Brett Heintzman

Brett Heintzman

Light + Life Communications Director

Brett Heintzman is the publisher of Light+Life through his role as the communications director of the Free Methodist Church – USA, which he also serves as the co-director of the National Prayer Ministry. Visit to order his books “Becoming a Person of Prayer,” “Holy People” (Volume 1 of the “Vital” series), “Jericho: Your Journey to Deliverance and Freedom” and “The Crossroads: Asking for the Ancient Paths.”

by Brett Heintzman

It’s December and we’re already in the midst of the Advent season — lighting candles and engaging imagery of mangers, angels, shepherds and a bright star. Why would we have a conversation about the cross during Advent? Simply put: The cross was present at the birth of Jesus.

I find it interesting that Paul’s letters in the Bible don’t primarily focus on Advent, and not even on the birth of Christ. Remember, the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus are given to us as proof — undeniable evidence that prophecy had been fulfilled and the Messiah had come. But for Jesus, the cross preceded His birth and, therefore, frames every detail of the Bethlehem story. The real and true essence of the Christmas story is Jesus Christ, “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8c). When we see Jesus as slain when the earth was created, we see the birth as necessary, but only as a path to the cross, which is eternally embedded in His life.

The cross is the “star” of Christmas. This truth holds a reality for we who follow Jesus — a reality for how we live, not how we celebrate. As some people fill social media with memes about keeping Christ in Christmas, I’d like to suggest we keep the cross in Christmas.

In studying Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians — a church clearly run amok in dysfunction and selfish ambition — the instructions they’re given and the correction they receive is all framed in the cross. It’s been brought to Paul’s attention that people are picking their favorite all-star pastor and saying they follow those people. Paul’s first mention of what becomes a powerful narrative about the cross is in chapter one, verse 13, when he rhetorically asks, “Was Paul crucified for you?” Why wouldn’t he ask, “Was Paul born for you,” or “Was Paul resurrected for you?” There’s something about the cross we need to learn and pay attention to, because it’s powerful and life-giving for us as we celebrate Advent amid a pandemic.

The coronavirus has caused many among us to mirror the Corinthian church. We follow certain COVID experts of our own choosing, want things our own way, and act with arrogance and selfishness. The Corinthian church wanted their own way. They were willful and stubborn; arrogant and selfish. They were clueless, and Paul gave them the clues they needed. Paul’s advice wasn’t to focus on the birth of Jesus or even the resurrection. It was the cross. Therefore, our advice this Christmas should not be to follow the birth story, but the death story of Jesus. Why? We could use a good dose of death-to-self this Christmas.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul lays it out for the off-track Corinthian church. They thought their “power” was in choosing the right superstar pastor to follow, receiving and using the best gift from the Holy Spirit, or having the loudest voice in their worship. No. None of those are their “power.” Paul reminds them and us, that our power — the very power of God — is found in the message of the cross. This is a living message, not merely words. This is a living message that frames and feeds our “being saved,” not only spoken on Good Friday. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to explain how his own life exemplified the message of the cross.

“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5).

Let’s connect the dots. Paul comes to the Corinthian church in weakness, great fear, and trembling. The direct connection is this: The triple play of weakness, great fear, and trembling is a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.

The Spirit was no more powerful upon Jesus than when He prayed and trembled in the garden of Gethsemane submitting to the Father’s will. Dying to self — which is the very essence of holiness —is a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. This is why Paul could say, “I resolved to know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul’s “knowing” was experiential, not informational. The same cross embedded in Jesus from the foundation of the world was embedded in Paul. Paul decided to carry the cross as Jesus invited him to, and we need this today! To decide to carry the cross of Christ is to have it embedded in your life in a way that transforms every behavior, every decision, every action, every word, every emotion, and every action that comes from our lives.

Is the cross embedded in you? Is it informing your life this Christmas? Are you trying to escape COVID — refusing to embrace the difficulties it has brought to us, or embrace the cross? Embracing the cross is the very power of God to those of us who are being saved. To be humble, weak, with fear and trembling is a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. So what steps can we take to focus on the cross this Advent?

Three Ways to Focus on the Cross this Advent

Embrace the message of the cross.

For Paul, embracing the cross came on the road to Damascus. In the blinding light of Jesus’ appearance, Paul is confronted and called. We can invite such a confrontation and calling if we choose. We can pray, “Jesus, what in me needs to be confronted and dealt with? What emotions, stubbornness, selfishness or angst is not nailed to Your cross?”

The priorities of our lives are dictated by those things we embrace. Everything in our life trails behind our deepest “loves.” Our money, our time and our intentionality all follow the objects of our deepest desires. To embrace the cross is a desire, not a hardship. It’s a benefit, not a scourge. It’s an act of love, not duty.

At Christmas we all want to embrace the baby, but will we choose to embrace the cross that was determined before the beginning of time — that was embedded in the very life of the infant Jesus?

Embed the message of the cross.

Like tire tracks left by a heavy truck in muddy ground, or the imprint of an ancient leaf in a fossil, the message of the cross was intended to be embedded in our lives. It’s one thing to embrace the message, but another to embed the message.

“I want Christ in me. I yearn for my very being to reflect Him. I submit to His authority. I am ready to die, that Christ might live in and through me.” It’s one thing to be saved, but another to be sanctified. The Corinthians heard about the cross, but they were not a living message. Paul reminded them that He came as that living message for them to follow.

What messages “live” in us? What are we inviting other people to mirror?

This Advent, seek to have the cross embedded in your life. Be sanctified through and through, submitting yourself to the Infant King who comes with the cross embedded in His own being.

Engage the message of the cross.

While we tend to honor individual confidence and capability in our culture, Jesus honors humble weakness, humble fear, and humble trembling. He honors what He modeled for us in the Garden of Gethsemane as He prayed. He honors us when we get ourselves out of the way so He can fully manifest in our living.

Jesus engaged the cross. Whether it was the roughness of hay in the manger or the roughness of stone and wood He touched as a carpenter, or the rough wood of the cross and the weight of it and all it represented, Jesus’ life was marked by rough and tough interactions. We shrink at inconvenience while Jesus embraced touching everything rough and unclean. For us, our “death” is to self. The cross must have all of us for us to have all of it.

Advent will be transformed into an entirely different kind of celebration for us as we rightfully place the cross at its center.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:25–31).

Advent people are people of the cross.

Lord Jesus, You who were slain before the foundation of the world, receive our prayers today. We come asking to die to ourselves. We confess our refusal to walk in Your ways, carrying Your cross. We seek Your mercy to forgive and cleanse us.

But even more, Lord Jesus, come and stamp the image of the cross on our very being, that we may be a living message, just like Your servant Paul. Let us be people of weakness, fear and great trembling, and know what it is to have Your power emerge in our weakness.

This Advent transform us through the cross.

In the powerful and strong name of the One who was slain before the foundation of the world — Jesus — Amen. +

Brett Heintzman

Brett Heintzman

Light + Life Communications Director

Brett Heintzman is the publisher of Light+Life through his role as the communications director of the Free Methodist Church – USA, which he also serves as the co-director of the National Prayer Ministry. Visit to order his books “Becoming a Person of Prayer,” “Holy People” (Volume 1 of the “Vital” series), “Jericho: Your Journey to Deliverance and Freedom” and “The Crossroads: Asking for the Ancient Paths.”