"The Cross in the Manger" by Ann Weems
If there is no cross in the manger,
there is no Christmas.
If the Babe doesn't become the Adult,
there is no Bethlehem star.
Ann Weems reminds us yet again that Christmas cannot all be about the birth of Jesus, because as we all know, a birth is only a beginning. Beginnings are wonderful, miraculous, celebration-worthy, but a birth is only the first step. If the birth is all that was, then there would be very little to celebrate. And so we remember not just that Jesus was born but that he lived. And part of his living included being crucified and resurrected. Today's scripture reading comes on the heels of the Transfiguration, when Peter, James and John saw the true nature of Jesus--albeit briefly. And as they descended the mountain, they wondered aloud how this could be, since the prophets indicated that Elijah would come before the Messiah. The disciples knew enough of prophecy to know that Elijah was supposed to return before the coming of the Messiah and they were beginning to understand that Jesus was the Messiah and so they questioned, but what about Elijah? He was to come first, right? And Jesus said, he has already come. And they understood that John was Elijah--the one speaking in the wilderness. John the Baptist is part of Jesus' story, and not just because of his miraculous birth, and therefore part of the birth story of Jesus, but because of his life.
And so it is not just Jesus' birth that is recorded, remembered and celebrated, but John's as well. John is remembered in songs like, "Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord,"There's a Voice in the Wilderness," and other Advent songs, most of which do not refer to him by name, but instead by his actions of preparing the people for Jesus. But significantly, it is not usually John's unusual birth that we remember, but the role he played in Jesus' life, that of baptizer, and of preparing people to hear Jesus. Even as we prepare to celebrate Jesus' birth, let us remember that the birth is significant because of what came after.