I was sitting in a meeting yesterday to talk about the programming of a local fellowship in my neighborhood. We were talking about the itinerary for our Christmas Eve service, and then for the Sunday of Christmas; when I just started thinking, “Does the Christmas story even matter anymore?” And what I mean is this: Do we even pay attention to what was really going on in and around the birth of Jesus?
So I took the question to our Friday Breakfast meeting with 5 local teenage boys. While we gorged our gullet with doughnuts at our local favorite breakfast diner (Daylight Doughnuts) I asked them…What does Christmas mean to you?
One young man said, “Well, I guess since I’m not religious, it’s just a time to get presents.”
Another said, “It’s a time of year where my family gets together.”
And a third piped in and said, “I guess it’s just a good time of year for people to go out of their way and be kind to one another.”
Christmas is a pagan holiday we stole from a norse god of fertility? And I get it. The conversation about the current celebration of Christmas, and what the story of the Bible is about are two different stories. (I mean when was the last time you read the part in the Bible where people were trampled at Wal-Mart for a plastic toy to give to their children using a mythical story of a fat geriatric communist who circumnavigates the globe in one single night?) But I digress….
As I was sitting at the table talking to these awesome students, these are some of the questions I wrestled.
1. Why do we even do Christmas anymore?
In the local church it’s always a beautiful time of remembering the birth of Jesus. Elaborate live nativities, Christmas concerts, and decorative sanctuaries help us to sense the Christmas season, but what about those who just see it as another holiday? I know there will be those who want to argue Didn’t you know Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25? And I’m always quick to point out other futile holidays we celebrate simply on tradition. I don’t know if the exact date of Jesus’ birth is important to this modern-day celebration, but I do think it’s important to discuss the “Why” from a faith perspective.
I took some time to tell the young men at breakfast this morning about hope and the real meaning of our remembrance.
Christmas celebrations are about hope. Whether it’s the tree in your living room (which WAS stolen from a pagan tradition to invite fertility gods to communities in the heart of winter), or the presents under the tree; the tradition of Christmas gives us hope in a world that seems to be tearing itself apart in war and violence. God’s promise of a new Kingdom manifested through Jesus is hope that God is still working on the planet today. We give credence to this event so we can all remember. Like the Hebrews who crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, and then were given the command to build an altar and remember; the miracles of God manifested through the celebrations of Christmas are important to remember.
If we simply reduce Christmas down to a retail wind fall, we miss the whole of the purpose, and quite frankly; we should probably think about another way to remember.
2. What would happen if Jesus was born today?
Our church decided to put on a children’s nativity last Sunday, and I was struck by how cute those little guys and girls could be all dressed up in their ‘Bible’ costumes. But sometimes I wonder, What would it look like if Jesus was born today?
We certainly wouldn’t expect to see Mary and Joseph dressed up in brown towels. They’d probably be in Jeans and scarfs. They probably wouldn’t be traveling on a donkey, but in a small Toyota pick up truck. But after we re-dress the scene, we need to remember, they weren’t living in a world that different from ours, after all…
There was a demand from a government to travel from their homes to their birthplace. In other words, there was a high government involvement in the world.
Both were traveling refugees from what was war-torn areas as Herod was set to kill all the firstborn baby boys in the land.
All the characters involved in the story were Middle Eastern, and although Mary and Joseph were Jewish, the Kings certainly weren’t. They were people of a faith quite different.
The poverty of the shepherds was probably similar to the poverty-stricken areas of our world, but they were moved by this crazy incident with angels in the middle of the night.
So how would we actually know if Jesus was born in our day?
Reading the stars are often seen as astrological, not God-given signs
Refugees in our world are a source of intense political conflict
There’s a great cry out for people to believe in the “One True God”
And…Jesus wasn’t born in a sanctuary that holds 8-10 thousand people. He was born in an obscure manger surrounded by cattle and sheep.
As I was trying to think about how I would welcome the hope of God in the world, I was struck again… I would probably miss it too. Just like the Jews of the day looking for the Messiah to conquer the Roman Occupation, I would probably think about how humble hope came into the world and look to another.
I’d look to a strongman to solve the world’s problems.
I’d probably want to engage the government powers that be to overturn the policies of hate and dysfunction.
I’d want someone to promote justice, not a baby in the middle of no where whose parents saw angels.
And that’s what’s so mystical about this plan. God didn’t bring a soldier to the world to conquer with power and violence, he brought a baby with the promise of a new type of Kingdom. He gave us a place where forgiveness and rightness with God had little to do with us, but much to do with God.
3. So What about the conversation of tradition versus hope? Does it really even matter?
And to this most important question, I say YES!! It does matter.
It matters that our traditions are tied to God’s provision of hope.
It matters that we don’t stray so far from the original message that we replace Christmas with another calendar rhythm.
In a world where the seams of the fabric of the world are being torn from so many angles, it matters to recognize who is still in control.
So my encouragement for you today, Be sure to take some time to talk about the hope God has provided through this Christmas holidays. We can get so hung up on the world’s issues, that we forget, “Unto us a child is born.” “Emmanuel – God with us.”