Friday, April 14, 2017

A Little Christmas in the Sepulcher

“Nativity Icon”
Maxim Yurianov. Undated.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

“And this shall be a sign unto you...”

I know this seems totally inappropriate, but Good Friday is a good time to reflect on Christmas. Undeniably, the prophesies of the Messiah, the life of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection are all woven into one gorgeous tapestry. His birth in Bethlehem is part of that. Furthermore, I like to think there is a huge connection between Jesus’ birth and His death.

Holy Scripture isn’t a well-thought-out yarn with a cast of thousands; it isn’t a novel. Neither is it some how-to book on living the good life; the Bible isn’t “Sanctified Living for Dummies.” It is The Word. Because He is The Word, Holy Scripture is Christo-centric. Sorry, dear reader, but it isn’t all about you. (Actually, I'm not sorry at all.)

What this means is that everything in Scripture points in some way to the Christ. For example, if one reads the Passion of Christ as a novel, then the only thing you’ll take away from the crucifixion is that “it was a dark and stormy night.” If, however, you read it in a Christo-centric manner, then you should catch the obvious that Jesus was not just a man; that The Father was abandoning Him; that even the elements were bearing witness to this heavenly punishment.

Likewise, when the word “sign” pops up in Scripture, no one is giving traffic directions. “Sign” indicates that what is about to follow is extremely important; a “sign” points to things more profound than the obvious, no matter how strange the obvious actually is.

Jesus repeatedly told his disciples exactly what was going to happen to Him when they got to Jerusalem. Whether they were in denial, or whether sin had clouded their minds, or whether it was not yet given them to understand, we have a tendency, in 20-20 hind-sight, to do face-palms and shake our heads at their missing the obvious. Perhaps we, too, miss a much earlier clue to Jesus’ death – one that was there at Christmas.

In my pea-sized brain, I contend that a bit of crucifixion foreshadowing occurred when the angels announced the birth of Jesus Christ to the shepherds. They were given a sign. Most take the sign as an indication of Jesus humility – the born-in-a-barn thing. Others point to the Virgin birth, but the angels didn’t mention anything about a virgin to the shepherds. Look at the Nativity with a slightly antiquated understanding of shepherding and burial practices and see what otherwise isn't so obvious: A human, wrapped in burial cloths, and lying in a sarcophagus.

In an abrupt shift of artistic disciplines, I recently wrote a hymn that builds on this imagery. “What King So Gently Swaddled There” sings of the entombed King of Heaven, but instead of being wrapped in burial cloths, He is “swaddled.” Of course, this reversal is but a faint shadow of a much greater reversal in the plan of Salvation, for by Grace we put on His royal robes when He assumed our sin. Cantor Christina Roberts set my words to an original tune, which she named "Perpetua Felicity." The hymn will be sung tonight during the Good Friday Chief Service at Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.

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