“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour…And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened.” (Matthew 27:45, 51-52)
As Christmas recedes into the background, and we plunge into the new year, Easter awaits us in the distance. Viewing both events through the same lens, we notice the powerful distinctions and details connecting them which highlight the anguish and the triumph that changed our lives forever.
Christmas radiates with light. An extraordinary star hung over Bethlehem guiding the wise men forward; “the glory of the Lord” shone brilliantly around the shepherds, and the very “Light of the world” made his remarkable entrance as a baby into that obscure little town. On the other end of the spectrum, Easter cloaked “darkness over all the land” (Matthew 27:45). The agony of spiritual darkness engulfed Jesus as the sin of all humanity was deposited on him. The Light of the world willingly became darkness to save us.
With the Christmas story, the focus is on the birth. The Son of God chose to be the Son of Man, wrapped within the folds of swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Immanuel had arrived. Now God would dwell among us and within us. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16), the baby born in Bethlehem becoming our Savior on the cross. For a limited time as Easter approached, death was the focus. The crucifixion takes center stage as the wrath of God is poured out on his Son.
Without fanfare or throngs pressing around the stable, the birthday of the King of kings comes silently, quietly, secretly. A handful of scruffy shepherds testify to the extraordinary sight; few others are aware or concerned. But the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is anything but silent. Imagine the sound of God ripping apart the temple curtain from top to bottom; the clamor of the earth shaking, rocks splitting, and tombs breaking open; the shouts of delight from amazed family members as loved ones woke up from the dead and returned home.
In the most exquisite way, worship is the ribbon wrapped around every detail of Christmas. Mary magnifies the Lord, and so does her cousin Elizabeth; Zechariah worships out loud; Simeon and Anna follow suit when their eyes behold the Messiah cradled in Mary’s arms. The angels declare their worship before the audience of shepherds, and the wise men later “fell down and worshipped him” (Matthew 2:11). Then when Christ died, worship was forever elevated and transformed. Jesus had made the way for all peoples everywhere to have direct access to worship the living God.
Intertwined into the complex details of Christmas is the horror of Herod’s massacre of the children. Is it any wonder that we don’t care to remember this “slaughter of the innocents” as part of the story line? In some way, Herod’s grotesque crime foreshadows the perfectly innocent Jesus being crucified on the cross. But death is not the end of Christ’s story. He defied death’s hold, he rose from the tomb, and he conquered death for evermore.
Light and darkness. Birth and death. Silence and sounds. Worship and wonder. Sacrifice and love. What a story of our Savior!
Elizabeth A Mitchell
(Inspiration for this devotional taken from Bill Mitchell’s sermon at Boca Community Church on 12.26.21)