Heading into Advent, I find it important to remember not to look forward only to the manger, but to (and through) the rough-hewn cross.
As a human being, I have only to look inside to see the stubbornness and pride that makes it easy to overlook God's love. We're stiff-necked, as scripture says, and in love with our own insight. As incredible as it is that God would himself come to be with us hard-headed and -hearted beings, it is so much more amazing that he would die to do all the work of reconciliation with us.
It's God's transformative nature to bring light out of darkness, life out of death, reconciliation out of hostility and violence. A classic Christmas carol puts it well:
Nails, spears shall pierce him through;I've always been surprised that so many songbooks omit or amend this refrain of "What Child is This," and that congregations sometimes skip this "unpleasant" verse in the midst of Christmas pageants. The Nativity is a great story, but it's the cross -- and the resurrection -- that gives it its transforming power. Power not just to change the story, but to change our lives, here, now.
The cross be born for me, for you.
Hail! Hail, the Word made flesh,
The babe, the Son of Mary.