SFL Flashback: A Living Lord

This post was originally featured on SFL in December of 2010

If your family read the crucifixion story every year before opening your presents, you may have been a fundamentalist. For to a fundamentalist, the Incarnation is often seen as little more than the first step on the road to Calvary.Β  For unto us a Son is given and his name shall be called Doomed, Condemned, Destined for Destruction. He was born to die.

But we do our Savior a great injustice if we give the season a tragic tone as if this Baby should be mourned as merely mortal. Consider too the years of his humanity as a child, his miracles, his compassion, his wisdom, his teachings of love for others, his laughter and tears and hunger and weariness experienced as a God who condescended to become a man and walk among us. He was born to Live.

And yes, he was betrayed and mocked and falsely accused and beaten and crucified…but the story doesn’t end there either! For of his own will he defeated death and rose from the grave, comforting his grieving friends with words of Everlasting Life. He was born to Live.

Remember the words of his promise that he will never leave us or forsake us and that he is that friend who is closer than a brother. After our years of struggle and pain are ended we too will live with him in an eternity where there will be no darkness or pain or dying ever again. In him we will finally be truly alive. He was born to Live.

Dear heart, if you want to remember the Reason for the Season as you gather on Christmas Day this year, do not mourn as if Christ’s life was only given to be consumed in the seeming tragedy of his death. Read insteadΒ  these words: “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen.”

He was born to Live.

49 thoughts on “SFL Flashback: A Living Lord”

    1. Oops. And second. Silly iPad at this time of the morning.
      Yes, I remember all the Born to Die cantatas and sermons. Did a bit of that myself teaching in Christian school. It has only been in the past few years that I have come to recognize the scope of God’s redemptive plan and where the incarnation fits into that. Tomorrow I get to go to the York Cathedral for the Christmas Eve service. I went with a group from the base chapel two years ago. If I remember correctly the service is called Nine Lessons and Carols. I was impressed! Starting with the Creation and the Fall in Genesis, through scripture readings followed by song, the Anglicans presented the full range of the gospel better than any IFB Christmas program I have ever seen. I look forward to once again sitting in that ancient and stunningly beautiful building to witness the spectacle and pageantry. The choirs in their robes, the children in their white choir smocks with big red bows. The Archbishop of York and the other officials in their opulent brocaded robes carrying embroidered banners. The music filling the lofty heights as it has for hundreds of Christmas Eves. There was a time in my IFB days I would have scoffed and said these people were deluded and didn’t know the Truth anymore. I know better now. Thank the Lord!

      1. BTW, do I get a butt cushion? Those seats in the cathedral are hard not to mention cold. How does one adequately heat an enormous building whose original foundation was a Roman villa?

      2. When you say York cathedral, do you mean the Minster? If so, I’m jealous. I lived in York for a while, and while I’m not remotely Christian, it’s a beautiful building and a great place to go and hear almost any kind of concert or reading.

        Also, I don’t think they have butt pads there, but I could be wrong. I’d suggest just offering the suffering up, but that would be a mighty Catholic thing to do. πŸ˜›

      1. For me, the baby’s facial expression is perfect – I’ve seen that newborn furrowed brow many times, when babies are first tasting something new, or they are trying to focus on something interesting at a distance. I love that Jesus is painted not as passive decoration, but rather as a person in action – a very small person, but nevertheless in action.

  1. Yes. Ron Hamilton did get it wrong. Christ was born to live and to give us life. Abundant life. I believe few fundies really understand what how abundant this life is or can be.

    1. I don’t know that I’d say “wrong” — possibly “incomplete”.

      According to the Bible, the gospel is that Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures.

      Certainly His main purpose was to die for our sins, and be raised for our justification.

      Some people I have spoken with think that Jesus was merely an example, and songs like “Born to Die” are a good counterpoint to that notion.

  2. Actually, He was born to die.

    If He didn’t need to die, He never would have been born because He was already alive.

    The only purpose for the incarnation (birth) was so that he could take on human form and suffer punishment as a human for humanity.

    Again, He was alive before He was born. He was born as a human so He could die as a human, having lived entirely as a human from birth to death.

    1. The only purpose for his incarnation was to suffer punishment?

      Funny how the Gospels recorded all that other extraneous stuff then about him doing miracles, and teaching, and being our example. Seems like they would have just jumped straight from Christmas to Easter.

    2. I don’t believe it is an “either/or” issue. Clearly the messianic prophecies spoke of a suffering savior. (Isaiah 53, Zechariah 12) In Luke 2, Mary was even warned by Simeon that a sword would pierce her soul as well.
      But also prophecy speaks of a life-giving savior. He came to fulfill the will and the requirements of the Father in order to redeem his creation.

      In his death there is life. It is a tension that exists. We should not lean too far one way or the other, lest we find ourselves in a ditch bogged down with the death of Christ on one side or the other ditch making his death a mere footnote.
      (Neither of which do I see so much here on SFL)

      In Christ’s birth, life and death; we see our own mortality. What do we do with the life we have? How do we live? (For ourselves or for others?) We are born, and immediately begin the process of dying. When we die it is our life and the way we lived it that is remembered. For Christians will Christ be remembered as living in and through us?

      We are all “born to die” in the strictest sense of the word. Christ’s purpose for living was that in his dying he would bring Life abundantly to the believer. (Both here and now as well as the here-after)

      (That probably only muddied the issue even more)

    3. What did Christ Himself say was the reason he came?

      Mat 9:13b – For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.

      John 17:13 – …I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy.

      John 10:10 – The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

      Mat 10:34 “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.

      Mat 5:17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.

      His purpose is a great deal more multi-faceted than the simplistic “born to die” view allows for. That last passage hints at the crucifixion, but there is so much more to the redemptional fulfillment of the scripture than just the crucifixion.

      To focus on the crucifixion to the exclusion of all else, especially at a time when God Himself told the angels to proclaim it a time to be joyful and unafraid – well, there’s a great deal of fundamentalism right there in a nutshell, isn’t there.

    4. If the reason to be born is only for his death, we can eliminate at least 2 of the fundamentals of the faith.

      1. And (in the words of Frank Miller), “Every womb empties into a grave.”

        At which point, Why Bother?

  3. The fundy school I attended put on a “Christmas play” that was called “Born to Die”. A mishmash of the prodigal son, a dying mother, a few songs, and an altar call at the end of the program. I don’t remember much more, just that it was very sappy.

    1. “My name is Charles Ignatius Parker III, you can call me ‘Chip’ for short.”

      Prodagal son, sees error of his ways, returns home. mom has died, reads note she left, heart strings plucked, altar call ensues.

      Emotional-experiential manipulation at it’s best.

      1. Hey, I played a pretty good Chip my Freshman year in college, If I do say so myself. πŸ˜‰ Anywho, maybe it’s not great but I just have good memories of that cantata.

      2. I like Jesus’ story better with the father waiting with open arms and throwing a grand party for the returning prodigal.

        1. But then you miss the opportunity to stand in judgement of someone, either the prodigal or the elder brother. Because any good fundie will tell you that passage is all about either the prodigal’s “worldly” sin or the elder brother’s “self-righteous” sin… it’s not really about the love of the Father.
          Most of the sermons I ever heard on the prodigal son were some “Team Prodigal” -v- “Team Elder Brother” diatribe and the Father was merely a supporting role played by a character actor.

        2. I agree with you, PW. Still, sometimes I have to sympathize with the elder brother (or more often, sister); it’s frustrating to do what you know is the right thing, and as often as not get overlooked. The lesson concerning the elder is no less valuable, just not as obvious. πŸ˜•

      3. I take it this “Born to Die” is a pretty widespread church play?

        Don’t know what its subject matter has to do with the Feast of Christmas, though. Sounds more like the Fundy obsession with Altar Calls and emotional/guilt manipulation.

  4. Everybody, including Jesus, dies. The point of the Easter story is that he rose again, and is still alive. It doesn’t stop on Good Friday.

    The Christmas story doesn’t say Jesus was born to die. It says he was born to be King of Kings, and to rule in our hearts forever.

  5. When I worked in the ER, I had a friend who was an x-ray tech. She came home from work and found their crucifix in the stable. She asked her son why he put it there. He replied “someone needs to tell him what is going happen”.

    I really started to think about this when I started to read NT Wrights, “How God Became King The Missing Middle”. Here is a brief synopsis.

    We miss the part about living life abundantly. Christianity is more then a get out of Hell free card.

    1. Christianity is more then a get out of Hell free card.

      This is so well said!

      I cannot find any example of “selling heaven” in the Bible – it is all about being restored to fellowship with God.

  6. The whole message of Jesus is perhaps best summarized in the four-fold description we theologians use: his Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.

    Starting December 25, and for 12 days, we SPECIALLY remember that first part: his life. We take this time to remember the meaning of the incarnation. We should remember it all the rest of the year, sure; and we shouldn’t ignore the other parts during this time– but for now, during Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation in itself.

    As a particularly reformed theologian, who has become interested in the eastern orthodox theological tradition, I’ve actually become MOST interested in the incarnation. This sometimes gets me in trouble. I was never in fundie-dom, but all of american evangelicalism (not just fundies) seems to tend towards obsession with Jesus’ death/resurrection. Yes- substitutionary atonement is a useful and important theological construct- but it’s only one aspect of Christ’s mission.

    The perfectly lived life of Christ, as both God and Man- that really matters, too. In this season, we celebrate that, the unification of God with Man.

    1. wow…. you actually said, ” Yes- substitutionary atonement is a useful and important theological construct”

      I don’t know you, but there’s something really wrong with what you said here.

        1. Perhaps I misunderstood you then. While most on this site have dealt with crazy Baptist Fundies, I’ve dealt with cold Calvinists. They are people who like to cut up and compartmentalize God. They talk big theological terms, but they lack the heart of God. I guess calling something Jesus accomplished “a useful theological construct” rubbed me the wrong way. It gave me some flashbacks. It depersonalizes him. That’s why I tried to qualify what I was saying by saying, ‘I don’t know you.’ I didn’t want to claim to know your heart in the matter.

        2. And when God is “cut up and compartmentalized”, He becomes nothing more than another Ideology. And Purity of Ideology becomes all that matters, just like a certain political cult of the 20th Century.

        3. sounds like we agree. I’m ALSO in favor of lessening our devotion to the compartments and concepts of theology. I’m in favor of Christ: and while our theologies are really important, they aren’t everything. Which, I think, is what I was saying all along.

      1. FundyFascinated, first of all, merry Christmas!

        Obviously I cannot speak for Jason, but I think what he was trying to convey was that there’s more than one way to see the Atonement. (Jason, please correct me if I’m wrong.)

        You see it in terms of “penal substitution,” am I correct? That is: Jesus was punished for our sins instead of us.

        But there are other ways to see it, which go back hundreds and hundreds of years in Christian history. For example: The New Testament repeatedly calls Jesus the Lamb of God. What is the Lamb, in Biblical terms? The paschal sacrifice. Jesus, the spotless Lamb, sacrificed Himself on the Cross to make atonement for our sin. All the Old Testament sacrifices and holocausts — especially the Passover Lamb — point to this supreme Sacrifice. Perhaps the Father did not so much punish Jesus for our sins. Rather, He lovingly accepted this one pure, all-sufficient Sacrifice, which alone could satisfy for sin.

        IOW, the Atonement can best be seen within the context of Biblical sacrifice, above all the Passover Sacrifice. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us,” as Saint Paul says.

        I am not putting this very well; a theologian I ain’t. :mrgreen: But I think it’s more or less the historic Western way of viewing the Atonement. Eastern Christians have yet another perspective. The Atonement is infinite and inexhaustible!

        1. That’s essentially what I mean. Penal substitution is one great facet of the atonement, but it’s not the only one. The incarnation is another, and we do well to dwell on it right now.

        2. And what i meant by ‘theological construct’ (maybe this is where the disagreement lies?) is simply that, it’s a great way for us to theologically speak of Christ and his mission. After all, the Bible doesn’t specifically SAY “penal substitutionary atonement” anywhere; theologians are the people who defined & refined the idea. And a great one it is: it captures a lot of the meaning of the cross. But it’s not everything. In the East, christian theologians generally focus on the *incarnation* as ‘more central’ to atonement than the cross. So, merry “feast of the incarnation” (Christmas) to you all!

  7. Thanks so much for this post!!! That has always bothered me about the fundamentalist approach to Christmas, at least as I’ve experienced it down here in North Carolina. I just don’t think there’s sufficient emphasis on the Incarnation or sufficient appreciation of the implications thereof. (And don’t even get me started on the studied neglect of Mary — you know, that disposable wrapper Jesus came in — who is mentioned only at Christmas and always as hastily and grudgingly as possible, LOL. So much for “all generations shall call me blessed.” 😐 )

    OK, I’m getting too Catholicky here…better tone it down. LOL. Merry Christmas, y’all!

    1. If Catholics can get too obsessed over St Mary, Fundagelicals can get too obsessed about snubbing her.

  8. When I muse on the birth and life of Christ ,I see sinless perfection and a spotless lamb. I shows me that He has overcome this life and is able to help me. The God of Heaven came and clothed Himself in flesh for an undeserving world. Other times I muse on His death and the payment He made for my sin. Oh what grace that covered our multitude of sins. Then , at times I think on His resurection and I am thrilled at the name that is above all things, even death. What a wonderful Saviour!

  9. A Facebook friend posted this: the first (known / extant) Christmas sermon!

    St. John (the golden-tongued), excerpt from his sermon on the feast of Christmas in A.D.486:

    “What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infant’s bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

    “For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.”

    1. That’s Saint John Chrysostom, one of the Early Fathers of the Church. Sorry…should have specified. (But I’m sure the Greek scholars here figured it out anyway. πŸ˜€ )

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