As I’m writing this fourth part, I’m betting that you’re worn out already — “OK, Frank: wrath of God. I got it. Christ was born to satisfy the wrath of God, and that’s good, and that’s a really sound reason to have joy at Christmas. Amen — I’m going shopping with a very reverent look on my face.”
Yeah, the comments are of course all going south, too, with people thinking that I’m not a cheery person and that I want to abolish the gingerbread and the mistletoe. On Earth, peace to men on whom His favor rests, Frank: It’s a Wonderful Life! Don’t write this 6-part thing on Christmas with all your dour Calvinism bringing the rest of us down.
Let me say, as I write this part, that this was not my point at all — it was only the basis for making my point. So let’s think about this for one second: the purpose of most of the Bible is to tell us that the wrath of God is just around the corner, and in that context this child named Jesus is born in Bethlehem — on that day, a Savior was born.
The basis for any joy at Christmas is that Jesus is a savior. You know — he wasn’t a fireman. He wasn’t a cop, or an EMT — and those are pretty good things. Those people do, in fact, save other people. But I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say that a doctor or a soldier was a savior.
See: it’s important to realize that the first reason anyone was happy about a Messiah coming was the fact that he would save his people from their sins. He wouldn’t make their salvation possible: He would save them — they would be saved after He did whatever it was that He was going to do.
When Jesus was presented in the Temple like every good Jewish boy was presented, this is what happened:
[Luke 2] Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,"Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."
Simeon was glad to see salvation in the child. Not just optimism, not just a leg-up for man to God: salvation. God’s wrath — it was coming, and frankly, it is in fact coming. God’s wrath is coming. And Jesus is the savior from that wrath. So at Christmas, we have the “light of revelation” (as Simeon said) that God is going to save from the wrath that is coming — and maybe, if you are a Christian, you are happy about that. And that is good … as far as it goes.
But I have a question for you: is that enough? Seriously now — is that as happy and joyous as God wants us to be at Christmas? Is that all the Gospel there is? I mean, if it is enough, great. Let’s be happy with what we have.
But I know for certain that this is not all of the good tidings of great joy that the Angels have delivered to Shepherds. And I am afraid that many of us — maybe most of us — are ready to settle for only that much of the joy that is evident in the face of the wrath of God.
The wrath of God is coming, and the savior from sin is born in Bethlehem. Is that all we have, or is there more evident and necessary in the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes? I think there’s more — and Christians must seek that joy if they are to take this holy celebration for more than a day we have family over for a meal and a prayer.