This being the last Sunday before Christmas, all of us have been recently reminded that God the Son took on flesh, that he physically became a part of our world. This time of year, we remember that Christ was born.
This season of remembrance, however, does not teach us why Christ was born. But we need to know and recall the reason. Which is why Jesus himself gave to us the Lord's Supper, this blessed time of remembrance.
We would never want to downplay what Christmas is supposed to commemorate. After all, wonderful events surrounded the birth of our Lord. Scripture reports those things with a spirit of celebration and wonder. At the same time, it is worth pointing out that Jesus never told his disciples to observe something called Christmas. But of the Supper, Jesus said, "This do in remembrance of me."
On several different occasions, Jesus explained to his disciples the reason for his birth. One time he told them, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). When Paul interpreted the significance of this feast, he emphasized that it always announces that Jesus gave his life: "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26).
This can only mean that the rough wood of the manger in which the baby Jesus was laid pales in significance when compared to the rough wood of the cross on which he was crucified. The manger was incidental. But the cross was essential.
Why was the cross essential? Why did Jesus have to give his life? Hebrews chapter 9 gives the answer: Because "without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness" (22). . . . Therefore, Jesus "appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him" (26-28).
That is what we now remember and celebrate!