Seeing the little baby in the manger at Christmas fills us all with joy and wonder. It is a universal experience because we have all looked with joy and wonder at the children and grandchildren we have welcomed into our families. The birth of Jesus is not difficult to believe—a baby. What could be more precious?
Why then is there so much controversy attached to Jesus? Why do so many turn their attention away from Jesus after Christmas?
I’ve wondered about that. One answer, I think, comes in the readings we have all heard in our churches since Christmas. We are all strengthened and nourished by them. The Holy Spirit works in our hearts through those readings, which confirm what we know about Jesus and prepare us for Lent, when we will once again journey to the cross and the empty tomb.
The problem for those who do not believe is that what the readings say is not a part of a universal experience like the birth of a child. Yes, the little babe grew up, and we all know what that means. We all learned to walk, talk, and read in the process of our development. So did everyone else. So did Jesus. That is not hard to accept.
But then Jesus turned water into wine. We haven’t ever seen that happen. How could it be possible? After Christmas we hear another story that defies our personal experiences. When Jesus was baptized, there was a voice from heaven and a dove appeared out of nowhere and descended on him. No such event has ever been recorded in history, except in the gospels. Finally, we hear that Jesus went up a mountain and talked with two dead characters from the Bible’s pages—Moses and Elijah.
These readings prepare us to see the crucifixion with faith in what it means—our redemption and salvation.
Those who do not believe the Bible conclude that such events could not have happened. They have no experience of their own to verify the events and no scientific proof that the events could have ever even occurred. They conclude that these events may be only legends or exaggerations at best. That’s what makes them react so negatively to Jesus.
The problem was the same for those who actually saw these events. In spite of what they saw, some thought Jesus had the power of the devil—Beelzebul. Others considered him a threat and plotted his death. Still others followed him and learned that he wasn’t a fraud and had power that did not come from the devil. They walked and talked with him, but he did what was beyond their experiences. They grew to love him and recognize that he was God in the flesh.
That mattered to them, and it matters to us too. They watched him humble himself to die on the cross. His death was more than a simple execution. We have all witnessed death. That’s not unusual, but the death of Jesus is more. It finishes the payment for our sins because he is God and man—our substitute. His empty tomb is astounding. Yes, it is unusual and beyond human experience, but it is so important to us.
These readings prepare us to see the crucifixion with faith in what it means—our redemption and salvation. They also prepare us to see the empty tomb in faith. It’s an event that the most powerful and advanced probes cannot understand, but we do by faith. Jesus is victorious over death, and we are too.
Author: John A. Braun
Volume 107, Number 02
Issue: February 2020