My point, so far, is that God’s wrath is coming, and Jesus — whose birth we celebrate at Christmas — is the savior from that wrath. It’s a point a lot of people got because that’s what a savior is — and it’s a point I have made here before, so you were probably with me on it by way of preparation, one way or the other.
Now, the question is: is that enough? That is, if we understand that what we deserve is God’s wrath and what we get is God’s savior, can we now have some ham and some applesauce and some casserole and maybe (in presbyterian and Lutheran homes, of course) a glass of wine, a decent night’s sleep, and then open the presents on Christmas morn after an appropriately-solemn reading of Luke 2? I mean, seriously: enough’s enough.
Listen: Christmas is not about a logical argument, an intellectual affirmation, and then a secular session of either greed or idolatry (or maybe both). Christmas is about God with us.
When the Jews had the Temple, God’s wasn’t “with us”: He was nearby, to be sure, but He was separated ritually and physically from the people. He had a covenant with the Jews, and He gave them the means to sort of “pay up” or “make up” the ways in which they broke the covenant, but here’s what He says about that:
- For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Two little lines in the book of Hosea — a book in which God says that the right way to see the relationship between Israel (the chosen nation) and God is that God is a faithful husband and Israel is a wife who prefers the life of a prostitute to the life of fidelity. But Hosea has to go and buy his wife back out of prostitution to make himself like God in this object lesson prophecy.
The obvious application is that God is coming back for us when we don’t deserve it — you’ve all heard that one, I am sure. But look: when God is spelling it out for Israel in Hosea 6:6, God is saying, “You know: I don’t want you just to think about what I have done this for you, I want you to acknowledge that I have done this for you and act like I am real to you.”
I think that’s a little dazzling, frankly. God doesn’t want to just save us: God wants us to act like a wife bought out of prostitution.
We don’t have to be people who are in it for the money anymore — because the price for us has been paid forever. We don’t have to work off our debt. Now, that sounds like standard christianese, I am sure — and the best way to overcome that is to describe for you in detail what the life of a protitute is like. However, homeschool moms are reading this, and they would probably find that a little much — and they might be right. I’ll sum it up in a sentence: imagine a life in which your own body is not safe from the demands and impulses of others who care nothing about you. If you were stuck in a life where you don’t even own your own body, or have a right to your own flesh, how would you act toward the person who paid the price for your body and set you free from that kind of slavery?
That’s the razor’s edge at Christmas: it’s the place where mental assent doesn’t cut it. We can’t just agree that these things are true for us in some religious metaphor, or maybe in some metaphysical transaction. We have to be in love with the one who has actually done this for us. We have to live as if God is with us. God doesn’t want us to go and offer a dove or a lamb or a bull in the temple: God wants us to love Him above all things because He deserves to be loved above all things. And He should get it right now because He is worthy of it right now — in the same way you love your own spouse right now personally, passionately, and somewhat impulsively.
This Christmas thing — it shouldn’t be about an idea of God: It should be about God. In person. Here with us.
When we prepare for Christmas, we ought to be loving God in a real way — because He is saving us in a real way, and He is here with us. Welcome Him into your family and life as if He was your beloved husband and deliverer from slavery.