Christmas is about the babe in the manger.
Let's face it. Most of us are comfortable with Jesus as the helpless infant. He's innocent, vulnerable, humble and a threat to no one. It may also be convenient for us to treat him as nothing more than a fairy tale.
But his time spent in the manger was a fleeting moment in first-century history. Jesus may yet be lying in straw on moldering canvases executed in oils by Renaissance artists, but that was a one-time deal. The colossus of the cosmos is no longer contained in a nativity setting.
Christmas was magnificently brought to fruition on the cross. Following his death, burial and resurrection, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the father in heaven. We're told he reigns over creation in majesty.
We may be drawn to the adorable infant, but we're not so easily attracted to the wisdom of the ages or the word made flesh. Jesus, master of the universe, can be off-putting.
The Scriptures declare Jesus to be God in human flesh. In the Old Testament and New Testament he's referred to as Immanuel, meaning "God with us." He's the God who diminishes himself to dwell with failed humanity on Earth. And he comes to our messy outpost as we all have come.
That's the Christmas story.
Jesus is also called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. That's a pretentious handle for a baby born of a virgin in a backwater Palestinian barn. The above descriptions, if untrue, are a string of the most shameful invectives and blasphemies ever uttered.
Who is the Christ child?
Susan asks Mr. Beaver in the first book of C.S. Lewis' seven-book fantasy series, "The Chronicles of Narnia," if Aslan — the great lion who represents the Christ figure in the series — is safe.
"Who said anything about safe?" Mr. Beaver replies. "'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
The cooing babe in the livestock pen may be guileless, but he's not safe. He's king of the universe, nothing less.
"How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human," New Testament scholar N.T. Wright asks, "that fire has become flesh, that life itself became life and walked in our midst?
"Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the most devastating disclosure of the deepest reality of the world, or it is a sham, a nonsense, a bit of deceitful playacting. Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between."
In the most important wager of my life, I'm betting it's no sham. Jesus, I think, must be taken seriously.
Former atheist Kirsten Powers, a Democratic commentator for Fox News and an evangelical Christian, remembers thinking before taking her step to faith: "What if this is true, and I'm not even willing to consider it?"
She writes in Christianity Today: "The Hound of Heaven … pursued me and caught me."
The baby grew up to make some audacious claims. Those claims were of such breathtaking magnitude that no sane person in history has — with anything approaching sincerity — uttered them.
"More astonishing than a baby in the manger," writes pastor and author John MacArthur, "is the truth that this promised baby is the omnipotent Creator of the heavens and the earth."
Is that really to be believed? It must if the babe is to be anything other than saccharine foolishness.
Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch woman who, with her family, hid and saved the lives of many Jews from the Nazi Holocaust in World War II, summed things up this way: "Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that he gave his only son. The only requirement is to believe in him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life."
Too good an offer to ignore.
JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.