If you have spent any time around Christians at Christmas, you have probably heard the phrase ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’. It’s a good statement, intended to counteract the overwhelming voices saying otherwise, voices bent on making Christmas all about you: your rest, your stomach, your feelings, your presents. I like the statement; I hope you do too. There’s only one small problem: Christmas actually is about you. Not about your rest or stomach or feelings, but about your spiritual need. Put another way, while it is right that we fix our eyes and hearts on the baby in the manger, it is also right to remember that, even before he was born, his eyes and heart were fixed on you.
Now before you chalk this up to wishy washy sentimentality or Americanized self-absorption, allow me to introduce the source of this insight. His name is Athanasius, and he is neither wishy washy nor American. He lived in Alexandria Egypt in the 4th century A.D., and he wrote a little book entitled On the Incarnation that is a feast of rich insights into what that little baby lying in the manger means for you and me. Athanasius writes, ‘It was our sorry case that caused the Word (God the Son) to come down…It is we who were the cause of His taking human form’. As you seek to remember Jesus as the ‘reason for the season’, allow this ancient brother to remind you of Jesus’ reasons for the season.
“You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains…the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself.”
This is a wonderful picture illustrating your need for renewal. Though created in the image of God (Genesis 1:25), mankind failed to obey Him, resulting in the image–the way in which you resemble and represent God to the rest of creation–being corrupted. The living portrait of God that you were created to be has been stained by sin. You need renewal. But in order to be renewed, you first need to see what it looks like to truly image God, what it looks like to represent God as a human. Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, shows us this life of truly imaging God (Colossians 1:15). Jesus is the perfect picture of what it looks like to represent God as a human (Hebrews 1:3). So much so, that to see Jesus is to see the Father (John 14:9). This means that Jesus is the only one capable of restoring you to your rightful role. As you look at Jesus, observing his actions and desires and teaching, he renews you in the knowledge of who God is, and as a result, of who you are designed to be (2 Corinthians 3:18). Jesus is the reason for the season because Jesus saw your need for renewal.
“It is by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent.”
In order for the renewal to take place, disobedience needed to first be dealt with. Sinners deserve to die (Romans 6:23); God’s justice demands payment. But instead of seeing his creatures destroyed by his justice, God stepped into human history in the person of Jesus Christ to take his just punishment on himself. In a very real sense, when you look at the baby laying in the manger, you should think of the man Jesus Christ raised up on the cross, suffering as a real human in your place (Galatians 3:13). Jesus is the reason for the season because Jesus saw your need for a substitute.
“You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death has simply ceased to be”.
Though Jesus died as a substitute, death could not beat him. Even while he experienced the vulnerability of infancy and the sting of suffering, the incarnate Son of God was never less than the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col 1:16-17). For Jesus, victory was certain; the baby in the manger was none other than the victorious King of Kings and Lord of Lords. By dying as a human and rising again as a human the man Jesus defeated the power of death once and for all. If Jesus is your substitute, he is also your victory over death. Jesus is the reason for the season because Jesus saw your need for a champion.
There they are, three reasons for the baby in the manger according to our ancient brother Athanasius. As you remember the humble beginnings of the man Jesus Christ, allow yourself to be humbled knowing it was your need that put him there. Jesus is the reason for the season because he saw your need. Jesus is the reason for the season, but really, you are.