December 2020 — pg. 15
I t’s December and we’re already in the midst of the
Advent season — lighting candles and engaging
imagery of mangers, angels, shepherds and a
bright star. Why would we have a conversation about
the cross during Advent? Simply put: The cross was
present at the birth of Jesus.
I find it interesting that Paul’s letters in the Bible don’t
primarily focus on Advent, and not even on the birth
of Christ. Remember, the circumstances surrounding
the birth of Jesus are given to us as proof — undeniable
evidence that prophecy had been fulfilled and the
Messiah had come. But for Jesus, the cross preceded
His birth and, therefore, frames every detail of the
Bethlehem story. The real and true essence of the
Christmas story is Jesus Christ, “the Lamb who was
slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8c).
When we see Jesus as slain when the earth was created,
we see the birth as necessary, but only as a path to the
cross, which is eternally embedded in His life.
The cross is the “star” of Christmas. This truth holds
a reality for we who follow Jesus — a reality for how we
live, not how we celebrate. As some people fill social
media with memes about keeping Christ in Christmas,
I’d like to suggest we keep the cross in Christmas.
In studying Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians —
a church clearly run amok in dysfunction and selfish
ambition — the instructions they’re given and the
correction they receive is all framed in the cross.
It’s been brought to Paul’s attention that people
are picking their favorite all-star pastor and
saying they follow those people. Paul’s
first mention of what becomes a
powerful narrative about the cross
is in chapter one, verse 13,
when he rhetorically asks,
“Was Paul crucified
for you?” Why
Paul born for you,” or “Was Paul resurrected for you?”
There’s something about the cross we need to learn and
pay attention to, because it’s powerful and life-giving
for us as we celebrate Advent amid a pandemic.
The coronavirus has caused many among us to
mirror the Corinthian church. We follow certain
COVID experts of our own choosing, want things our
own way, and act with arrogance and selfishness. The
Corinthian church wanted their own way. They were
willful and stubborn; arrogant and selfish. They were
clueless, and Paul gave them the clues they needed.
Paul’s advice wasn’t to focus on the birth of Jesus or
even the resurrection. It was the cross. Therefore, our
advice this Christmas should not be to follow the birth
story, but the death story of Jesus. Why? We could use a
good dose of death-to-self this Christmas.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those
who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is
the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul lays it out
for the off-track Corinthian church. They thought their
“power” was in choosing the right superstar pastor to
follow, receiving and using the best gift from the Holy
Spirit, or having the loudest voice in their worship. No.
None of those are their “power.” Paul reminds them
and us, that our power — the very power of God —
is found in the message of the cross. This is a living
message, not merely words. This is a living message that
frames and feeds our “being saved,” not only spoken on
Good Friday. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on
to explain how his own life exemplified the message of
“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I
came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human
wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about
God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with
you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you
in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message
and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive
words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,
so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but
on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5).
Let’s connect the dots. Paul comes to the Corinthian
church in weakness, great fear, and trembling. The