During the days leading up to Christmas, I read a piece of writing reflecting on the idea that Jesus was born to die, and contesting with the notion that Jesus was only born to live for us. The writer wrote that he was “sad that anyone could reduce the mystery of incarnation to the tragedy of crucifixion.”
I bookmarked the piece and thought about it for the past few weeks. Why does it not bother me to think of Jesus’ birth as simply the means to his death? I celebrate Jesus’ birth fully and am overcome with gratitude that my Lord and Savior humbled himself to become like me – a human – though he retained his divine nature. Do I consider his death to be more important than his life? Why do I pair his crucifixion with his Incarnation as though they are equal and desirable pieces to the puzzle of my faith?
A recent e-mail in my inbox titled “Read the Catechism in a Year” (day 76) contained a Catholic perspective on this very topic that I’d like to share with you:
The Catechism states [in Part 1: The Profession of Faith, Chapter 2: I believe in Jesus Christ, the Only Son of God, Article3, Paragraph 3 (pertaining to The Mysteries of Christ’s Life)]:
512 Concerning Christ’s life the Creed speaks only about the mysteries of the Incarnation (conception and birth) and Paschal mystery (passion, crucifixion, death, burial, descent into hell, resurrection and ascension). It says nothing explicitly about the mysteries of Jesus’ hidden or public life, but the articles of faith concerning his Incarnation and Passover do shed light on the whole of his earthly life. “All that Jesus did and taught, from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven”, is to be seen in the light of the mysteries of Christmas and Easter. (emphasis, mine)
We do have some stories of Jesus’ life in the Gospels, but those stories that are present in the Gospels are written down “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” As humans, we desire to see Jesus more as the “man” and less like the “God” but our faith, as Catholic Christians, is that he was equally man and God, therefore, we cannot make one nature greater than the other. Only God could endure the suffering Jesus did, no mere man. I think these assertions that we should focus more on the fact that Jesus came to live for us, as it is put in the article, are more like attempts to mold God into our image, as opposed to maintaining the truth that man is made in God’s image.
It is not a natural human inclination, to dwell on the death of our Savior. As humans we eschew all that is pain and suffering and cling to anything that makes us feel good. However, just because we, as humans, have a hard time understanding that Jesus’ suffering through His passion and death was freely chosen by Him and lovingly endured in order to save us from our sins doesn’t mean that it isn’t truly the point of his coming. What other point was there for him to take on humanity? The author of the article contends that it was to show us how to live. I would contend that God had been doing that for centuries before Jesus’ coming. Did He not provide the Ten Commandments to Moses?
And while I understand the desire to focus more on the life of Christ rather than his death, the honest truth of the matter is that most of Jesus’ life is not written down anywhere for us to reference and learn about. The Catechism speaks to this as well:
I. CHRIST’S WHOLE LIFE IS MYSTERY
514 Many things about Jesus of interest to human curiosity do not figure in the Gospels. Almost nothing is said about his hidden life at Nazareth, and even a great part of his public life is not recounted. (emphasis, mine) What is written in the Gospels was set down there “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”I’m not sad when I see a message reminding me that Jesus was born to die. I know what He died for and that I’m not worthy. Jesus’ death and resurrection is not tragic – it is beautiful. And I believe it has every bit of a place paired with his Incarnation. His death and resurrection brings the greatest purpose of all to His coming. Earth, to my understanding, cannot compete with the beauty of heaven.
We celebrate His birth, not because he died, but because he humbled himself to become man at all. We celebrate His death, not because we're masochistic and that 33 years of his life were meaningless, but because his death was the Victory over sin and death itself. We celebrate Jesus as our savior because life on Earth is NOT eternal life, it is temporal and it is not free of suffering and sacrifice and we look toward the life after death in union with our Creator.
I DO believe Jesus came to live for us, but my faith remains that the death and resurrection of Jesus conquered sin and death once and for all and is the only reason for him to humble himself to humanity at all. And THAT is why I celebrate the Crucifixion alongside the Incarnation.