On a busy street corner recently, a man was holding a sign that read “Jesus was born to die”. A popular image is circulating of a wreath turning into a crown of thorns with the message “This is the season, this is the reason” as a reminder that Jesus is the reason for the season so that we keep Christ in Christmas.
Was Jesus Really Born to Die?
Was Jesus really born to die? Is that all Christmas is about? Is the only value to Jesus’ incarnation that He would later give His life on the cross for our sins?
If your view of the gospel is primarily that Jesus died for your sins, it’s tempting to ignore all of the significance of Jesus’ incarnation, and skip straight to Easter. But doing that misses everything that Advent offers us as we watch and wait with skeptical hopefulness, a flicker of light reminding us in the midst of our darkness that God may still show up.
A central event of Christianity is Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. But it’s meaning is lost if we don’t also allow Christmas to stand on its own. Jesus would later die, but His birth wasn’t to mark Him as a sacrifice as if He were thrown into some kind of divine, cosmic dystopian Netflix series. Jesus entered into our humanity, experienced our suffering and pain, and embodied God and His love for each and every one of us. He showed us how to live, how to love, who to love, how to suffer, and how to forgive. If we jump straight from Christmas to Easter, we’re using Jesus to spiritually bypass our humanity.
God Is Seeking Union
Kelly Edmiston describes Jesus’ birth as “God stooping down low to meet us eye to eye, and to ask us, “Can I love you through this? Even if we had never sinned, God still would have come. The incarnation is God seeking union with humankind.”
You might raise a skeptical eyebrow at the assertion that God will still have come had we never sinned. Edmiston goes on to quote Elizabeth Johnson: “The Word became flesh so that God who is love could enter into a deep personal union with the world, the beloved. This would happen even if human beings had not sinned. The fact that the world is sinful entailed that the suffering and death of the cross become part of Jesus’ story.”
She goes on to describe the relationship between our suffering and the incarnation, and it’s a good, quick read.
The good news of Christmas (or the gospel, if you prefer that language) is God seeking union with us, in all our messy, dark, hurting, joyful, conflicted, mundane humanity. Jesus is the reason for the season, but no, Jesus was not born to die. Yes, He does die, and that deserves our attention too. But reducing Jesus’ coming as only to die misses the beauty of Christmas, the hope and promise of a baby, as God Himself hears and sees and enters into our humanity.
God With Us
After all, Jesus’ birth was to fulfill the words of Isaiah: “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).”
There’s something profound and powerful in the simple statement that God is now with us. Our collective experience had been like Job’s: “I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.” Jesus reveals God to us. We had only heard about God before, but now we can see Him. God is no longer distant; He is now with us.
Born to die? No, God with us!