For the past few weeks, we’ve explored moments of silence. Those pauses or beats in the Christmas story shape the events, in the same way, brief moments of silence shape music. For the last entry of this series, we need to fast forward about thirty years to the greatest moment of silence in cosmic history.
The babe of Bethlehem grew up. He started a traveling ministry of teaching and healing folks, literally bringing the kingdom of God to earth. While Jesus’ ministry found popular support, it rankled and upset the Jewish religious leaders for all kinds of reasons.
Those tensions boiled over during the Passover week in Jerusalem. All four Gospel writers cover the events. Luke’s account begins in chapter 22. Jesus was arrested after being betrayed by Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. He was tried before the Jewish ruling council, then before the Roman overseer Pilate, then before Herod (one of King Herod’s sons), again by Pilate, and then, lastly, by the crowd who chose the murderer Barabbas over Jesus. With shouts of “crucify him” by the crowd, Jesus was taken outside the city and nailed to a cross.
Jesus died. The agony of the cross was foretold in Psalm22 and recounted in the Gospels (see Luke 23:33 and following for one account). A follower of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body and laid it in his own newly carved tomb. The tomb was sealed with a large stone and guarded by a contingent of Roman soldiers. From the last hour before sunset Friday, all day Saturday, and until Sunday morning, the tomb was silent and undisturbed. Then early Sunday morning, the sealed stone covering entrance was forcefully moved away. The Roman guard scattered. Some women followers of Jesus came to the tomb, found it empty, but also encountered the risen Jesus.
But let’s return to that space of time while Jesus lay entombed. It is a grand moment of silence in the entire sweep of cosmic and human history—a gigantic pause. What happened in the spiritual realm during that time is a matter of speculation and debate. But for our purposes, it is a time to ponder what Jesus’ death on the cross means for us. It is a moment to feel grief and sorrow.
This greatest pause reminds us why the babe was born in Bethlehem. We celebrate Christmas; it is a time of feasting and joy. A moment of hope, love, and peace. But that joy is experienced in the shadow of the cross. We have peace with God and others through the cross of Christ. And God gave us His greatest gift of love in the form of a baby that ultimately saved us all – just as the angels told the shepherds.
It is only through the cross that we can truly celebrate Christmas and the baby born in a stable. That pause, that grand moment of silence between the cross and the resurrection, is for us. It is there to give us space to ponder and grieve over our own sin and to realize how much God loves us. In that space, we also think back to a manger and shepherds, stars and magi, Bethlehem and inns, and angel songs. But most of all to a baby, born of a virgin, the incarnate Son of God. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16–17, NLT)