12.24.2014

Levels of Christmas

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-DyvGcp1CiNY/Ttznri7dfZI/AAAAAAAAG44/9j16owNHat4/s1600/donkey+gelilee.jpgChristmas is, ostensibly, a Christian thing, although growing up in a household that was certainly not Christian didn't keep me from reveling in the holiday when I was young.  As a kid, the prospect of getting gifts was exceeded in awesomeness only by learning that my Jewish friends got eight gifts for Hanukkah.  (I didn't flinch when, earlier this week, Aaron announced that he wanted to become Jewish for this very reason, since I probably said the exact same thing when I was his age.) 

As we grow older, the wonder of Christmas doesn't disappear altogether, but it does change.  We're no longer motivated by possibly scoring that coveted doll or monster truck.  But we do marvel at the season, when charity and cheer reign.  Even if we are stressed out by the season, some of that stems from our high expectations for what it represents in generosity and giving.

Nominal Christians (and even some non-Christians) may add onto that some celebration of the birth of Jesus.  We may read Luke 2, display a manger scene, or take in Handel's "Messiah."  If we do not go to church regularly, we may yet attend a service this season, to revel in pretty carols and in the time-honored Christmas message. 

If we are more into our faith, we may consider more deeply what it means that Jesus was born.  We may orient our hearts towards the notion of "Advent," in which the remembrance of the coming of Jesus is to fill us not only with joy at what has been but anticipation at what will be, which is a second and triumphant coming.  We may cherish such thoughts in our hearts, and they may buoy us up with joy and peace amidst the constant rush and blatant consumerism of the season. 

All of these are manifestations of human responses to the Christmas story.  Who knows if the historical Jesus of Nazareth was actually born on December 25 - it is likely not anywhere near that date - for the important thing is remembrance and worship and consecration.

But the story goes deeper.  All of the reactions described above can come from a perspective that says that I'm OK and you're OK, and so however we choose to sanctify or otherwise celebrate a particular tradition is fine.  The Christian perspective is far more pessimistic AND far more optimistic than that.  The Christian viewpoint says that all is not right with the world, and that all is not right with our souls.  We are actually not OK, and not only are we lost but we are dead.

This is a hard thing to believe.  We want to believe everyone is OK.  We certainly don't like it when people tell us we're not.  We especially don't like it when people are really self-righteous, hateful, and dismissive about it, which is particularly tragic because the people that are most self-righteous, hateful, and dismissive are the ones who purport to believe most fervently in their need for personal salvation.

I lament the corruption of the messengers and would like to return to the basics of the message.  The Christmas story is, on the one hand, a feel-good, warm-and-fuzzy message that can be understood and embraced by a toddler.  It is, on the other hand, a huge wake-up call to humanity, that it took the very enfleshment of God Himself to reconcile man back to God.  But this is the reality of our depravity.

And it is the proof of the lengths God will go to make us whole again.  It was necessary for the salvation of humanity to cram all the authority, power, and wisdom of the Almighty into the confines of a helpless baby born to two outcast and under-resourced teenagers on the run. It was necessary, and it was accomplished; and the Christmas story is a huge down payment on God's fulfillment of that promise. 

For all of the blessed abundance we enjoy, our lives are yet stained with many pains.  Physical pangs.  Mental illness.  Racism, injustice, inequality.  Mourning the abuse of children too young to be scarred and scared in this way.  Mourning the loss of children cut down too early.  Mourning barrenness and the loss of children that never could be. 

For you who suffer in these and other ways, know that the Christmas story is for you.  It is telling you that there is an even greater tear that has been mended, which is the tear between God and man.  We may not find sufficient healing on this side of glory.  But we can know that God did not withhold His own son to make us whole again and is therefore prepared to bless us in every way as well.  For myself and for those who I hurt with, this is the Christmas story I hold onto this season.
Post a Comment