It’s the Advent season, and I’m sure many Christian home educating families are sharing stories and lessons about the first Christmas. We have our own traditions surrounding those lessons, but for school, we stick to our schedule, and our Bible study schedule has us finishing the Gospel of John tomorrow, our last day before break. It seems strange to be reading and studying about the death and resurrection of Jesus when it’s that time of year to celebrate his birth. Yet, it feels right somehow.
As my daughters and I have read these familiar words, the circular nature of the story of Christ emerges. The story starts with a girl named Mary who is willing to be the vessel that carries, nourishes, and bears the Christ-child. She sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” At the story’s dramatic break, that same teenage girl is grown up and watching her son being crucified. Another Mary, Mary of Magdala, goes to the tomb to take care of the body of Jesus, only to discover it’s gone. As the narrative unfolds, the risen Jesus gives her instructions to share this amazing revelation to his disciples: “I have seen the Lord!” Yes, the very first witness to the pivotal event in Christian history was a woman.
At the end of the story, the bleeding body of Christ is laid in a tomb, a place of uncleanliness. At the beginning of the story, the weak and vulnerable newborn Christ is laid in an animal’s feeding trough.
Early in John, Jesus tells Nicodemus during Jesus’s first trip to Jerusalem for Passover after beginning his earthly ministry (of which we have record), “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” After Jesus appears to the disciples the second time, John states that he’s written this whole account so that the reader will believe that Jesus is the Son of God and therefore have real and eternal life.
Jesus’s life ends as a king subjected to the peccadilloes of political maneuverings. Jesus’s life begins as an infant king threatened by the political maneuverings of a megalomaniacal king.
As we read the resurrection story, we remember that it begins here at Advent. This Christmas story is the account of God breaking into history in order to send the most perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. The story is a new kind of history, one where a deity becomes the very thing deserving of condemnation to take that condemnation upon Itself. God did that for us. God did not desire to destroy His own creation, so God became a part of that creation in order to die for it. In doing so, God saved us from our sins. Jesus was born to die, and died that we might be born again.