Oh, I’ve always known Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus, “the reason for the season.” I imagine that, as a child, I probably fixated on the gifts I’d receive more than on the birth of Baby Jesus. But even then, deep down, I knew receiving and giving gifts weren’t the focus of Christmas.
Through the years, I reveled in the celebration of Christmas: The Gospel of Luke’s moving account of Jesus’ birth—whether recited at church on Christmas Eve, spoken by Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas or read by a member of our family beside the Christmas tree—always moves me deeply. So do Christmas carols and Advent candles. As does good cheer that seems to pervade, at least for a couple of days or so. And also gathering of family, stirring refrains of Handel’s Messiah, contributions to missions, and purchase of food and gifts for less-fortunate members of our community.
All of this is well and good. Terrific, even.
But more and more, I’m grateful for Christmas because I’m increasingly aware of how much we need it.
I’m not talking about the “… need a little Christmas” sung by countless choirs at the beginning of innumerable pageants. That’s about glad tidings and good cheer, which, of course, we can use by the boatload. I’m talking about how much we need Jesus involved in and influencing our lives. It’s because of his arrival that we celebrate Christmas, and so the real celebration is about Jesus’ presence and activity in and among us. Jesus the Babe is cute and cuddly, even if some crying he made. But more and more, I’m grateful the God-Man entered our world and interacts with our lives.
Jesus came to Earth to fulfill the Law. That was good news for a race of people trapped in a quagmire of rituals, rules and regulations that estranged them from any kind of real relationship with God. But Jesus’ transcendence of the Law also is good news for 21st century people who know better but still seek meaning and validation by trying to be “good enough”—if not for God, then for practically everybody else. Jesus came to show us we never can deserve love or affection or praise or heaven. So, we can relax and accept all that, and more, as a gift. This is the hardest spiritual lesson for Christians with a Pharisaical-Puritanical streak in them. But it’s still true.
Jesus came to be the Prince of Peace, and, boy, do we ever need peace. We all crave world peace, what with our nation embroiled in two wars and other nations engaged in more smaller conflicts than you could shoot an automatic rifle at. But, more intimately, we’re starved for personal peace. Economic instability, partisan politics, belligerent blogs and ranting radio tear at our souls. Life is unsteady, leaving us uncertain. But Jesus came to give us peace—not just the absence of conflict, but the deeply grounded sense that God is in control and, external evidence aside, all is well.
Jesus came to press the reset button on all of history, and we need to press it again and again. In his first sermon, he annonced he’s on the side of the poor and disenfranchised, which is about as counter-cultural to contemporary America as any concept ever presented. To his closest followers, he revealed the greatest leaders are the ones who put themselves last, the people who suffer most will rejoice best, and those who risk boldly will be rewarded outlandishly. To his severest enemies, he said not a word of defense but resolutely set himself up for what conventional wisdom called failure in order to recalibrate eternity in synchronicity with God.
Yes, we need a lot of Christmas. But it has little to do with whether store clerks say, “Merry Christmas,” who arrives for dinner or what’s under the tree. It has everything to do with how our lives conform to the life that Holy Baby lived.
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Marv Knox is editor of the Baptist Standard. Visit his blog.