DialoguesReformedTheology & Spirituality

Christmas is About the Cross

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”-1 Timothy 1:15

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”-1 John 4:9-10

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”-Matthew 1:21

Thus begins the explanation of the meaning of the Incarnation to the world, Christ has come to save sinners. And what good news indeed—the God of the universe, though offended by the injustice of the world (see “Christmas is about Ferguson”) and the wickedness of our hearts, has decided to bring salvation in his incarnate son Jesus.

Within this article, I want us to see with the eyes of the Reformed confessions, that the birth of Christ is not an end in and of itself,1 but is part of a Trinitarian mission to reconcile a broken world to God. I hope that this Christmas season our imaginations can be shaped and stretched to see the Christ child as the very man who would eventually die as a ransom for many, saving us from the wrath of God.2 Christmas and Good Friday, though separated by four months on our calendars and thirty or so years in the life of Jesus, are in fact intimately connected in the will of God for the salvation of the world.3 The following will survey of three Reformed confessional documents, the Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Confession.

The Heidelberg Catechism, honored by a number of Reformed denominations worldwide, contains a series of questions and answers, ordered under the headings of Misery, Deliverance, and Gratitude.4 The Catechism sees a direct connection between the birth of Christ and his death, putting them side by side in questions 36 and 37. I quote them below:

Q & A 36
Q. How does the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit you?
A. He is our mediator and, in God’s sight, he covers with his innocence and perfect holiness my sinfulness in which I was conceived.5

Q & A 37
Q. What do you understand by the word “suffered”?
A. That during his whole life on earth, but especially at the end, Christ sustained in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race. This he did in order that, by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice, he might deliver us, body and soul, from eternal condemnation, and gain for us God’s grace, righteousness, and eternal life.6

In the Heidelberg we see a God who was conceived and born with the intent and purpose to die, to rid humanity of their condemnation before a just God, gaining “for us grace, righteousness, and eternal life.” The Westminster Larger Catechism echoes this connection, emphasizing the humility of Christ in his conception, birth, life, and death.7

Q. 47. How did Christ humble himself in his conception and birth?
A. Christ humbled himself in his conception and birth, in that, being from all eternity the Son of God, in the bosom of the Father, he was pleased in the fullness of time to become the son of man, made of a woman of low estate, and to be born of her; with divers circumstances of more than ordinary abasement.8

Q. 48. How did Christ humble himself in his life?
A. Christ humbled himself in his life, by subjecting himself to the law, which he perfectly fulfilled; and by conflicting with the indignities of the world, temptations of Satan, and infirmities in his flesh, whether common to the nature of man, or particularly accompanying that his low condition.9

Q. 49. How did Christ humble himself in his death?
A. Christ humbled himself in his death, in that having been betrayed by Judas, forsaken by his disciples, scorned and rejected by the world, condemned by Pilate, and tormented by his persecutors; having also conflicted with the terrors of death, and the powers of darkness, felt and borne the weight of God’s wrath, he laid down his life an offering for sin, enduring the painful, shameful, and cursed death of the cross.10

Christ’s birth, life, and death are all connected by humility for the Westminster Larger Catechism. In birth, Jesus is born of a poor peasant woman within “divers circumstances of more than ordinary abasement” (I love this, who writes like this anymore?). In life, God becomes a Jew within an oppressive Roman world, confronts temptations that each of us go through daily, and fulfills the law. In death, the God of the universe enters into the great terror of this broken world, “laying down his life” for the very humanity who crucified him.

Like the Heidelberg and the Westminster Larger Catechism, the Westminster Confession, specifically within Chapter VIII, “Of Christ the Mediator,” connects the birth and death of Christ.11

II. The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.12

V. The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience, and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, has fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for those whom the Father has given unto Him.13

The coming of Christ, the Reformed understand, is one part in the eternal plan of God to reconcile his chosen people to himself. God from eternity past decided to create the world, knowing that it would fall into sin, to then bind himself to people in the form of covenants, to then enter into this sinful world as a human being, thus fulfilling the promises he had made to his people, and then to ultimately die for these people, thus purchasing their salvation by his blood. The Incarnation, rather than being a stand-alone celebration, proceeds from an eternal will that precedes it, and results in a death that reconciles. The celebration of the coming of Christ is far grander (though certainly not less) than a recognition of God-made flesh, pointing toward a humble life, shameful death, and purchasing of an inheritance for God’s chosen people. May we this Advent season place ourselves in the waiting anticipation of the Jews, awaiting a Messiah who will come to save us from our sins.14

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George Aldhizer

George Aldhizer

Raised in North Carolina, George works as an accountant and lives in New York with his wife and son. His writing is animated by Abraham Kuyper’s exclamation, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

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