Dan Popp
The imposter in the manger
By Dan Popp
December 15, 2014

For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. (2 Corinthians 11:4, NAS95)

I think there's something worse than a human being going to hell forever. It's a human being going to hell after believing he was on his way to heaven. The Satan-worshiper at least knows what he's getting into. The follower of another Jesus is a poisonous weed convinced that he's wheat.

So my primary objection to Christmas, as we celebrate it here in America at the opening of the 21st Century, is not that it's too commercialized, or that pagan elements persist, or even that Jesus can get pushed off the stage by Santa, the Grinch, Frosty, Rudolph, etc. ad nauseum. It's that the baby in the manger may be a phony.

I'm sure you've noticed that a lot of people love the Baby Jesus, but few are comfortable around the bloody Man on the center cross. Like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights (there's a reference you didn't see coming) they prefer the "Tiny Infant Jesus;" the "Christmas Jesus." He doesn't challenge our minds or our morals. He doesn't scare us with talk about how the way to heaven is so tight and difficult that few will make it. He doesn't rail at hypocrisy, or warn of tribulations. Even the usual baby demands are beneath him. "The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes."

We love the words of Isaiah, For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given - but what do we do about the next part: And the government will be upon His shoulder? A Jesus government? That sounds like some kind of theocracy. Yuck. Whatever it is, I'm glad it doesn't affect me!

We like the benediction of the angel, And on earth peace, good will toward men. That's good old Baby Jesus. But when He grew up He said, Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.' (Matthew 10:34-36)

To be a Christian is to live inside paradox. We are saved by grace through faith, not by our works; but if our faith bears no works, it isn't the kind of faith that saves. Jesus' yoke is easy and His burden is light, but if we want to follow Him we must take up our cross – surely the heaviest load of all. This God-Man is the Prince of Peace – who upon His return will strike the nations, and then rule them with a rod of iron. "Holy infant, tender and mild," sure, once. But He will come again. If we know the "Christmas Jesus," but not the Good Friday Jesus and the Easter Jesus, we're lost.

The problem for cultural Christians is that the Christ in their manger may be an antichrist. Not a contra-Christ, someone openly hostile to Jesus. An antichrist can be a "substitute Christ." He's a flattering fraud. You don't have to believe in all that BIBLE stuff. Not literally. You certainly don't need to be holy. Here in the shredded cellophane grass is a christ that's only luv. He makes no demands. His message is about (to the extent it's about anything) what a good person you are. "Then he appeared, and the soul felt its worth."

But to get to the real Christ, you have to admit that you're not a good person.

The problem for actual Christians is that we may tempt others to violate the Third Commandment: You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. In its broader application it prohibits naming ourselves among God's people when we're not. An admirer of the Baby Jesus may find himself warm on a cold winter night, with a full belly, in an atmosphere of smiles and good feelings and nostalgic songs about a helpless newborn. And this person may feel a wonderful feeling. And he may become convinced by this feeling, or by the devil using this feeling, that he is within the Circle. Without ever experiencing conviction of his sin, without hearing the good tidings of repentance and faith and propitiation by blood and the new birth and a Spirit-led life, he may be lulled into all kinds of vain imaginings about a god who is not God and a christ who is not Christ.

I don't think Jesus would approve, or does approve, of much of what goes on in His name this time of year. Most of it vexes me, if you hadn't guessed. I have to remember that The Word became flesh and dwelt among us – and that's worth celebrating. But let's all remember, too, that He is full not only of grace, but of truth. A manger without a cross is just another feeding trough. Only the paradoxical Christ is the genuine article. Accept no imitations.

© Dan Popp


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