I usually hate this time of year. While I am a sucker for twinkle lights, hot drinks, snowy wonderlands, and copious amounts of body poisoning sugar, I find myself resembling that tall, green, furry Dr. Seuss character that everyone sings bizarre and really sad songs about.
As a Christian person it is necessary to reflect on any sort of dissonance that I may have with celebrating one of the three most significant moments in human history (Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection).
The substance of my dissonance for the past 3 years has to do with the greater Jesus-following community that I am a part of, that has historically cried out a selection of trite phrases:
“Quit taking “Christ” out of Christmas!”
“Remember the true meaning of Christmas!”
“It’s CHRISTmas, not Xmas”
I am puzzled by this expression of self-perceived God defending. God is quite capable of defending Godself, and the reality is, there is very little in the biblical narrative, if anything, that would allude to Jesus himself defending the corporate madhouse that we have made to “celebrate” his birth. Frankly, the biblical narrative tells us just the opposite (See John 2, the entire book of Haggai, Amos, all of Luke…ok I get it, this will get obnoxious fast).
Jesus’ intention in coming to humanity was to bring us back into relationship with God and each other by overthrowing the powers of darkness. He came to rescue us from our disregard of human life, the marginalizing of the poor and powerless, to set us toward loving our enemies, and to experience the life that comes through death, displacement, sacrifice and eventually resurrection. Jesus came to make things right, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
More simply, God wasn’t content to leave us how we were, so he showed up himself to bring justice. That story is indeed worth a hearty
But each year, when I am set off by indignant responses to a mythologized war on Christmas, I am challenged to look at the bigger picture of my Western cultural context. I work to see past the swiping of credit cards, the Old Navy ads, and our attempts at celebratory spirituality and to the places where the God of justice, born a poor, refugee, person of color to unwed teenage parents would find himself. Unfortunately, in the United States and globally, I don’t know that the earthly family of God would have made it to Bethlehem in our current world where bombing and refusing the refugee and “stranger among us” is our political reflex.
We have failed as a nation and as a Christian people to ask the true questions of Christmas:
Where are the broken people in our society?
Where and who are those people in our context? Who are those who are told that their lives don’t matter and that violence is an appropriate response to maintain submission to an empire? Where might God incarnate to bring life, healing, and value?
These are the places where the life of Jesus comes, growing in love and strength in order to bring more life. It is in the darkest places among the most marginalized that God creates his home. If Jesus came in a time where human selfishness and violence reigned and he did something about it in his birth…what makes us think that this reality is any different today?
The battle Jesus begun at Christmas was against death and evil itself, not humans. So if in our country, when we see death and evil against communities of marginalized people and as Christians are not there, we are the ones waging a war on Christmas. We live in a culture where celebration is about us, and it is comfortable. It has foods we like, people we know, gifts to be received…but if it doesn’t, at the very least recognize the suffering of others…God have mercy.
We are the ones devaluing human life and the image of God.
We are the ones choosing into comfortable cheer when Jesus, humbly and painfully displaced himself for us.
We are the ones screaming out that “all lives matter” while simultaneously ignoring the pain of people across our nation. People who are crying out for others to displace themselves for the sake of their freedom, livelihood, and justice.
If we choose to enter into the story of Christmas, we enter into the story of God come as both king and infant, fully displaced, to fight against human suffering and violence by loving, serving, and suffering. If we are not in it right now with the suffering and oppressed, we have missed the whole point.
We wage a war on Christmas in our utter disregard and indifference to the reality that God incarnated as a marginalized person to free the marginalized in society.
So get involved.
Give your money away.
Make a friend with someone who doesn’t look like you.
…and yes, celebrate, but celebrate the right things.
It’s not about consumerism, nativities, holiday specials, elaborate and emotionally evocative church services, or any of that. It is about following the living God into celebration because he loved us enough to not leave us to our own destruction and violence.
It is about the humility of God to become a human and show us the best way to live, one where we can be reconciled to him and to each other, have whole relationships and pursue holistic personhood. Who came so we could experience joy, freedom, beauty, Christmas snacks, Charlie Brown specials, 60” televisions, everything nutmeg related, and hallmark spec….never mind.
The point it is, I am not calling for a dismantling of all things cheerful, just a critical reflection on the time and way that Jesus came and for us to come and do the same for the sake of our own and others flourishing- especially when there is such a critical opportunity in our national context to believe in and offer that life.
So really, Merry Christmas y’all.
Enjoy the time. It’s totally worth celebrating, but do not forget the suffering and marginalized along the way.