Christmas was a little death for Jesus. Not a theme you want to highlight in the kids’ pageant, but it’s a conclusion I couldn’t avoid in Wednesday night Bible study as we discussed some similarities in circumstances surrounding His birth and His burial.
Jesus allowed Himself to be a baby, helpless in the hands of His parents, who wrapped Him tightly in strips of cloth and laid Him in a manger (a feeding-trough bed for the One who became the bread of life.) At His death, His friends wrapped Him tightly in strips of cloth and laid Him in a tomb, a cave carved in the rock. Many believe the stable of His birth was also a cave. One of the gifts the Magi brought was myrrh. Joseph of Arimathea used many pounds of myrrh and other spices in Jesus’ grave wrappings.
We celebrate in December, but if the shepherds were out in the fields, it may well have been spring, when lambs destined for sacrifice in the temple were born, the time of the Passover. How fitting that the Lamb of God might have been born at the same time. When the shepherds, lowly workers, heard that the Savior was born, they ran all the way to Bethlehem to find Him. What the angels told them was true! They went home rejoicing. When the disciples heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, they ran to the tomb. An angel told them that He was no longer there. Everything He had told them was true! Men who had been in hiding, beaten and terrified, now became brave, willing to be martyred for their risen Lord.
Prophecies, angelic announcements and portents in the sky heralded both His birth and His death. Each was a pivotal moment in human history, and each saw Jesus moving from one world to another. We talk about His entering Heaven in glory, but we don’t talk so much about what it meant for the eternal Son of God, creator of the universe, second Person of the Trinity, to leave that perfect realm in the first place. Angels (at the sight of which, humans are often terrified, or tempted to worship) praised and honored Him continually, covering their faces in humility. In our realm, people would call Him crazy and try to push Him over a cliff. In the end, they crucified Him.
It’s in Philippians 2, how God Himself took the form of a servant, humbling Himself in obedience, even to the point of death on the cross. He left honor and power and prerogatives behind. Omnipotent God became a man. That’s a little death. Hebrews 10:5 shows us that He knew from the beginning what He faced. “When He came into the world, He said ‘… a body You have prepared for Me… I have come to do Your will, O God.’” And human beings would be “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” A little death, a new life. An earth-shaking death, new life for millions. Now that's a gift.