Today a grave holds him
who holds creation in the palm of his hand.
A stone covers him
who covers with glory the heavens.
Life is asleep and hell trembles,
and Adam is freed from his chains.
Glory to your saving work,
by which you have done all things!
You have given us eternal rest,
Your holy resurrection from the dead.
—Orthodox Church, The Matins of Holy Saturday
Although Catholics and Protestants in the past have followed somewhat different forms, in both camps the observances have been such as to cause people to ask, “Then why do we call this Friday ‘good’?” Emphasis has been on the seemingly senseless suffering of Jesus rather than on the purposeful humiliation of God through which redemption comes. In other words, we have failed once again to read the sacred story backward. Friday has been observed as if Sunday had never come.
Good Friday can and should proclaim divine purpose as paramount. Indeed, the term “Good Friday” may be a corruption of the English phrase “God’s Friday.”
This day is good precisely because God was in control at Calvary. The crucifixion of Jesus was not some bad deal that God had to try to make the best of; it was a working out of divine intention with a view to the salvation of an otherwise doomed creation.
—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 96
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.
“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.” “You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
—George Herbert (1593-1633), “Love (III)”
Observing Christmas as a season helps us to move beyond the sentimentalism that has become so much a part of “Christmas” and commemorate the true significance of Jesus’ birth. It enables us to see that Jesus’ coming truly transforms all things. It marked the end of the old world (under the dominion of sin and death) and the beginning of the new. And it reminds us of our new identity and purpose. We are now children of the King and are called to rejoice and give thanks and show the world the new destiny that now has come in Him. To celebrate for twelve days (as opposed to one) enables us to realize afresh the significance of what happened in Bethlehem and it declares to the world the remarkable reality that Jesus has destroyed the works of the devil and established a kingdom that shall have no end.
—Steve Wilkins, “Stretching Christmas” https://theopolisinstitute.com/stretching-christmas/
Christmas is the enfleshment of God, the humiliation of the Most High and divine participation in all that is painful, ugly, frustrating, and limited. Divinity takes on humanity, to restore the image of God implanted at creation but sullied by sin. Here is the great exchange Christmas ponders, that God became like us that we might become like God. God accepted death that the world might accept life. The Creator assumed temporality to redeem creation from futility. A hymn writer summarizes it this way:
This night of wonder, night of joy,
was born the Christ, our brother;
He comes, not mighty to destroy
to bid us love each other.
How could He quit his kingly state
for such a world of greed and hate?
What deep humiliation
secured the world’s salvation!
(“Break Forth O Beauteous, Heavenly Light,” Methodist Hymnal 1989)
—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 106-7
Come, Desire of nations come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the Woman’s conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness, Lord efface:
Stamp Thy image in its place;
Second Adam, from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
The kings have come and gone; the shepherds, too;
Now who is this still standing at the door?
An old and careworn woman, tired and poor,
So old she makes the stones themselves seem new.
She carries something in her trembling hands,
And, bending low, her eyes alit with joy,
She lays it down beside the sleeping Boy.
And then—a wonder happens! As she stands,
The wrinkles disappear, her stance grows tall,
Her head stands high; face radiant as the dawn,
She looks at Mary, smiles—and then she’s gone.
A glance at what she’s left tells Mary all—
The ancient, withered apple makes it plain:
Through Second Adam, Eve is born again.