Here’s something to think about as you celebrate Christmas today. Have you ever considered our focus on Jesus in the manger? You know, Jesus as a baby. I don’t know how you celebrate birthdays in your home, but when Jean and I put up the streamers and bake a cake for our boys when their birthday’s roll around, we don’t dust off their baby books and remember the day they were born. Rather, we enter into the joy of who they are today.
Why, then, is Christmas a birthday celebration that focuses on the birth of Jesus and not His life as a risen Savior? Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s incredibly important to revisit and reflect upon the moment in time when God became flesh and entered the world as a vulnerable baby.
At the same time, I think we miss something if we focus exclusively on the “baby Jesus” without also celebrating the “man Jesus.” Why?
Babies, as a group, are dependant entirely upon their parents for everything—for food, clothing, shelter, physical care, transportation, and medicine if sickness comes. In that respect, the “baby Jesus” is “safe.” As a cooing little infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, Jesus doesn’t appear to place any demands upon you or me.
But the “man Jesus” is far from safe. In fact, Jesus was a radical when He grew up.
To say that His presence on the scene was divisive would be an understatement: the religious leaders hated Him . . . the governing leaders feared Him . . . and the public was divided over His true identity—was He a misguided zealot, a prophet, or might He actually be the promised Messiah? Even members of His own family thought He was crazy (see Mark 3:20-21). What’s more, His claims of deity created a world-wide controversy which continues to this day.
As long as Jesus is a baby in the manger, I think most folks can handle that. But when faced with the claims of the “man Jesus,” that can be unsettling. It’s tempting to either dismiss Him outright, or to view His Savior-claim with incredible doubt.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate my point is to take you back to an interview between French music journalist Michka Assayas and U2’s Bono as recorded in the book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas.
Assayas: Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that far-fetched?
Bono: No, it’s not far-fetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook.
Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: I’m the Messiah. I’m saying: I am God incarnate. And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the ‘M’ word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah.
. . . So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. . . . I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched.
I don’t have to agree with everything Bono has said or done to admit that he hit the nail on the head. Jesus wants us to make a choice. There’s no middle ground. Is He the Savior of the world, or not?
This Christmas, will He remain the “safe baby Jesus” nestled in straw in a manger? Or, will you celebrate the “rebel Jesus” who birth, life, death, and resurrection ensures your place with Him for all of eternity?