Who wouldn’t love a sweet, innocent little baby born in a barn, cradled in a food trough for animals, worshiped by angels, sought by wise men and targeted for death by despot?
So all of us Christians really want to emphasize this part of our Lord’s Story to charm and beguile those who haven’t heard it all into wanting to hear more.
The problem is, there comes a point where He grows up and he’s no longer just sweet and charming.
He scares his folks to the edge of panic by staying behind in Jerusalem while they’ve gone on toward home after the Feast. And asks them simply, “Shouldn’t I be about my Father’s business?”
He abandons Joseph’s business to pursue a career as an itinerant preacher.
He seeks out his weird, wacked-out cousin in the wild and seems to join his baptismal cult, fasts forty days, has an encounter with the devil, and starts preaching with John the gospel of “Repent! God’s kingdom is almost here!” with a few “… you brood of vipers!” thrown in for good measure.
This is not your typical, nice Jewish boy.
Oh, sure, He’ll impress the winesteward at a poorly-catered wedding, heal some people, feed a lot of people, and preach that people ought to love and respect each other because God loves all of them. But He’ll also thrash a few demons from time to time, fraternize with tax collectors and centurions, and generally antagonize the entire religious establishment, whether Pharisee or Sadducee. Not to mention putting one of the tax collectors in his entourage, along with a potential insurrectionist, a hot-tempered fisherman or two and a few other ne’er-do-wells (including a suspected thief).
Yet He does all these things – by the implication He encourages – because He wants people to accept that He is the Son of God?
What is His deal?
Why couldn’t He just settle for being a peculiar prophet with wise teachings about relationships between people and God; pick up a few seminary students, or pluck the best synagogues, or even schmooze a few Levites? Maybe even a priest?
It’s like there’s no compromise with Him. It’s either His way, or the highway – the broad, broad highway that leads to destruction, in His words.
And it’s not like He’s talking flowery beds of ease for His followers, either. He expects for them to suffer, and especially after He’s murdered. Yes, that’s right. He starts talking about being arrested and tried and crucified.
Then it happens.
He puts up no fight, responds to no accusation, retorts to no insult, curses at no torment, reviles no lash, evaporates no nail hammered into His hands and feet, calls down no angelic army to obliterate His captors, breathes no supernatural breath to hold asphyxiation forever at bay.
He dies while lifted up on that cross.
And draws all men unto Him. Not just a few shepherds. Not just some oriental astrologers. Not even just a dozen or so close friends. All men. We have to pause at the foot of that cross and gawk upward, and wonder …
… Who is this Jesus?
What happened to that marvelous Christmas Christ? The King given gold instead of a crown of thorns? The One gifted with myrrh who ends up buried with it? The Child who received frankincense, but became the Man whose innocence was sacrificed as a sweet-smelling savor to God?
Then we discover the tidings of comfort and joy don’t come until three days later … the swaddling cloths are found folded neatly in His empty tomb. It can’t hold Him.
Now it can’t hold us.
That’s what we Christians love about Christmas. It doesn’t end at Easter. It goes on and on and on, as long as life shall last, and then on and on and on.
It’s not just a sweet Story for gullible children; it’s not even a Story for every rational adult.
It’s for those who are willing to suspend incredulity, to truly and deeply believe its irrationality and passion, and who will live that belief from cradle to grave … and then some.