Have you heard the line of thought that Christmas is really all about Good Friday? I've heard it the last few years -- and a few too many times. When we read of Jesus' birth, we hear about the innocent child, the hopeful mother, the message from heaven of peace and goodwill -- the "good tidings of great joy." The accounts of Jesus' birth show that his family had their hardships: traveling and delivering a child in a strange town, poverty, even a hostile government. But we are easily tempted to be cynical, hardened against the hope and innocence of new life -- even Jesus' life. In his birth, Jesus joins with us in the story of all humanity: after we are born, it is only a matter of time until we die. If there is good news in Jesus' birth, some people would say, it is specifically in the forgiveness that Jesus won for us at the cross. And so, the thought goes, the really important thing to remember at Christmas is that the child will grow up to die a horrific death and shed his blood for you and for me. And so the parallels are drawn between Christmas and Good Friday: the wood of the feeding trough is like the wood of the cross; he is wrapped in cloths in the cradle and again in the tomb; it is possible that both the cradle and the grave were in a cave.
But the story of Jesus' birth is incomplete if we see only his grave. If we look ahead so many years from his birth to his death and burial, why stop there? We should look a short few days further to his resurrection. Here again we see the angels at the tomb at his resurrection, just as there were angels at his birth with good news. At Christmas Mary brought forth life by a miracle where life was not expected, so in Jesus' resurrection we see life where none was expected. And again, as in the birth, again in the resurrection, this life may have been brought forth in a cave. Jesus' resurrection reinforces the meaning of his birth: it is the beginning of a new creation, where death no longer destroys us, where God gives eternal life. The bittersweet part of every birth is that it is only a matter of time until we die. But Jesus' resurrection changes that, as death is no longer final. And so Jesus' birth changes the meaning of all of our births. We now live in a world in which God has raised the dead, never to die again. We live in a world where a new creation has started. We are told to have the same hope for ourselves and for our own children. This is good tidings of great joy.
Jesus' resurrection also gives us permission to look at the innocence that we are too cynical to permit ourselves to admire: the innocent child, the hopeful mother, the message from heaven of peace and goodwill. At Christmas, we are allowed to celebrate the "good tidings of great joy" as the triumph of life in the birth of this child.