Essential to our Christian understanding of the birth of Jesus is the claim that Christ is born anew in all of us as an on-going event in the history of creation. We who have vowed to follow Christ must also imitate and embody Christ. This is a daunting task. I wish I could say that it is easy, but it is not. We are called to be countercultural, and in no way more obvious than by taking the path of peace.
But we know that this beautiful story will lead to the cross. The way of peace that we must imitate and embody as followers of Jesus is the way of the cross. We can courageously live out that adventure assured that the story doesn’t end with the cross, but continues through Resurrection and Pentecost. However, that confident, post-Easter hope does not remove the fact that the cross lies starkly in the path of peace that begins here on this Christmas Eve.
Do we wish to face the stark reality that this moment of joy, this moment of peace, is the first step on the journey that leads to the place of the skull? To an ignominious death outside the city gates? Not just for Jesus, although for him certainly. This journey, this remembrance of the birth of the Savior, if it does not also bring about the recollection that we, too, are called to this journey, has not, yet, become fully real for us.
This is the challenge of Christmas, the dare, if you will, of God to all those who see this baby and rejoice in his birth. Are you willing, as all who follow are called to do, to bear your cross? Are you willing to embrace your own death, face squarely the reality that ours is a path of peace, to be sure, but a peace bought at a steep price? We recall Jesus' life, and death, and resurrection, his words, his healing, the loving care and frustration he directed at his disciples not because it offers some ideal we are to emulate. We recall Jesus' life, and death, and resurrection, his words, his healing, and all the rest because this is our journey. We are to be imitators of Christ, in the full knowledge that the Prince of Peace was brutally tortured, scorned, and died abandoned. Embracing the baby Jesus in the stable is not enough, unless we are willing to see the blood from his already wounded wrists on us, the mark of our salvation, the real blessing of Peace.
At Christmas, no less than any other time of year, as we recall the beginning of Jesus' life and ministry, we should remember that, having Jesus be born anew in us, marks us with the sign, not of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, but the sign of the cross, a cross from which flowed a fountain of blood (in the words of an old hymn). Before any of us get to comfortable with this whole "Christian" thing, I think recalling the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer are important - "When God calls a man, he bids him come and die."