Why did God make us so liable to fail and to deserve punishment? If God knew we would sin and incur his wrath, why did he create us in the first place?
Nowhere does he say, and no explanation does he owe.
What Scripture does say is that God thought it fitting that he personally experience the deep distress to which he had subjected us all. This is vital to understanding the meaning of Christmas.
The Book of Hebrews in the New Testament speaks in the following way of God sending his Son into the world: “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
Again it says, “Sacrifices and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me.”
The English novelist Dorothy L. Sayers has written, “For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is — limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death — he had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine.”
Christians believe that God became fully human in the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus Christ and subject to all of our limitations.
According to Sayers, “Whatever game he is playing with creation, he has kept his own rules and plays fair. He (God) can exact nothing of man that he has not exacted from himself. He has gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death.”
God, in the person of Jesus, subjects himself to life in a fallen world not so that he might gain knowledge of us, but that we might gain knowledge of who he is and of the extent of his love for all of us who are weak and liable to fail.
He is a singularly unique God indeed who keeps his own rules and accepts his own consequences, not for any sins of his own, but solely for the sins of others.
Sayers writes that the Egyptian god Osiris supposedly died and rose again and that the Greek poet Aeschylus theorized about a suffering Zeus, but these gods are said to have suffered in some mythical period of prehistory.
In contrast, the Gospel narratives are anchored in history, in real space and time.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem during the reign of Caesar Augustus and in the days of Herod the King, who sought to kill Jesus while yet a child.
Some 30 years later, Jesus was sentenced to death on a hill outside Jerusalem by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who crucified him.
God did this because sinners like ourselves can never ascend to God.
This is why God, in his mercy, descends to us — in the womb of the Virgin Mary, in the manger, in death and the grave and even today in the Holy Supper of Christ’s body and blood.
At Christmas, God comes down and binds himself to his creation, becoming one with us, so that we might become one with God.
In the person of Jesus, God not only becomes flesh and blood; he becomes guilty flesh and blood, taking humanity’s sin into himself, and taking his own medicine by dying in our place.
Christ is born to suffer the death we had earned and which he had imposed on us, that we might know the full measure of his love for us all.
The Rev. John Armstrong is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Columbus, and may be reached at gracecolumbus.org.