Have you ever anticipated an event or situation with great distress? With dread? I remember as a child counting down the minutes to a dentist appointment, wishing time could somehow stand still. Whenever I find myself in a similar situation now, I’m reminded of that sort of desperate dread. We’ve all been there. Trips to the dentist, parties we don’t really want to attend, school exams. Many of us have faced far more trouble situations. A trip to the doctor, expecting bad news. Seeing a loved one off to college, away from home for the first time. Seeing a loved one off to war.
Think now about Jesus, preparing to leave heaven and all its glory, majesty, decadence, comfort, pleasure, and safety. Think about Him coming to earth, full of sickness, disease, pain, stress, rejection . . . and death. Not just any death, but the most barbaric, gruesome, horrifying death imaginable, enhanced by having the weight of the sin of the world poured upon His back. Distress isn’t a strong enough word. Scripture is quite clear that God’s plan of salvation was not some spur of the moment, reactionary strategy. Rather, it was in the works before the creation of the world. Meaning from eternity past, Jesus knew His future was pointing to the cross.
Now, I don’t mean to draw a picture of an anxious Jesus biting his fingernails and looking at the eternal clock, pleading for time to stand still. But I do believe He was fully conscious of what lay ahead. And while we know from the Book of Hebrews that He willingly went to the cross for “the joy set before Him,” (Hebrews 12:2) we also know that, in Gethsemane, His sweat became drops of blood, such was His anguish at the path ahead. Earlier in his gospel, Luke records that “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) The picture once put in my head was that of Jesus gritting his teeth as he started on His journey.
That is our Savior. Not a cooing, cuddly baby. Not a gentle, bearded man in a flowing robe. A man so overcome with sorrow at the thought of the pain He was to endure that he sweated blood. A man who gritted his teeth and purposefully approached the cross. A God who willingly left heaven and all its riches behind to die for your sins and mine. The first Christmas wasn’t placid. Jesus didn’t descend from Mary’s womb in a glowing celestial blanket. She screamed in agony at the pain of labor, her hands clawing the dirt of a stable. That manger was a rough wooden feeding trough. Jesus’ first breaths were likely snatched from his lungs by the cold. And so it began, a hard, laborious, peasant’s life that was a piece of cake compared to His death.
Of course, we all know the reason Jesus subjected himself to the horrors of the cross. We know—at least in small part—the love that drove Him to die. Many of us are familiar with the passage in Philippians about Jesus “making Himself nothing” and we’ve sung the old hymn, “Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown when Thou camest to earth for me.” But sometimes, I think it’s good to consider things again, with a fresh perspective. From a slightly different angle.
So this Christmas, as you enjoy family, food, and fellowship . . . as you bask in the glow of lights and the luster of presents . . . as you read and hear the Christmas story anew, I challenge you to take a few moments and think about Jesus, not as the Savior coming to earth, but as the Savior going to earth. Put yourself, to the degree possible, in His place. Think what it must have been like for the Word as He was made flesh. Maybe, just maybe, it will add a little bit more meaning to our celebration of Christmas.