Christ is the gift we did not want. Herod, the king of Judea, was uninterested in another ruling power and went on a murderous rampage to destroy him. The religious elite were looking for a military leader in Jerusalem, not the baby of an impoverished refugee family in north Africa.
Even today the gift of Christ is uncomfortable because the world’s need for him draws attention to our own insufficiency. Modern versions of the 19th century song, “What Child is This?”—by Chris Tomlin, Josh Groben, Sarah McLachlan, and Michael W. Smith, and others—highlight this by dropping out the lines that speak of who Christ truly is:
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
“’It is finished’ is not a death gurgle,” observes Stanley Hauerwas in Shattered Christ. “’It is finished’ is a cry of victory. ‘It is finished’ is the triumphant cry that what I came to do has been done. All is accomplished, completed, fulfilled work.” Hauerwas continues:
The Gospel of John makes explicit what all the Gospels assume—that is, the cross is not a defeat but the victory of our God. On the sixth day of creation ‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.’ So on the seventh day ‘God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done.’ Accordingly the seventh day was hallowed.
But God’s work, the work of the Trinity, is consummated in Jesus’s great declaration from the cross, ‘It is finished.’ His life, his death, his resurrection, as Irenaeus insisted, recapitulates creation, recapitulates God’s covenant with Israel, uniting creation and redemption in Incarnation.
What child is this? He is Immanuel—God with us. Christ eschewed earthly riches, embraced sinners, and gave up his life so that we might live. He is our hope and peace—he is the gift we long for.
Listen: What Child Is This? by Rebecca Roubion (3:42)
The Request for Presence
May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us. Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations. — Psalm 67.1-2
– From Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.