Most people love the cultural vibe around the Christmas holidays. Time with family and friends. Parties. Egg Nog. Vacation. Exchanging gifts. The Elf movie. Sledding with the kid’s.
All good things.
I also know the holidays elicit memories we’d like to forget. Loss of loved ones. Abuse. Abandonment. Divorce and separation. Loneliness. Pain. Poverty.
But in the shuffle of Christmas programs and Egg Nog and trips to Walmart do we ever ask: What is Christmas about?
No, not the commercialized and sanitized version we celebrate in America, with Santa’s, Elves, and Big Box Stores. I’m talking about the Christmas that has roots in Christianity and the Messiah Jesus.
It’s fascinating to think an entire culture celebrates a holiday that has roots in a baby born two thousand years ago to a virgin woman in Bethlehem, and yet most people say: pass the Egg Nog, and should we watch Christmas Vacation, or Santa Claus tonight?
What is Christmas really about?
Christmas is about all the things I mentioned above. Joy and sadness, community, and loneliness. The world is not what it should be, and we’re part of the problem.
The Christmas Story is wrought with the tension of life and death, joy and sorrow.
Jesus knew what he was getting into, he made the world after all. His own people rejected and abandoned the Light of the World. The Anointed One and his family ran for their lives from a Roman dictator. Jesus came into the world where it said: sorry, no room at the inn.
Jesus came into a world we all know too well.
Yet, unlike us, Jesus didn’t throw up his hands, and say: good ridden’s. Instead, Jesus came with good tidings, of great joy!
God had not abandoned his people or world. He would not be a passive observer and sit on his hands. He would act. The Messiah born of the virgin came to save and restore what sin and death stole. The things that went against God’s original and perfect design.
Jesus came to bring light and life, to heal, and restore all things.
Christmas is about living with the tensions that we’re fatally flawed and the world is a dark place. Yet, we’re more loved, and have more hope, than we could ever imagine.
The Story of Christmas is about deep sadness and extreme joy. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Christmas is about a gift that won’t fade when the next trash day comes.
Christmas and Jesus says all of these things.
I know people have a hard time with the whole virgin birth and babies saving the world. But nothing in the Jesus-story is asking us to toss our brains out the door. This is not a blind leap of faith into the dark.
We have history on our side.
The prophets of the Old Testament had been telling the story of the Messiah who’d come as a virgin in Bethlehem seven hundred years before Jesus was born. God was not asking us to check our brains at the door. Christian faith is rooted in history, not fantasy, and rooted in a God who fulfills his promises.
Recently I read a Frederick Buechner quote that said:
“UNBELIEF IS AS MUCH OF A CHOICE as belief is. What makes it in many ways more appealing is that, whereas to believe in something requires some measure of understanding and effort, not to believe doesn't require much of anything at all.”
It’s easier to allow Christmas to just be another excuse to spend too much and drink too much. Christmas can be just another excuse to blame our terrible parents or a bad lot in life. It’s easier to not believe in anything, or just take Santa at his word.
I get it.
But I believe Christmas is an opportunity to consider the hope found in a baby born in a manger. We keep talking about Jesus, singing about him, and celebrating a holiday that has become more cultural and less spiritual, yet, is still all about the Messiah.
Maybe this Christmas we doubt our own doubts and investigate the God who said: I am the Way, Truth, and Life. Anyone who believes in me will have eternal life.
The world is too messy and beautiful to chalk it up as random chance and merely a science experiment gone wrong.
I think there’s much more going on, and Jesus might have something to do with it.