It is interesting to me that this is the season that we celebrate the birth of The King. Oftentimes we fill the air with debate over whether just saying, “Happy Holidays” is sufficient enough – or if it even warrants boycotting certain businesses due to their improper Holiday expressions. (I’m looking at you Starbucks and your bare red cups!) Offended by the lack of Christ in their salutations, we throw temper tantrums and refuse to do business with them and call others to join us. We impose our views on them.
This brings me to this notion of Happy Holidays – really? What’s the problem? Holidays after all means “Holy Days”…X-mas is short for Christ-mas! (x became the symbol for Christ in the Greek because it is the first letter in the name Xristos – see John 1.41) Why don’t protestants ever complain that the Catholic Mass has been removed from Christ – Mass? What about our neighbors who are celebrating other things this time of year? Kwanza or Hanukkah? Are we that arrogant to believe that everything in culture needs to cater exclusively to Christianity? Then we wonder why folks are continuing to hate us…
So you want to put The Christ back in Christmas? Well then let’s talk about what that really means. What is it that G_d has in mind? What does Christmas mean to G_d? Do we even know?
Do you think that G_d is concerned that Box Stores don’t put the word Christ in their advertisements…or do you think that G_d is more concerned with their environmental practices (pollution) or even moreso their treatment of the poor? Injustices such as sweatshops and environmentally damaging factories built in places that don’t have restrictions all for the sake of making a higher profit margin – their employment strategies have created a whole new English term – The Working Poor… And we’re concerned with their Advertising Wording?!?!?
That brings us to another point of contention – do we really believe that G_d even wants His persona associated with consumerism? The fact that a holiday that commemorates the life of a man that brought sight to the blind, healing to the sick, freedom to the oppressed, and salvation to the whole earth is celebrated by the distribution of stuff…now don’t get me wrong, as Christians we tend to notice the poor at this time of the year…we even become a little more generous toward the stranger. We remember the poor and marginalized this season in celebration of a man that gave his entire life to taking care of the poor and marginalized…
Don’t get me wrong, I am not condemning us for our generosity at this time of year…I am condemning us for our lack of it the rest of the year!
Many of you may be thinking or feeling, How dare give a letter like this at this time of year? This is exactly the time of year we need to be reminded of the call that G_d has on His people! To be a light to the world in darkness – that means to be about Justice and Mercy – to be about Shalom. To love G_d and neighbor. Instead we are filled with self-love…G_d, who gave up everything in order to enter into our suffering, is remembered during our holiday season in a manner that has been known to be a catalyst to even greater oppression!
Do we believe that the King of the Universe, The Creator of All Things is worried about marketing ploys or trite arguments over His name being mentioned! Is G_d that narcissistic?
A King whose riches makes Solomon appear that he lived in squalor puts on flesh, making himself susceptible to poverty, hunger, thirst, pain, rejection, and even death – all of these things we believe he faced! This doesn’t sound like narcissism.
So what, then, is the incarnation about? What was the intention of this action by G_d? Is this something that G_d had to do? Was G_d obligated to us? Can we understand G_d’s reasoning?
We say that this is a season of hope…well, that is easy for us to say since we’ve got it pretty good here! So maybe our idea of hope is this:
- Hope that we get the best sale price
- Hope that our familial gathering won’t be made awkward by Uncle So-and-So
- Hope that grandma won’t drink too much eggnog again this year!
- Hope that our children will like the presents we’ve picked out for them.
Few of us are thinking about the hope of getting out of an abusive relationship…hope that tomorrow will bring us out of slavery…hope that bombs won’t destroy our homes – a hope of peace – individually and corporately.
G_d sent His son because, “He so loved the world!” [Jn 3.16] G_d left the comforts of His affluence and entered into our destitution and poverty…His desire that, “no one should perish” [2 Pt 3.9] but that “every knee would bow and every tongue confess” [Romans 14; Php 2]- His hope that we would, “hear his words and do them” [Mt 7.24] and if we would do so that, “there would be nobody in need amongst us.” [Deut. 15.4-5]
G_d’s birth in Nazareth has little to do with exchanging gifts – little to do with cute carols – little to do with Santa Claus – little to do with plastic nativity scenes – little to do with Happy Holidays or Merry Christmases.
But it does have everything to do with the redemption and reconciliation of His creation! The ushering in of a kingdom – His Kingdom – that unlike earthly kingdoms is not oppressive…not destructive…not abusive…not a division of the Haves and the Have-Nots, but a place of peace, mercy, justice, and compassion – a place of Shalom! He attempted this through living a life in poverty – a life in the margins – a life of rejection – a life of a person without hope…and through that life demonstrated a life of wealth – a life that represents what should be our norm – a life of inclusiveness – a life of hope.
That is what we are to celebrate this season: that G_d became flesh – He does not wait for us to ascend to Him, for He has already come down to us! He met us where we are and through grace and love He desires to lift us up. He has asked for us to partner with Him – to be about hope…to be about peace…to be a part of the reason for the season. He does not desire our lip service – He desires us to be about His Father’s work – our Father’s work. The redemption of all creation!
Not to wish others Peace and Goodwill but to be the Peace and Goodwill to others! Not to critique Holiday greetings or decorations – rather for us to become that which is irresistible to our community – a place of love – of peace – of hope!
We should not be concerned about putting “Christ” back in Christmas for He is already there. Rather, we should be concerned about demonstrating Christ to those who do not know Him. If we want to return Christ to his proper place we should be feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, and visiting the prisoner! But please be warned this is not a seasonal event. Jesus doesn’t tell us in Matthew 25 – I was hungry at Christmas and you fed me! If we want Christ to be the “reason for the season,” then we should live a life that “lifts him on high,” a life that demonstrates the beauty of His life, a life that gives hope, a life that brings peace, a life that is about redemption and reconciliation. If we live our lives like that then there will be no doubt of who we are celebrating – and I would venture to say that the whole world would celebrate with us!!!!
**A version of this was originally published in 2009