I believe in the historical Jesus;
I believe, as the Apostle’s Creed declares, that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born
of the Virgin Mary;
that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried;
And that on the third day he rose again from the dead.
I also believe that Jesus was (and is) the Archetype God-Man and
that he revealed the original pattern or model of a humanity in perfect alignment with God.
Further, I believe that at the heart of Christ’s incarnation—when he became a man—we discover
that life, if it is to have any meaning, requires suffering. Humiliation. Loss.
The prophet Isaiah writes in what is perhaps the bloodiest, goriest chapter in the Bible, that Jesus “was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows” (53:3).
The Apostle Paul notes, that “he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,
. . . and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:7-8)
The Apostle’s Creed states that before any ascension into heaven took place, Jesus first had to descend into hell. Down. Darkness. Defeat.
The cruciform life.
Death always comes before life. Pain before gain. Suffering before glory. It can be no other way.
Whether with the abscission of trees during the fall
or the migration of ocean salmon swimming to the upper reaches of rivers;
Whether with seeds in a garden or the cells in your body;
This is the cycle interwoven into the very fabric of our universe.
And Christ’s incarnation is the ultimate testimony of this bold paradox.
The late psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung contended that neurosis is the refusal of legitimate
suffering. Nobody freely embraces the cross. Therefore we are all neurotics to some degree.
Peter’s words to Jesus could have been spoken by any one of us. Matthew tells us that when
Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must be killed, Peter took him aside and
said, “Never, Lord!” (16:22)
Interestingly, no comment addressed to Jesus recorded in the Gospels evoked more emotion in him than this one. Mark reports that Jesus rebuked Peter (the same word used for casting out demons) and said, “Get behind me, Satan!” (8:33).
Jesus could not be fully human without suffering.
Yes, Christmas is about family gatherings, gingerbread cookies, and “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”
And Christmas is about gift-giving, carol-singing, and classic movie-watching.
But eclipsing all of these wonderful blessings, Christmas is a reminder that the Word was made flesh and that that flesh took on wounds and welts. Was broken.
The God-Man stands in solidarity with all who suffer.
He shows how suffering can be redeemed.
And he makes it clear that suffering does not have the last word. History is not a running Greek
Richard Rohr astutely observes, “The Risen Christ . . . is the pledge and guarantee of what God
will do with all of our crucifixions.”
Christmas is also a reminder that if we are to follow this God-Man—this Pioneer—we must take up our cross. Suffer. Die.
Suffering is the cost of growing up; suffering is the price of love.
Of being human.
“We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Rom. 5:3-4)