“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn
from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
I had not expected the death of my young wife from cancer to lead me into a deeper understanding and appreciation of Christmas. I was not looking forward to the first Christmas after Melodee died. I dreaded the bright lights and decorations. I was not ready to sing, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas.” The holidays felt like the hollow days. It was going to be a Blue Christmas.
Yet that was the very Christmas I came to understand that Christmas was about a lot more than gift giving, merry making, and parties. I realized the High King of Heaven descended into a world where people die, Romans do cruel things, and Herod kills little babies. Jesus came into our flesh and blood world to become one with us, taking on and vanquishing the powers of sin and death. I felt I had more to celebrate that Christmas than ever before. Jesus broke the death barrier!
That is the astonishing good news Paul celebrates in today’s scripture. Here we see that Jesus is the creator and glue of the universe, head of the body and Lord of the church, and, “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” New Testament theologian N. T. Wright emphasizes the significance of Paul calling Jesus, in the Greek language, arche, or “beginning”:
“The word ‘beginning’ is too thin to do justice to arche, which means ‘first principle’, ‘source’, ‘creative initiative’, and again indicates priority in both time and rank…This part of the poem refers particularly to Christ’s rule over the final great enemies of mankind, sin and death. (N. T. Wright, The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and to Philemon)
Jesus is not just some man who once lived and died a martyr. Rather, Jesus is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” He is the beginning and founder of a new humanity by His resurrection. Jesus is the first to storm and overwhelm death’s dominion and hold it powerless in His hand. So the risen and reigning Jesus commands:
“Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:17b-18).
Jesus’ resurrection marks His victory over all enemies that had once enslaved humanity, even death. There is nothing in life or death that can defeat Jesus.
Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead” as the first in time to trample death. But Jesus is also first in sequence, the first of a great company following after Him into everlasting life. He is the first of the new humanity that is immortal, the new creation begun by His resurrection. Jesus vanquished death so that He is the “first fruits” and harbinger of wondrous things (1 Corinthians 15:20). Jesus promises, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19b). What happened to Jesus in His resurrection is already beginning to happen in us as we come alive in the Holy Spirit.
As a pastor and chaplain I have been graced to often experience one of life’s greatest honors. By that I mean, I have often been with dying believers and recited with them the last lines of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in…the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.” Sometimes it has happened that as we say the “Amen”, they have closed their eyes for the last time, to wake up to the face of Jesus!
So, it was in the year my wife died, that I really learned to celebrate Christmas. I really then began to understand why Jesus had come. Charles Wesley’s hymn says it so well:
“Mild He lays His glory by/Born that man no more may die/Born to raise the sons of earth/Born to give them second birth/Hark! The herald angels sing…”
I’m singing with the angels this and every Christmas!
- How might the tragedies of life lead you to a deeper understanding of Christmas and Christ’s purpose in coming?
- Do you know someone for whom this Christmas might be a “Blue Christmas”? Pray for that person. Consider how you might reach out to that person this Christmas.
- Might ‘that person’ be you? Talk to God about it.