December 12, 2012

(Re)Introducing the Why

Every day I travel the same road—for the same reason. As I walk, dirt from the barren desert floor embeds itself between my toes, a fitting reminder that I, too, am unclean. The closer I get, the slower my step. I can hear the sounds of life, sounds that will soon be drowned out by the silence of death.

As I open the gate I know exactly what I’m looking for. The perfect lamb: without a scar, defect, or blemish. When I was younger, I didn’t understand why we had to pick the best one. My mom explained that all of this was about a promise, a promise that would one day make all things new.

The hardest part is choosing the one who has to die, a fate that should be reserved for the guilty. But among the entire flock, the only one who’s guilty is me.

I don’t really like talking about what has to happen next, even though it happens every day. Cradling the perfect lamb about my neck, I begin another long walk to the courtyard. As I arrive the priest meets me at the front gate. Our priest has taught me a lot, but I’m never excited to see him under these circumstances.

2012 1534 page23I want to look away as I  drive the knife into the innocent creature. But I know I can’t. As the breath of life leaves the once-lively lamb, I stand silent, knowing that my sin is forgiven, but the cost is great.

And if the promise is true, the ultimate price will be even greater.

The Why
I started as a monthly columnist for the Adventist Review during my senior year of college. It’s hard to believe it’s already been five years. Those of you who have been with me since the beginning have been around for some pretty big moments in my life: I graduated from college, moved to California, started my first job, and, most recently, got married.

In January 2013 I’m starting the next phase, the pursuit of an M.B.A. No, this isn’t a goodbye column. However, after a half decade together, I thought it would be appropriate to take a trip down memory lane.

As you know, the theme of my monthly column is “Introducing the Why.” The concept was something my college professor, Chris
Blake, and I came up with while eating lunch at Valentino’s in Lincoln, Nebraska. The premise was, and is, simple. Modern Christianity is too often characterized by outward appearances and fleeting emotions. Each month my goal is to sift through the topsoil and get to the core of what it means to really walk with Jesus.

Over the years I’ve shared my thoughts about why we pray and go to church, why we care about justice, and how studying the life of Christ answers a lot of our questions—if we’re truly open to the answers.

Believe it or not, I’ve never written a Christmas column. But this year, as Christmas approaches, I was reminded of the ultimate “why.” While studying a recent Sabbath school lesson, I began thinking about what it must have been like to live before Jesus died on the cross.

God’s people had a very tangible daily reminder to point forward to Jesus’ atonement of their sins. When they failed, an innocent animal had to die so that they could be forgiven. In many ways they had a built-in advantage: They knew the results of sin. However, it’s clear that over time they became desensitized and complacent, falling into a religion centered on rituals and traditions.

Nearly 2,000 years later you could say that perhaps our advantage is greater. For us the death of the Messiah is much more than a promise, it’s a reality.

As the song says—and I agree—this is the most wonderful time of the year. But not because of such Christmas traditions as mistletoe, sugar cookies, and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. (Re)Introduce yourself to the why behind Christmas: the Baby born in a stable who promises to make all things new. 

Jimmy Phillips ([email protected]) writes from Bakersfield, California, where he is electronic media coordinator for San Joaquin Community Hospital. Visit his Web site at This article was published December 13, 2012.