A Reflection of the Cradle and Grave

December 25, 2011

Transitions, in all of our lives there are transitions.  Times when our lives change and the lives of those around us change.  You know what I’m talking about because there are events that you are thinking about even as I speak.  Births, deaths, graduations, weddings, baptisms. 
Transitions, times when our lives change.  And we have this innate desire to make those events special, to do the very best that we can.  That’s why newborns often come home dressed in brand new finery to a newly decorated nursery filled with all kinds of “Stuff” they can’t really appreciate.  If we were simply doing it for them it would be a waste because they don’t know and they don’t care.
At the other end of the spectrum is death, and for some reason we often feel that we need to send off the dearly departed in style, spending money we really can’t afford to spend to impress who?  Obviously not the dearly departed, they are beyond impressing, perhaps it’s to let people know how much we loved our father, mother, husband, wife or child although I would think that if our love was that important that it would be testified to in our lives. 
Most of you have seen my smart car, so do you really think I’d be impressed to be buried in a $10,000.00 coffin?  My desire is to be cremated and have my ashes spread in the cove on Grand Manan where I played growing up.  We used to have four litre ice cream container set aside for my urn, with “Denn’s Ashe’s” written on it in magic marker but then it got used for dog food. 
Regardless we try to do the transitions up right. 
Over the past couple of weeks we have been preparing to recognize a transition that affected the entire world.  The birth of a child, and not just any child, a child who was the Son of God, a child who was God himself.  
And in three months or so we will mark another transition, Easter.  And we will be pausing to reflect on the death of the one whose birth we are celebrating tonight. 
And it’s in ironic that both the birth and death of the most important person to ever walk this earth were not marked by splendour but by simplicity.   
He began his earthy life in a borrowed cradle and finished it, thirty three years later, in a borrowed grave.
As we look at Reflections of Christmas we see the reflection of the grave of Jesus in the cradle of Jesus and we wonder:  “How far could from a borrowed cradle to a borrowed grave? 
If you were to ask a tour guide the answer might surprise you
because “Geographically, it’s closer than you might think.  If we could pull down a map and take a look we would discover that you only have to walk down the road about a kilometre and a half, and then take a left and it would only be eight kilometres to the city gates of Jerusalem.”   
Think about it, it is just a two-hour walk from the sleepy little town of Bethlehem where Christ was born, to the bustling streets of Jerusalem where Christ was crucified.
You know it’s not far at all and there’s a lot of history on this road.  Why it was in Bethlehem that Rachel was buried, and it was to Bethlehem that Naomi and Ruth came, and Bethlehem was where Ruth married Boaze. 
King David was born and raised in Bethlehem and the prophet Micah wrote in Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.
It was to this little town that the carpenter Joseph came from Nazareth with his young, pregnant wife to be counted in the census ordered by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus.  No it’s not very far at all from Bethlehem to Calvary, geographically speaking.
And Historically there wasn’t a lot of time between the cradle and the grave.  Compared to the Millenniums that have come and gone since God spoke the world into being, thirty-three years is a relatively short period of time.  It really isn’t that far from the starlit eastern sky of Bethlehem to the darkened midday sky of Jerusalem.  There is only a short lifetime between singing angels and tears of joy, to cursing soldiers and tears of grief.
Just a few short years from swaddling clothes to a crown of thorns, from dimples and stubby fingers to blood stained cheeks and nail pierced hands.  And yet as close as it might be, it is a sad fact of life that not many have made that thirty-three year journey from the cradle in Bethlehem to the grave at Calvary.
It is much more comfortable to talk about a cooing baby than a bleeding corpse.  The journey should be a short one but too many people prefer the cradle to the cross. 
It seems much less offensive to read to our children the words  Luke 2:10-11 “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!
Rather than to read  Luke 23:33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross.
And yet it was the same author who recorded the events in Luke 2 and Luke 23. The two passages both speak of the same person, Jesus of Nazareth, and yet many still prefer Christmas trees to Easter lilies and they try and separate the one from the other.
Everyone loves Christmas with its bright lights, upbeat music and gifts in pretty paper.  People who may give very little attention to God and the Church pay a great deal of attention at Christmas time, even if it is unintentional.  And even though we whine about the commercialization and secularization of Christmas we need to realize that whether society wants to admit it or not, they are joining in the celebration of Christ’s birth. 
Every advertisement for Christmas keeps the name of the Messiah in front of people.  And while Zellers may not play “Victory in Jesus” or “For a thousand tongues to Sing” they proclaim the birth of Christ to everyone in the store with “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” being played over their PA.
But Easter is different, even though there have been attempts to capitalize on it as a holiday it runs a distant second to Christmas.  People prefer to talk about births and babies rather than crucifixions and corpses, but whether we want to admit it or not there is but a short distance between the borrowed cradle and the borrowed grave.
And it’s not simply a matter of history of time, of celebrations.  You see Theologically too many people are content to leave Christ in the cradle.
Video (Christmas Connection)
A Christ child is a safe Christ because he makes no demands on our life.  However the birth of the child in Bethlehem would be of little consequence without the death of the man on Calvary. 
We may not be as blatant with the question of “Whatever happened to the baby Jesus?”  But I think it is relatively easy to leave Jesus in the manger.
Christ didn’t remain a child, he isn’t forever an infant.  Listen to what Luke wrote in Luke 2:52 Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.
So what was Luke saying?  Simple, Jesus grew up.  The child grew and matured; he became a toddler, a pre-schooler, school aged, teenager and an adult.  And then as an adult he was crucified on a cross at Calvary for you.
You see theologically without Calvary, Bethlehem was in vain.  Christ could have been born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, taught and healed and performed miracles and then died an old man and all we would have had is a wonderful example to follow. 
It took the sacrificial death of Christ to take away the sin of the world.  The converse is also true.  Calvary would not have been the redeeming event it was if God had not chosen to enter this world as a child and to live as a man.  It was not a man who was born in a cattle stall, neither was it a god.  And it was not a man who died on Calvary’s cross, nor was it a god.  It was Jesus Christ, God incarnate.  100% God and at the same time 100% man.  And it is here that the paradox of the incarnation leaps out at us.
No one here can fully explain how Christ was conceived in the womb of a virgin, his father being the Holy Spirit.  But that doesn’t in any way alter the fact that he was conceived in the womb of a virgin and his Father was in fact the Holy Spirit.  In the same way none of us could ever adequately explain how Christ, dying on a cross could cleanse my soul from its sin, 2000 years later.  But it did.  
Theologically it is just a short distance from Bethlehem to Calvary.  So why don’t we make the trip?  Why are we content to stay in Bethlehem when there is so much waiting for us just 8 kilometres down the road?  After all Bethlehem holds the promise of eternal life but it’s Calvary that holds the gift of eternal life.  And without believing the theology of the birth of Christ and his death and resurrection we can’t really believe in Jesus. 
Came across this story and quote this week.  Christopher Hitchens is an atheist, actually he was an atheist he died just a few days ago and while it is easy to say you don’t believe in God on this side of eternity it will be impossible to ignore God on the other side of eternity. 
And Hitchens wasn’t just the run of the mill, “I’m too cool to believe atheist” he was a militant atheist, an: everyone else should be an atheist type of atheist. He is the type of atheist that George Orwell described in Animal Farm when he wrote “He was an embittered atheist (the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him).”   
Hitchens wrote the book “God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”   And last week I read an interview of Christopher Hitchens by Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell. 
And Sewell felt that the book’s criticisms were mostly directed at conservative Christianity, which she freely admits that she is not a part of.  She claims she doesn’t believe in the virgin birth, the atoning power of Jesus’ death or his bodily resurrection, maybe you know of pastors like that.   And so she asked the author, “Do you make a distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?”
And here was the response that Christopher Hitchens the militant non-apologetic atheist made.  And I quote “I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”
What makes you a Christ follower is that you follow the Christ who was born of a virgin in a borrowed cradle and you follow a Christ who rose from the dead leaving behind an empty borrowed grave.