Christmas definitely hired a better PR agent! We like Christmas better than Easter. The Christmas story is happy and there's lots of anticipation and presents. Easter is bloody and gloomy. We like happy. We avoid bloody. Yet, our preference of Christmas over Easter is encouraged by misunderstandings of both holy days. What did we miss?
Two thousand years of artwork and writings have contributed to our sterilized view of Christ on the cross. So many images have been passed down that portray Jesus with pasty-white skin, free of blemishes and blood. Many pieces of art reflect the culture and period in which they were produced instead of an historical image. This can be good as these pieces would have made their contemporary audience identify with those in the scenes who were mocking Jesus. We, like the Roman soldiers, can miss the truth that is right in front of our faces. Yet, the soldiers' mocking of Jesus ironically proclaimed exactly who He is.
While the film The Passion of the Christ may have its critics and faults, at least it shocked us back into the reality of the brutality involved in Jesus' death. We need that wakeup call. We need to be reminded of what Jesus did for us. We need to be reminded that God's grace was not cheap. We were bought at a price, redeemed from the slavery of sin at the highest cost imaginable.
But this doesn't help us with our real problem. We don't like the gloom, doom, and blood of Easter compared to the anticipation, warmth, and hot chocolate of Christmas. Christmas has babies and silent nights. Easter has screams of pain and darkness.
Just as we have glossed the Easter story with bloodless artwork and bunnies, we have also glossed the Christmas story. We forget the brutal slaughter of babies in Bethlehem by Herod's soldiers. Jesus' birth was accompanied by death and horror. Evil was on the march in the Christmas story. That was not a silent night. Mothers and fathers were weeping and preparing to bury their children, not showering them with toys.
"STOP!" you may say. "We need more positivity! Why focus on the negative!" Right!?
NO. We need victory. The idea of simply being "positive" is often just choosing to ignore what makes us uncomfortable while never healing the problem. The "Positive Thinking" push in our culture encourages us to ignore reality. The question, "Is the glass half full, or is it half empty?" is a false dichotomy. The glass is both half full AND half empty at the same time. This is neither a positive or negative attitude; this is simply acknowledging reality.
While having a positive attitude is helpful, Jesus did not come into a positive world. His approach was not to give simplistic "positive" memes, tweets or Facebook posts to make people feel better for a moment. Jesus' approach was to bring a final solution to make people free from the brokenness of their lives.
Jesus attacked the source of the world's problem head-on. He healed sickness. He cast out the demonic forces at work in people's lives. He called sin sin (not mistakes or mishaps). He taught that to love someone did not mean ignoring moral truth or validate their sin. Christmas was bloody because the world we live in, the world according to which we operate by default, is opposed to Jesus. He knew this, but came anyway. He has come to a brutal and selfish people, and our selfishness leads us to ignore the truth that each of us contributes daily to the evil in this world in varying degrees. Our selfishness leads us to ignore the parts of both Christmas and Easter that make us uncomfortable. Jesus, however, leads us to another path.
Jesus leads us to the place where selfishness dies. Jesus leads us to a place where brutality reigned for but a moment, and then was defeated. This place is called Golgotha, a rocky outcropping outside the city walls of first-century Jerusalem. At Golgotha, we do not ignore our selfishness. We do not gloss over our sin. We watch it die.
And this is where the Easter story brings the greatest joy, hope, and excitement! Jesus was buried, but on the third day, Easter, He rose again! He defeated sin and death that day. He validated all that He said and did. His resurrection sets us free from the power of sin and brokenness. Jesus declared victory and provides it to all who trust in Him as their Lord and Savior.
"Death is swallowed up in victory."
"O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!"
- 1 Corinthians 15:54-57
Perhaps, we can look to Easter with great anticipation instead of dread. We should be ready to be moved out of our comfort zone, for this helps bring transformation into our lives. We should be ready to receive the gift of forgiveness and life-change that only Christ can bring. If you have already opened that gift, as in, you are already a follower of Christ, then get excited about others opening that same gift this Easter. Further, as followers of Christ, we should never forget that salvation is a gift that continues to be opened throughout our lifetime as we experience the transformation that only the Gospel brings (Romans 12:1-2). We need to embrace the discomfort, so we can embrace the change and the greatest gift our Lord gave us. We need to celebrate that He loves us so much!