It’s Christmas season, or as Christians have called it, Advent.
Nativity scenes are in our yards, statues of baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes are on our coffee tables, and cute songs about Jesus’ birthday are being sung at our churches.
And it’s in seasons like this that a lot of the same platitudes make their way into our sermons, conversations, and tweets. A lot of them probably shouldn’t have any place there.
One of them is this: Jesus was born to die.
You might hear another version of it like this: Christmas is important, but only because it led to Easter.
This probably isn’t a good thing to say or believe, and here’s why:
1. Birth vs. Incarnation
Firstly, and most related to the Advent season, we set ourselves up in a bad place when we focus on Christmas being about Jesus’ birth. Though this is part of the story, it isn’t the main point of the Advent season.
The main idea of Christmas isn’t just that Jesus was born a baby, but that God was made flesh. The Son of God became a human being. The Creator entered into his creation as part of it.
Christmas isn’t just a big birthday party for Jesus (after all, we know that he wasn’t actually born on December 25th anyway). Christmas is about Emmanuel: God with us.
This is significant in and of itself, and doesn’t have anything to do with Easter. Easter is part of Jesus’s story as well, but the significance of Christmas isn’t dependent on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
2. Life vs. Death
Secondly, saying that Jesus was “born to die” ignores his entire life and ministry here on Earth, as if he could have skipped all of the years in between the two events.
Not only is the Incarnation important, but Jesus’s earthly life and ministry are important as well.
When we fixate on the death and resurrection of Jesus, we tend to have a theology that focuses on individuals’ salvation, rather than an expansive theology that also includes Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom of God. We see a Jesus that offers people forgiveness, but not a Jesus who breaks the oppressive chains of society.
The text of the Gospels in between Jesus’ birth and death aren’t just filler until you get to the important stuff. They need to be central to our understanding of the gospel, especially since Jesus often calls it the “gospel of the kingdom.” Without a kingdom, without the life and ministry of Jesus, there is no gospel.
Jesus was born, died, and rose again, but this isn’t the only part that matters.
3. Killed vs. Died
Lastly, implicit behind the claim that Jesus was “born to die” is a warped view of Jesus’ death on a cross.
The Father didn’t send Jesus on a mission to die. First, Jesus laid his own life down. Second, we killed Jesus. We bear the responsibility for this.
The “born to die” theology often gets reduced to a flat and mechanical understanding of forgiveness—that Jesus died (or even, was killed by God) so we wouldn’t have to. But this isn’t the case.
Jesus died because we couldn’t handle God’s presence in our world. We couldn’t handle his love for enemy, his unconditional forgiveness, his prophetic cry for the oppressed and against the oppressor. We had to eradicate him at all costs; we chose death on a cross.
So it becomes more like “Jesus was born, and we killed him.” Death wasn’t just another step in Jesus’ plan of salvation (although, of course, it was inevitable and known by God). It’s the result of our own fallenness. If we can kill God, we can’t we do?
But, of course, Jesus forgave those that killed him in their act of doing so, and he does the same toward us.
So, this Christmas season, be wary of platitudes that may get repeated every year. Especially this one.
Let’s celebrate Advent, the coming of our God into the world. And let’s look forward with great anticipation to his coming again in glory.