Last night I did what I hate to do; I helped with decorations around the house. This made me grumpy – very grumpy, jerk-level-status-grumpy. I don’t much like dealing in trinkets. Poor me.
Specifically, I helped take down the Christmas tree which means that I was first saddled with wrapping up every ornament with fragments of newspapers past: an old comic, a pharmacy flier, box scores for numerous sports, editorials, national news, and more.
Some of these newspaper fragments were fairly recent – maybe five years old. But some of them went back as many as 15 years. In any case, as I grumbled about my chore and cursed under my breath at what to me was an excessive amount of silly ornaments, suddenly I took note of what was in my hands: a beautiful Christmas ornament wrapped in a collection of obituaries.
I don’t consider myself to be an overly dramatic person, yet this gave me literal pause. It struck me as wrong, offensive, ugly, and just plain sad.
Who were these people? Do their families still remember them daily, or are some of them sometimes forgotten? How many years now have I been mindlessly wrapping ornaments in obituaries? Will my own obituary one day be good for little more than wrapping another’s trinkets?
Who am I to wrap Christmas in death?
What I had in my hands evoked many questions, and what I had in my hands also served as a metaphor: we commonly wrap that which is beautiful, that which is life, and that which is a gift in death.
It began, of course, with the rebellion of our first parents and now serves as the hallmark of all parents and all children. All are sinners and, as sinners, we sin. We participate, advance, and become leaders in the rebellion. Wrapped in sin and death, we excel in wrapping all other good and beautiful gifts in death also.
We sin against others. We sin against our vocations. We sin against God. In sometimes small and often profound ways we wrap it all in death. And as if this isn’t enough, we too, will one day be wrapped in death.
The Very Best Gift
What exactly is God’s response to this? He sends us one more gift. This gift is His very best gift: his one and only son, Jesus.
My God! Is He a fool? Doesn’t He know by now what we do to beautiful gifts? He does. And He did. And yet He still sent Jesus.
And we continued to do our part; proudly and ignorantly we wrapped Jesus in death.
Yet in the ultimate twist, what we did not know did not harm us but saved us.
For this Jesus knew that we would wrap Him also in death – death on the cross.
But this Jesus – our Jesus, your Jesus! – knew that death would not hold Him. He knew that even though He would falsely be wrapped in death, the will and power of God the Father would raise Him up. And on the third day after His death, God the Father did just this; He raised Jesus from the grave.
And what is the result of this? The result is that Jesus, God’s beautiful gift, was wrapped in death so that by His death and resurrection He can wrap death itself in His new life!
"When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'…But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (1 Corinthians 15:54-55, 57)
In Adam and in us, life has been wrapped in death. But in Jesus, God has wrapped death in life.
So do not worry about the putting away of Christmas, for the putting away of Christmas only means that we are now in Epiphany where we see in Jesus’ public ministry that He has come for all. And Epiphany will give way to Lent and Easter – Jesus being wrapped once in our death, and God’s wrapping of our death forever with the life of His Son!
In Adam and in us, life has been wrapped in death.
But in Jesus, God has wrapped death in life.
There is freedom in this new life – freedom to live forgiven; freedom to serve without aspirations of being a savior; freedom to approach this life-giving God as loving father; freedom to receive His gifts; and freedom to know His promises.
And as we approach our own death or the death of others, there is more freedom still in this new life: freedom to give God thanks for our daily bread, freedom to grieve, freedom to celebrate the promises to come, and freedom to know that although future generations will not remember us, our heavenly Father does not forget! He remembers our names. He places His name upon us in Baptism – Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. He calls us by name now. And He will call us by name to new life in the resurrection to come.
Once life was wrapped in death. Now, and for eternity, death has been wrapped in life through Jesus Christ your Lord!