Some folks have turned the Christmas miracle into romantic sentimentality about the sweet coming of a baby. And while it is absolutely a gift for the simple in heart, it is not the religious version of the Broadway musical, Alexander Hamilton, where the poor, scrappy, unwanted one rises to power and influence and challenges the world in victory. (As much as I love that play.) Christmas is not supposed to live on as a Hallmark or Broadway special.
Christmas is so much more.
Christmas, at its heart, is the revealing to humankind that God’s very presence is within each person’s flesh and bones—not just the baby Jesus’. This is what Incarnation means. God is not separate from our own skin—every single one of us: brown, white, or black…gay, straight, or trans-…rich or poor…undocumented or documented. God is not separate from all of our own lived realities of joy and pain. And it is through the gift of this One called Jesus Christ or Emmanuel, that those in the Christian tradition are given this precious understanding.
The name Jesus comes from the root which means “to deliver, to rescue.” Christ means “Anointed One,” and Emmanuel means “God with us.” In other words, Jesus’ unique life and death saves us from the fear that our lives are meaningless if they don’t measure up to what we or others “think” about them. His life tells us that there’s so much more to living than what the world’s hierarchical value system teaches us about success and failure. And the closer we draw near to the intimate-forever truth of that baby in the manger, the more meaning and purpose we find in our lives because of who God is, not who we “think” we are.
We are each called to be little Christs in the world, just like that first One who was lying in a Bethlehem manger all those years ago. That’s truly what Jesus tells us in the gospels when he repeatedly says, “Follow me.” He never once says to worship him—as if he is so very different than us. His favorite name for himself is “Son of Man,” which is another way of saying “Human One Worth Listening To.”
And if every one of us is a little Christ in the world, how does that change how we act toward one another?
That’s what the gift of church is for. The messy work of figuring that out.
The church’s message should be
- Worship God,
- have faith in the Christ,
- and follow Jesus.
But in some places the message has become distorted to say instead: Worship Jesus, God’s special one, without whom God’s love and presence with you is dubious. Especially worship him once or twice a year on Christmas and Easter. And if you don’t worship Jesus? Well, good luck to you when you die.
You hear the difference?
We must learn to not just OBSERVE Christmas as a holiday that stirs up traditions and family memories for us each year (as wonderful as they may be for some), but to KEEP Christmas. Here’s a link to the beautiful piece by Henry Van Dyke. Click on it and it will open an identical blue-colored link to click on: http://www.appleseeds.org/xmaskeep.htm
May each of us find our way closer to the heart of God, wherever we find our own Christ-selves this Christmas Eve night.