This is an excerpt from Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew:
When the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci went to China in the sixteenth century, he brought along samples of religious art to illustrate the Christian story for people who had never heard it. The Chinese readily adopted portraits of the Virgin Mary holding her child, but when he produced paintings of the crucifixion and tried to explain that the God-child had grown up only to be executed, the audience reacted with revulsion and horror. They much preferred the Virgin and insisted on worshiping her rather than the crucified God.
As I thumb once more through my stack of Christmas cards, I realize that we in Christian countries do much the same thing. We observe a mellow, domesticated holiday purged of any hint of scandal. Above all, we purge from it any reminder of how the story that began in Bethlehem turned out at Calvary.
It is remarkable how charitable our culture is to Christmas. After all, who’s going to take issue with a baby boy lying in a manger? Everybody loves a story about a miraculous birth and a family seeking shelter and simple shepherds who get a visit from angels and exotic stargazers “bearing gifts (they) traverse afar.” It’s about the birth of hope. It’s about the birth of innocence. Who’s going to balk at the good news that “God is with us?”
You won’t find people to be nearly so agreeable when it comes to Easter: a story of torture and execution followed by the fantastic claim that a man was raised from the dead.And most people, myself included, aren’t so agreeable when that cute little baby starts calling on people to repent.
But the truth is it all goes together. You can’t have Christmas without Easter, or vice versa. Without Easter, Christmas is the story of the birth of yet another peasant refugee who would grow up to build a marginal following and then disappear into the obscurity. Without the crucifixion and resurrection there would be no nativity scenes. And with it all comes this unrelenting claim that the one who was in the manger and the one who was raised from the dead has definite plans for all of us. He’s not just the Babe in swaddling clothes, or even just the Savior of all humanity. He’s also the Lord.
And it’s ironic. Easter is what makes Christmas such wonderful news. It’s what makes Jesus’ birth the best gift ever. Christmas day ends at midnight next Saturday. The celebration continues on and on. And the news is better than even most of us Christians give it credit for. I hope you’ll celebrate with me this morning.