Ok, so I know I’m supposed to love the Easter the most, but the truth is, I don’t. Christmas wins that award for me. It also wins the award for the season I hate the most. So here’s what: As certain social media posts of mine often indicate, there is a part of Christmas that really hooks something in me every year. The consumerism and the busy-ness get me down. They just do. I’m not going to drag you down with me with a thoroughly fleshed out thesis on why, but in a nutshell, it’s this: I think the heart of Christmas, the real deal Christmas, what Christ come to earth is all about, is the antithesis of consumerism of busy-ness. The heart of this season is not expensive parties and economic bottom lines- it’s simplicity and peace. And that’s why I love it.
As I moved through my faith over the last 20+ years, I’ve come to realize that historically there’s a lot about this great holiday that’s fabricated and debatable. Depending on how far down the cynical road you want to go (and I am often happy to go a long way down that road), there is a lot of joy and mystery that one could strip out of this holiday: We know that Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th (especially since December wasn’t even a thing back then); the issue of Christ’s humanity, his divinity, the combination of the two, etc. has been a theological debate for centuries that will suck any sense of wonder right out of your soul; the barn was a cave; there were no three kings, but there were three gifts (maybe) from a whole heap of magi who didn’t even arrive until years later; who knows what about actual angels and shepherds; and the “inn” was probably just a spare room in someone’s home. There’s a lot of evidence out there to reduce this whole thing down to a nice little myth that’s been hijacked by opportunistic capitalists and preserved by a nation which needs it to improve the bottom line. There’s a lot of evidence of that, and there’s a lot of truth to it. And you know what? I don’t care.
When I was 17 something happened in me. I fell in love with the character of Jesus as documented in the Gospel of Matthew. I decided I wanted to be like that guy and decided to spend the rest of my life doing my best to do so. I’ve got a long way to go. Regardless, I think one could say that at that point in my life Christ was born in me. And as I reflect on my life, I remember a relatively tumultuous childhood. Sparing the details, the times in that childhood where not tumult but peace reigned was Christmas. I remember my mom had this shmultzy wreath with a manger scene in the middle that she always put out on the living room coffee table. I can my remember myself as a child (maybe 8 years old) kneeling in front of that manger scene staring at it in wonder. I had no idea what it was really about but I was captivated by it… much like I was by the Gospel of Matthew at 17. Before my parents’ divorce I remember going to St. John’s Episcopalian Church on the west side of Lake Harriet and singing “sleep in heavenly peace” and then going home to bed with insatiable excitement but eventually falling into a slumber of heavenly peace. I loved Christmas, and it wasn’t just because of the Hot Wheels race track under my stocking in the morning (it was a little, but it wasn’t all that).
Christmas is the time when I remember who I am every year. In all of the pain of this world; in all of our own inner turmoils; in all of our pervasive and often justified, or at least understandable, cynicism; in all of our doubt, in all of the Church’s f-ups throughout history and today, in all of the reasons not to believe… Christmas won’t let me not believe. You can come at me with all the evidence in the world to throw this away, and it won’t matter. There is something about the story of the Creator coming to a world of violence and slaughter in the form of tiny, peaceful child who would become an advocate for peace, justice, inclusion, wholeness of heart and mind, and love of God, neighbor and self that captivates me, fills me, and propels me into the world rather than retreat from it. It’s a beautiful story that guides my life. I don’t even care if it’s true or not. It anchors me in something that pulls me out of despair and cynicism and into peace and hope. So call me a fool for giving my life to the center of its story. That’s fine. I’ll be a fool. I can live with that- ’cause this thing matters to me. This Jesus character is often a punchline that the cynical me is quick to enjoy (and we should- can’t take ourselves too seriously), but when it comes down to it, this story changed my life and I’m not going to deny it. I want God to enter into my chaos, turmoil, and uncertainty just as God did so into the world’s in Matthew and Luke. And you know what? Every Christmas God does. Every Christmas God enters my own personal chaos, turmoil and uncertainty and fills me with hope, joy, love and peace.
That’s why I love Christmas.
God bless us, everyone, and peace on earth and goodwill to all.