When we think of Christmas, we may think of baby Jesus lying in a manger, surrounded by shepherds coming to see the baby the angels told them about. We may also think of the three wise men showing up a few years later, or we may even think of the nativity scenes that so often incorrectly include the wise men at the manger. Many of us may be so overwhelmed with the busyness of the holiday season that we don’t have time to think about why we’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to buy that last present on Christmas Eve, or simply trying to come up with new places to hide the presents we’ve bought so that the future detectives (a.k.a. nosy kids) running around don’t find the unwrapped presents and ruin the surprise. Then we have the younger ones, to whom, for the most part, Christmas is about one thing: getting presents.
American culture tells us that Christmas is about writing letters to a mythical figure and being good so that we will get the things we want on Christmas morning, because we deserve it if we’re good boys and girls. Society tells us that getting that big present for our kid is more important than being civil human beings toward each other. I remember last year during the Christmas season I was cut off in a parking lot so someone else could get the closer parking space and bumped into so many times I felt like I was at a death metal concert because people were in such a hurry to make sure they got everything on the list before anyone could take the last of an item, which would result in simply driving to another store (heaven forbid that happen). In America, Christmas comes down to one thing: idolatry.
Yep, I said it. Idolatry. Whether we are children believing that we deserve the new toy more than someone else based on our performance for the year, or parents scurrying about trying to get that toy at the expense of common courtesy and LOVE toward one another. When we elevate ourselves above others based on performance, or elevate another person at the expense of showing love to our neighbors, we, in fact, elevate ourselves or another person above God, because for that moment (and this may just be a moment which reveals where our hearts are truly focused) we have decided that someone other than God is the most important thing in the universe.
We make this substitution so easily because our primary focus at Christmas is a cute little baby who was born in a stable. To be sure, Christmas is most definitely about baby Jesus being wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, being announced by angels, and worshiped by shepherds. This is only part of the gift that God gave us though.
Isaiah 53:3-10 ESV
 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
I know, you’re probably thinking that these are passages that should be brought up in another few months, when Easter comes around. This isn’t a happy go-lucky passage out of Luke, explaining how Jesus was born and adored as a baby. No, it’s not. It is the very unsettling reality of WHY Jesus was born.
The “good news of great joy” mentioned in Luke 2:10 comes down to this: Jesus not only paid for our sins by dying on the cross, but also absorbed the full wrath of God toward us for our treason through sin.
Isaiah 52:13-15 ESV
 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
 As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
 so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
I am convinced that not only do we not really hold the weight of what Christ did on the cross close to our hearts, but we trivialize what He went through physically on the cross. We do so because the thought of anyone being completely unrecognizable is too much for us. We’ve all had those moments sitting around drinking coffee or walking in the mall with a group of friends and we see someone and we’re just not sure if it’s a man or a woman. We look at each other, someone eventually has the bluntness to ask “Was that a guy or a girl?” and then everyone shakes their head as if to say “I don’t know”, and then the subject changes quickly because dwelling on that concept is just too awkward.
Imagine this, really imagine, that when you’re in the mall, or at the coffee shop, you see someone walk in who is so badly beaten, so bloodied up, so much flesh missing that you can’t even recognize that person as a human being. What would be your reaction? The crowd around doesn’t know what to do. Some people try to get as far away as they can, but still be able to see. Others are on the front row, mocking and jeering at the “freak show”. Then perhaps someone feels bad for this person and walks up to the man and says “You need some help, let me take this cross off your back, you need to get well.” And then to that kind person’s surprise, the wounded, disfigured man replies back, “I wish you could, but only I can handle the weight of what is to come. I must see this through, so that you and the rest of creation might be made well”. The response is both astonishing and confusing. With no words left, only tears, the kind person walks back into the crowd.
We ask ourselves why we constantly fail to do that which would please God, and I would submit that, for the most part, it is because we have an incomplete view of Christ. We view Christ as this baby in a manger, or as a very meek man, or even a humanized view of Christ on the cross. History tells us, though, that the cross was anything but humane. Roman citizens didn’t even speak of it with each other because it was so barbaric. This form of execution was reserved for barbarians, traitors, murderers, and the most evil of criminals. This is why Pilate was so shocked at the Jewish leaders request to have Jesus crucified, when He had done nothing wrong. Perhaps the most accurate depiction of Christ on the cross is in the movie The Passion of The Christ, and even that doesn’t do it justice, it’s just as close as we can get without literally beating someone to death.
The reality of the way we live our lives is that we simply don’t think about Jesus on the cross. If we did, would we really give in to habitual sin? I realize that we all make mistakes, and there is most certainly grace to cover those mistakes, but would we really put ourselves in places or situations that tempt us if we had that image of Jesus on the cross in our minds and in our hearts? No, our hearts would break at what we even considered doing, in light of the reality of what Jesus went through for us.
However, even this view of Christ is still incomplete. We have seen Him as the gift of God lying in the manger. We have seen Him as the result of that gift, His death and resurrection. If we only stop here, with Jesus as our Savior, we miss it.
Romans 10:9 ESV
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
We put so much emphasis on Jesus being our savior, because we all want to be saved. That is only part of what the Bible says though. We are to confess Jesus as Lord. We are to relinquish the control of our lives that we thought we had (because we never really had control, we are either slaves to Sin and Death or we are slaves to Christ), and confess Jesus as Lord and King over our lives. People have a problem with this because we like to feel in control of our lives, and in our “enlightened” society we feel that no one should be able to tell us what to do in a form of government unless we’re represented. Well, first, while we have rights from person to person, we have nothing in front of our Creator. Second, He represented us on the cross. Third, Monty Python said it best, “You don’t vote for a King!”
Revelation 19:11-16 ESV
 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.  He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.  And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.
 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
This description of Jesus is awe inspiring, glorious, and terrifying. Jesus is the only King who can be called Faithful and True. Jesus is the only King who can judge and make war and do so rightly, with no ulterior motives or sin behind those actions. Jesus is the only King who commands the armies of heaven, with a robe dipped in blood, whose very words pierce the hearts of men like a sword! He is the only King who will rule all nations and pour out the wrath of God against the armies of darkness and those who follow Satan, both human and spirit alike.
Let’s face it, who in their right mind is going to look at this King and say, “No, I don’t want to do what you want me to do. I’m going to sign up for the other team.”? Really? No, when we look at that King, when we hold that picture in our minds, the only thing that should come to our minds and out of our mouths when given a command is “Yes, Lord.” The disciples understood this, and they followed Jesus to their deaths.
We substitute other things in the place of the cute baby in the manger because we don’t focus on the reality of what that gift was. It wasn’t merely a sign of God’s good will toward man, it wasn’t only a suffering Savior, but it was a glorious Lord, ushering in a new kingdom. The Messiah leading the way out of this world dominated by sin and death and into a world ruled by love, grace, and righteousness.
It’s about a God who did something radical: He came down from heaven to be human, to pay the price we couldn’t pay, to save us from sin and death, and to bring glory to the Father. The first gift of Christmas isn’t something you get for being good, it isn’t something you deserve. This gift is something we don’t deserve, something we can’t be good enough to earn. This gift, like all gifts, is given out of the grace and desire of the Giver.