the tragedy of crucifixion”

    Col. 2:15: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

    David: ” it wasn’t his death and crucifixion that set things right in the world”

    Col. 1:20 ” through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

    David: “The cross wasn’t predestined so sinless human sacrifice would eventually allow an angry God to forgive sinful humanity. Rather the cross was human reaction of powerful oppressors to Jesus’ radical message of liberation and justice.”

    Acts 4:28: “They [Herod and Pilate] did what [God’s] power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”
    Rom. 3:23-26: “But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means!… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

    David: “Remember, there is no greater love than the one who lays down his life for others. But this verse from John’s gospel isn’t about the crucifixion and martyrdom. ”

    John 10:17: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again.” That is the only other use of ‘lay down’ in John’s gospel and suggests that Jesus’ statement in John 15:13 needs to be understood as a reference to his sacrificial death, not only his life of servanthood.

    I agree that we need to be careful not to force our theological presuppositions onto Scripture. But that is true for both conservative and liberal perspectives. Rather, we need to let God’s Word speak and reform our views.

    • Andy

      OUTSTANDING response, Neil.

  • Noonzie

    This view of Christ very carnal, and lacks spiritual wisdom. Christ came that we might truly live. Without His death and resurrection, we do not have new life. We can not do what Christ did without the Spirit in which He did all things. The good we do outside of the power of the Holy Spirit has no power and perishes along with all the things of the flesh.

    • I would just like to point out that “carnal” and “incarnation” have the exact same Latin root. So yes, this view of Christ is very carnal.

  • Damascus

    We don’t understand salvation, you say. By “we,” you would be referring to the apostle Paul, the early church fathers, the Reformers, the theologians and scholars over the last 20 centuries, all of us—we all misunderstood the concept salvation. And, you finally come along and bring us understanding, the enlightenment we have been looking, watching and waiting for over the centuries. I’m sorry, David, I believe this post to be really quite arrogant, theologically inept, and off the mark. I agree with Judith Medearis’s comment that the life, death and resurrection of Christ IS the story, as already foretold by the prophet Isaiah. And, yes of course, the life of Jesus is integral to the Christ event, but the resurrection of Jesus is what gives us hope and validates our belief in Jesus as Messiah, as Savour. Without his resurrection, we would have no cause to entertain the idea of incarnation, and the crucifixion would have been one among many, of no particular interest or merit. He was, indeed, born to die. The Virgin Mary knew that, Simeon and Anna in the Temple knew that, and Jesus, himself, knew that.

    Sorry to be so cranky, but I am so bloody tired of the Jesus Seminar “scholars” and John Shelby Spong and others taking up their “call” telling us that we’ve had it all wrong, and then bringing to us a completely revisionist gospel that casts aside virtually every tenet of orthodox Christian belief.

    • Missy

      And many of the rest of us are bloody tired of evangelicals holding sway over the gospel with their rigid and literalist interpretations and forcing those on believers for the past several generations. There is more than one way to interpret the scriptures. I don’t reject the scriptures. I reject your interpretation of them. I am thankful for the writing of people such as David
      , Richard Rohr, Rob Bell, Brian McClaren, Barbara Brown Taylor, Cynthis Bourgeault, Mick Mooney and others who counterbalance the pervasive blood atonement theory and hell fire and damnation view of God. Without them I would have left the fold long ago.

  • Eugene Scott

    Good reminder. Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection are inseparable. Any one standing alone falls. God’s work of salvation cannot be segmented into pieces that hold meaning alone. Just a pieces of a story lose meaning when not in context. This is a much needed reminder about the importance of the incarnation but it need not be at the expense of the rest of Christ’s work.

  • I really cannot accept any theology that seeks to divide life, death, and resurrection, especially the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

    Christ was born to die because all humans are born to die. To be human without facing death is not to be human at all.

    And to say “Dying for others isn’t nearly as hard as living for them” is easy when not looking death in the face on another’s behalf.

    Christ’s incarnation is a beautiful and joyful mystery that you expand on beautifully in this article, but to degrade the meaningful necessity of His sacrifice on the cross, and the glorious victory of His resurrection is theologically unsound. Maybe you could, this coming Lenten season, re-examine the Cross and find beauty in it as well?

    • Thanks, Elizabeth for engaging and disagreeing in such an open way. I appreciate the pushback. I do have trouble with the notion that humans are born to die. That this is our purpose. I think we all die, but that is not the reason we are born.

      But yes, facing the reality of our death is what makes humans unique. If it helps, I have written and reflected on both these themes: death and cross at length. I am not so much degrading them perhaps as understanding them differently from you.

      This is the last in a three part series on Death and God and Jesus’ death

      • Thanks for the response!

        I do agree that death is one sliver of human experience, and within my theology, certainly not the end or the most important facet of it. So I think we are on the same page(ish) there. 🙂

        I do love your reflections on the cross and death. You certainly have a way with words! I think, though, that I can hold your position within my position. The profound, cosmological spiritual even, imbued with importance beyond reason, can coexist with an event that was tragically mundane, violently pointless in a regime of corruption and power. Just as divinity and humanity coexisted within Christ, these two meanings can coexist within the Crucifixion, in my opinion.

        But then, I can see your point as well. Maybe part of me doesn’t want to embrace a God that would die pointlessly, mundanely, just as I still have trouble accepting that God would have Himself chewed and swallowed in bits of bread. However, I can’t justify that holding the view of the Cross as a tragically mundane human experience alone neither from Scripture or tradition. It seems both Scripture and tradition believe something important, profound, and unique happened at the bloody, human, earthy, tragic and mundane Cross.

        You give me lots of thoughts, though, so thanks for that! 🙂

      • Great thoughts, and thanks for engaging again. I think I see where you are coming from, and I can respect that.

        For my part, I consider the uniqueness of the cross is that the Incarnation would be willing to die in the violent mundaneness of earth. For me, I understand it (for now, at least) as a radical act of kenosis and solidarity with humanity — that God would be willing to die such a senseless death. In other words, in death, maybe Jesus takes the meaningless and redeems it through resurrection. And the profundity of that experience is confirmed and amplified in the Resurrection. I’m just spitballing here. I think the depths of the Incarnation are ultimately mysterious.

        And, I think you are right, that you can hold your position within my position. I suppose what I am pushing back against in the original post is the emphasis in many churches on the cross at Christmas, when, within the liturgical year, we should be celebrating the Incarnation and the birth — God with us! I really enjoy the narrative of the liturgical year and experiencing the life of Jesus.

        Thank you so much for this conversation and for the thoughtful push back. You have given me lots of thoughts, too!

  • I think the hard part for me at least, it that you make them seem an unnecessary part. Do you think the death and resurrection of Christ are necessary to the salvation story?

  • antegodlin

    Thank you, David, for so beautifully expressing your understanding of the central purpose and power of the life of Jesus, and its place as the primary story of the Christmas season. Though some who have commented here seem to think you said or implied that the death and resurrection of Jesus had no meaning, I certainly did not hear that in your original message. To erase any lingering doubt among your readers, you later re-emphasized your understanding with your statement that,

    “The cross is the human response to the incarnation. The resurrection is God’s response to the crucifixion.”

    Each one understands the message and the meaning of Jesus’ life and times – ultimately the value of Jesus – in the best way that he can. You clearly recognize that, and I thank you for demonstrating the sort of accepting love that Jesus embodied and taught.

    It is difficult for many who believe themselves to be “Christians” to recognize, allow, and accept changes in the way that they understand the life and message of Jesus. Once a person first buys into a formalized, structured “Belief system,” it becomes increasingly difficult for him to allow those beliefs to expand into the larger, richer, fuller understanding of “God’s Will for mankind,” a healthy maturation one’s faith available to any who permit that growth to come. Most of Jesus’ disciples didn’t fully “get” what he was teaching: both they and Jesus expressed concern about that limited understanding. How then can we fault the recorded understanding by the early-church, or fault the weighty accretion of orthodoxy across the intervening years, for leaving so many today with a child’s belief-system — learned through the eyes of a child, at a young age when symbolic thinking, multi-layered imagery, and metaphor are well beyond the ken of our immature brains and minds?

    Once the “fact” of that dreadful Original Sin was laid as the bedrock of our child’s True Belief hierarchy, it is immensely difficult for any of us to convincingly re-examine all the “stuff” that was piled on that foundation across the centuries since Jesus’ original birth. If each of us doesn’t undertake an examination of all that Jesus taught, and does not then live that new understanding into a reality of faith in his own individual life, he remains stuck in the group-think of original orthodoxy. If I don’t do that examination, and do the work it suggests, I remain mired in the very same sort of faithless religion that was practiced — but not truly lived — by Jesus’ peers, those nominal practitioners of the Jewish religion in the Palestine/Israel of Jesus’s incarnated life.

    Each of us understands and lives our Beliefs about Jesus in our own individual way – and rightly so. Some among us do our best to actually live what Jesus lived and taught, living the faith of Jesus. In doing so those people truly honor the life and teachings of Jesus with much more than just words and entrenched orthodoxy.

    Whatever one believes in his head about “Original Sin” and “Eternal Damnation” and “Blood Atonement” and the form and meaning of “The Cross” and “The Resurrection” … and whatever one believes about “Belief” itself, it is only through the life of faith that one actually lives that one can truly express the Spirit that moves within himself.

    The way that we live our lives is the way that we honor the life and teachings of Jesus. If that “living” places a cross in someone’s manger of Belief, so be it. If it places another person in Jesus’s sandals, so be it.

    Thanks for reminding us of that, David – and a Merry Christmas to you and yours!

    (Dare I suggest that we not get “all crossed up” about this stuff?
    Yeah – that’s something I’d do! ;~} )


  • Brentdaybreak

    “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Jesus statement about his death

  • Jesus did come to die for our sins – He left heaven for that purpose – leaving Heaven – as fully God, he knew — but born the baby –and living life as fully man, I don’t know when He came into that knowledge — but for sure before His last week before Good Friday, He knew.

    • Andy

      He knew by age 12 that he was the Son of God – not the son of Joseph.

  • Mark

    Sadly, like so many others, you are so wrong.
    Go and read again God’s self-revelation in the Scriptures, what is called the Bible…
    but, of course, you don’t believe it is the Word of God, so you have nothing outside of yourself, your own mind, to dream up your own theology. How sad and how blind.
    I’m not surprised you are entering the Episcopal Church, yet another case of the blind leading the blind. I pray that the God of all grace will open your eyes to His glorious truths, rather than the lies of the enemy, the one who said, “Did God say?”
    As Jesus said, “I you don’t believe Moses, you won’t believe Me.”

  • Andrew Marais

    Thank you ,David for this timely reminder that Jesus came to bring Life and life more abundant,and to show us how to live it.

  • Of course He was born to die. That was His purpose coming to Earth. “Our Greatest Need was salvation in His death, burial, and ressurection.

    If our greatest need had been information,
    …God would have sent us an educator;

    If our greatest need had been technology,
    …God would have sent us a scientist;

    If our greatest need had been money,
    …God would have sent us an economist;

    If our greatest need had been pleasure,
    …God would have sent us an entertainer;

    But our greatest need was forgiveness,
    …So God sent us a Savior.”

  • Tudorgirl

    I’m coming into this a bit late and I’ve only read a few of the comments. In
    1975 when God gloriously saved me from the “pit” and forgave me of my sins,
    He turned all the lights on. My sins had held me in a very dark pit, and I cried out
    to God for help. I knew no human could help me where I was at, in that awful
    pit. Then in my spirit, I saw a man hanging on a cross, and I realized this was Jesus that I had heard of as a small child. God took me quickly to a Bible that
    I had but, did not read. I opened it to Ephesians 2:8&9. “For by GRACE are you
    SAVED through FAITH, and not of yourself, THIS IS THE “GIFT” OF GOD….NOT
    of works…..least any man should boast.” This was in November 1975, and
    Christmas was coming the following month. I had taken a picture of Jesus hanging on the cross, from the wax museum in L.A. I put it in each Christmas Card, with
    a Bible verse……John 18:37 ” TO THIS END WAS I BORN, AND FOR THIS CAUSE CAME I INTO THE WORLD.” My relatives were outraged !!!!
    They just did not get it. Because I was a spiritual baby, God directed me to
    the O.T. (Hebrew) Book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon is asking….the whys ????
    All is vanity. Ecclesiastes 7:1 ” A good name is better than precious ointment;
    and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” 7:3 ” Sorrow is better than
    laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.”
    So, no it was hard to read your words and I don’t agree with what you said.
    The Blood of the Cross is God’s own sacrifice…. for His own. Jesus will not
    loose one of His Sheep…….not one will be lost!!! PRAISE HIS NAME !!!!!!! John 6:37-39

  • Graceisours

    Without His sacrifice on the cross there would be no remission of sins. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from our unrighteousness. All our righteousness on our own is as filthy rags.

  • detectingwjesus

    Read your bible. You might want to check out Isa. 53:1-12

  • Rabbittrail

    You swung the pendulum too far, brother. You make statements about the cross being subservient to the incarnation that are not consistent with scripture. The incarnation pales to the resurrection in displaying the redemptive power of God. It is the resurrection where mortal humans find hope.
    Keep pressing in.

  • Andy

    “But it wasn’t his death and crucifixion that set things right in the world. Rather it was his incarnated life that shows us what a world set right might look like.”

    Dead wrong. You’re offering us the Jesus-as-examplar model. And yes, he certainly is that–but we cannot hope to become like him unless we have the New Life which is, indeed, founded squarely on his death and resurrection for our sakes.

    Anyone who doesn’t get that doesn’t get the Gospel.

  • Andy

    How ’bout we consider, among other NT statements, Jesus’ own statement re. his mission: “[T]he Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28; cf. 1Tim. 2:6; John 10:15; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 5:2; Ti. 2:14; 1Pet. 1:18-19; 2:24; 3:18; 1Jn. 2:2; Rev. 1:5; 5:9)

    That’s fairly straightforward, is it not?

  • PastorZ

    In this article David shows his complete ignorance of Theology. The cross absolutely belongs in the Christmas story, the cross Is The Reason That Jesus Came! Yes, Christ lived, did many marvelous works and showed us how we should live but those things were not the purpose of the incarnation. Jesus came to save the lost.How? By dying on the cross to pay our sin debt. This was the plan of God from the very beginning, Rev 13:8 says that Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. In John 12:23-27, Jesus Himself tells of the very purpose of His coming. In these verses He mentions nothing of any miracles or good works, what Jesus said was that He came to earth to die.

    There are many places throughout the teachings of Christ where He points to the purpose of His coming was to go to the cross so yes, the cross does belong in the Christmas story. Without the completed work of the Savior (life, death and resurrection) there is no point in His coming. Without the redemption He makes available through His death and resurrection the manger has no point.

    Please people, don’t take any man’s opinion, read what God’s Word actually says, not what folks want it to say. Be careful who and what you listen to. This guy is a false teacher, one of those we were warned about in 2 Timothy 4:1-5.

  • Ray

    I would rather listen to the words of John Wesley.

    “And can it be that I should gain
    An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
    Died He for me, who caused His pain?
    For me, who Him to death pursued?
    Amazing love! how can it be
    That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
    Amazing love! how can it be
    That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?