My husband’s church used to produce huge Christmas extravaganzas, using hundreds of people for music, drama, sets, production, and technology. He and several members of the extended Rogers family participated in various ways. I never missed them. But there was one aspect that made me cringe a bit. While most of the focus was the birth of Jesus and the difference He has made on this earth and in individual lives, I didn’t like it when they showed Jesus crucified on the cross at Christmastime.
I understood the point was to tell the whole story to those who come to church only at Christmas and Easter. They didn’t want to miss an opportunity for anyone to be saved. I just didn’t want my warm and fuzzy Christmas feelings about the baby Jesus rattled by the graphic visual of a live man hoisted up on a wooden cross amid the poinsettias. I prefer subtle, rather than in-your-face.
In all my years, I’ve seen many wonderful Christmas productions in many different settings. I’ve always loved shepherd boys in bathrobes and little girl angels with glittered, tin-foil, cardboard wings. I love orchestras and choirs doing Handel’s Messiah again. I love live nativities with real donkeys and sheep. I love a procession down the center aisle with Joseph and Mary holding a real baby who happened to be born into the church family during the weeks or months preceding the holiday. Let the music be contemporary or traditional. I love it all.
I’d rather have Jesus crucified in the spring.
The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke point to the big picture of why God clothed Himself in human flesh and came to live among His people. Messiah ben David, born King of the Jews from the tribe of Judah, to rule and reign forever. But it didn’t happen that way, not that time. Not yet.
So he was also Messiah ben Yoseph, the suffering servant. The one who gave His life to die not only for our individual sins but for the restoration of all creation. He died and rose to conquer death. He rose to make a spectacle of the cosmic enemies who thought they’d won, but He proved their defeat.
The Christmas story is the beginning of the end.
I’d planned to write something like this all along, but let me show you what the Lord was gracious to show me on Sunday. I attended another wonderful worship service with a spectacularly decorated set. The music was uplifting praise, and the sermon was inspired. We shared communion, and the Holy Spirit moved among the congregation. I took some pictures, thinking I may have an opportunity to share them sometime.
As I uploaded them to my computer, I saw what I didn’t see when I was in that sanctuary. The manger at the center back of the platform was raised. I looked at the close-up shot and gasped as I realized it looked like a catafalque.
cat·a·falque : an ornamental structure sometimes used in funerals for the lying in state of the body Merriam-Webster.com.
It may be an ornate rolling table that lifts the deceased for public viewing. When national dignitaries have state funerals in the Capitol rotunda, we see the coffin placed on a raised platform, often with a black velvet drape gathered around the bottom.
This straw-filled manger for the world’s most important dignitary was a visual to me that also hinted at his death. I don’t know if those who designed this church’s beautiful decorations meant to have the manger supported by a low catafalque. It may have been a practical matter of using a dark base that didn’t draw attention away from the main attraction. However, it spoke to me. Subtle, but powerful. I like that.
His birth was a means to an end. The preacher said, “He came from His place to our place, to take our place, so that He could take us back to His place.” “He came to be with us, so we could be with Him.”
Christmas was the beginning of the end. That’s the real reason for our joy.
I pray your Christmas celebrations are filled with joy and peace. I pray for freedom from stress of the busyness and freedom from strains in relationships with family and friends. May the Lord Jesus, Immanuel, our Yeshua/Salvation, make His presence real to you in a deeper way this season. Amen. May it be so.
Merry Christmas everyone.