Dr. Michael S. Beates, Chaplain
We live in a time of unprecedented anxiety. So many of us are fighting against defeats on numerous fronts; damages to life, home, and property; despair from hope and dreams that seem crushed by forces beyond our control; death and resulting grief have seemed to be epidemic in recent years. From a biblical angle, many of us are shocked to find ourselves wandering in a desert wilderness, unfamiliar and seemingly unending.
But then a baby came to Bethlehem to bring us victory in all these things!
I often tell students that God seldom does things the way we might expect. He uses people and event we would least expect to accomplish his ends so that he gets the glory. And we are reminded of all this at Christmas.
About 90 years ago, Gustaf Aulén wrote a book entitled Christus Victor that reintroduced us to an ancient theological concept of Jesus as the one who bring victory through his death. He said, Jesus gives his followers “victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.” He got this idea from early Church Fathers like Cyril of Alexandria and Gregory
of Nyssa who saw Christ as the bait on a fishhook, bait that lured the devil to bite and eventually to destroy himself. This concept has even been called the “fishhook theory of atonement.”
It all began immediately after The Fall in the Garden. As God pronounced the curse in Genesis 3, he said to the serpent:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
This verse is called the proto-evangelium – the first hint of Good News that God will defeat Satan through the offspring of Eve, even Jesus, born to Mary so many years later. But it only starts there.
We see God provided redemption from slavery in Egypt, real and existential, for his people Israel through the blood of a lamb on their door posts at Passover in Exodus 12. This foreshadowed a much greater redemption from sin and death through the blood of the Lamb for all people everywhere who believe in Jesus.
In the New Testament, we see the first glimpse of this when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple just days after his birth. The old man Simeon, after singing about Jesus as one who would bring salvation to all people in the “Nunc Dimittis” (Luke 2:29-32), he blessed the new parents and said to Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:34–35).
Paul continually speaks of our triumph in Christ as in 2 Corinthians 2:14 (“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere”) and in Romans 8:2 (“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death”).
The Apostle John also tells us that “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). And of course, in his Gospel, John gives us some of Jesus’ final words to his followers, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Are you fighting despair these days? Is the prospect of death far too close? Do you feel like you are wandering in a desert wilderness? Remember this:
A baby came to die for us to defeat death and sin.
A baby came to repair all the damage the world inflicts upon us.
A baby came to dispel despair in the midst of our misery and to and bring everlasting joy.
And a baby came so our deserts might bloom again, despite our worst fears.
I believe that Mary must not have been totally surprised by Good Friday because she heard soon after Christmas that God was going to work wonders through her pain and loss. So remember at Christmas, Jesus’ words in John 12: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses
it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). The baby born in Bethlehem came to die for our sins, to redeem us from our despair and misery and to bring us great, great joy.
Merry Christmas to you all.