Why Christmas Offers the Paradoxical Hope We Need
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- 2021 Dec 20
There’s a “candy cane crisis” in America. Logistical issues caused by the pandemic and weakness in peppermint crops are causing shortages in the industry.
In other news, a COVID-19 outbreak forced Saturday Night Live to air without an audience. The show sent home most of its cast and crew, airing mostly pre-taped sketches. The NFL postponed three games over the weekend.
And these stories are just the beginning of what is coming.
"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas 2020"
Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN yesterday that the omicron variant is “going to take over” the country. He predicted that “it is going to be a tough few weeks to months as we get deeper into the winter.”
Coronavirus cases are already skyrocketing across the country. In New York City, for example, cases escalated from 8,266 on Monday to 21,908 on Friday, more than any other single day of the pandemic. The New York Times reports that the nation’s coronavirus testing capacity is facing “enormous new pressure” with long lines, overworked laboratories, and at-home diagnostics “flying off pharmacy shelves.”
With coronavirus hospitalizations increasing 20 percent nationally over the last two weeks, doctors and nurses are “living in a constant crisis,” as one medical director stated. Forbes reports that as COVID-19 restrictions are hitting the retail sector, “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas 2020.” Offices are closing and holiday parties are being canceled. Countries across Europe are imposing new travel restrictions and curfews. Harvard is going remote again, as are other schools across the nation. President Biden will address the nation tomorrow to respond to the spread of the omicron variant.
It is especially hard to face this crisis in the days just before Christmas. However, Christmas offers the paradoxical hope we need most in these hard days.
A Christmas thought I had not considered
I read a message recently by Pope St. Leo the Great (AD 400–461) that made a point I had never considered before. He stated, “Unless the new man [Jesus], by being made in the likeness of sinful flesh [Romans 8:3], had taken on himself the nature of our first parents, unless he had stooped to be one in substance with his mother while sharing the Father’s substance and, being alone free from sin, united our nature to his, the whole human race would still be held captive under the dominion of Satan.”
He added: “The Conqueror’s victory would have profited us nothing if the battle had been fought outside our human condition.”
I knew that death was the debt we owed for our sins—the consequence of our sinful choices—since sin cuts us off from the God who is our only source of life and life eternal (Romans 6:23; John 14:6). And I knew that only a sinless person could pay the debt of our sins with his death; otherwise, his death would atone for his sins but not for ours (cf. Hebrews 4:15). Thus, I knew that Jesus came to earth to die for our sins (cf. 1 John 4:10) so we could be forgiven (1 John 1:9) and receive eternal life (John 3:16).
However, it had not occurred to me that Jesus would have to be human himself to pay this debt for humanity.
The love proven by Christmas
This is why the sacrifice of animals on the altar of the temple was not enough. Hebrews 10 states, “Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (vv. 11–12).
No other species could pay this debt because no other species owed it. Humans alone of all God’s creation are made in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26) with the capacity to choose whether to obey or disobey his word (cf. Joshua 24:15). As a result, we are the only species that “sins.”
The only way the debt humanity owes for our sin could be paid was if a human paid it. This explains Christmas: the decision by God to become man, to enter fully into the human condition, to face every temptation we face yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), to be forsaken by his Father on the cross (Matthew 27:46) so we could be forgiven by his grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Hebrews 2:14-15).
The necessity of Jesus’ humanity also adds even greater significance to his Father’s decision to create the human race. God knew before he made the first man and woman that they would sin against him and that their sins would separate them from himself. The Father therefore knew before he created humans that his Son would one day have to become one of them to die for them.
This explains why the Bible calls Jesus “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8 NIV). And it is why the love proven by Christmas is the hope we need today.
"Grace, like water, flows to the lowest part"
I was taught in counseling classes not to tell someone “I know how you feel.” That’s because, even if my circumstances have been identical to theirs, I cannot understand their personal feelings as they face them.
But Jesus can.
Because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus experienced hunger (Matthew 4:2), thirst (John 19:28), weariness (John 4:6), grief (Mark 3:5), temptation (Matthew 4:1-10), rejection (John 15:18), and death (Mark 15:37).
He has faced all we face and felt all we feel. In addition, because he knows our inmost thoughts (cf. Luke 6:8) and we are in his hand right now (John 10:28), Jesus truly knows how we feel at this very moment.
So, let me encourage you to go to the Christ of Christmas with your secret sins and private guilt. Trust him with your inmost fears, grief, and pain. Tell him what you can tell no one else and trust him for the help and hope only he can give.
Because God is love, he loves you where you are, as you are. And because Jesus became one of us, we can be one with him.
Philip Yancey observed, “Grace, like water, flows to the lowest part.”
Where do you need the grace of Christmas today?
Publication date: December 20, 2021
Photo courtesy: Rodion Kutsaev/Unsplash
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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