When you think of Christmas, what do you think of? What is the essence of what Christmas is about? Notice I didn’t ask what Christmas is about for you. I asked what Christmas is about.
I’m willing to bet that many people will respond that Christmas is about presents and Santa and the tree – especially the joy of seeing children open presents on Christmas morning.
I’m willing to bet that many people will say that Christmas is about family.
I’m willing to bet that many people will say that Christmas is about singing Christmas songs like “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Baby,” “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and more popular tunes that come across our radios, Pandora, and Spotify.
I’m willing to bet that many people will say that Christmas is about a quiet night – some may even say a silent night – in which the snow falls and glistens the ground, where we are surrounded by the ones we love, having a drink and some wonderful food.
I’m willing to bet that there are even some who say that Christmas is about going to serve the hungry a meal.
I’m even willing to bet that there are many who will say that Christmas is about a baby who came 2000 years ago – all nice and cute and snug and innocent, laying in hay, while his mother and father looked on and entertained visitors from out in the fields. You know like the popular image we get from Hallmark cards of the manger scene. We enjoy thinking about the cute and innocent image of the manger and want to stop and stay there because it’s such a nice, peaceful image.
Except that’s not what Christmas is about at all. Maybe secular Christmas. The stuff of tradition that we have formed over the years and what the culture has made Dec. 25 into, but it’s not what Christmas is. That’s not to say those are bad things. In fact, many of those things are very good and very nice.
What is Christmas – it’s about something much more disturbing and earth shattering. It’s about God taking on flesh and doing something treasonous to the empires and powers of this world. It is proclaiming boldly that the empires and powers of this world are not the savior, are not the ones who bring peace, are not the ones who transform lives. In them there is no ultimate hope or peace. There is only power and power struggles, violence, and death.
In the act of Incarnation, Jesus did something radical – Jesus claimed the title that Caesar used – Savior of the world. It was a usurpation of power. And it started with a little baby – who wasn’t wrapped in royal garb, but rather wrapped in bands of cloth, born of a teenage unwed mother, amongst dirty animals, with crappy smells and manure all around, whose family fled for their lives. This is the king we celebrate on Christmas. The act of Incarnation was a rebellious act that threatened the powers that be to their very core. It threatened their power, their image, and threatened to expose them for what they were – empty and hopeless – something that would pass with time – a fraud.
Christmas is about pointing us to the death and resurrection of Jesus – the other end of Jesus’ earthly life. It points us to the other rebellious act of Jesus – the crucifixion. It is the event where ultimate shame was thrust on Jesus – death. It was the shame of the empire, of power, of all the things that the world stood for, sin. All of that crap was around him, just as it was when he was in the manger. Only this time he didn’t flee from death, but faced it, experienced it, and ultimately conquered it. The birth and the death of Jesus are parallel stories – one leading us and pointing us to the other.
This is what Christmas is about. I hope it rocks us and unsettles us. If it doesn’t, then I think we’ve missed what Christmas is about. We allowed ourselves to be distracted by stuff – by the crap that was all over the ground in the manger, by the crap that the culture leveled at Jesus on his way to the crucifix.
Celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus – God taking on flesh and confronting false powers, sin, and death. That is the true gift we are given.