Our neighbor George recently commented that once again it is time to take a critical and loving look at the season we call Christmas.
He added people traditionally say they “love Christmas” but which Christmas are they talking about? I asked George, what do you mean? He responded that there are several Christmases floating around every year and sometimes they get all tangled up.
The first is the one about the Nativity story found in two of the New Testament gospels. These two different traditional stories need to be read and re-read and then interpreted since they form most of the church Christmas worship. The second is Christmas based not on the Nativity story but rather on customs and traditions that are part of the holiday season. In a sense this celebration of Christmas doesn’t even need a Jesus birth story. The third is an interesting one which primarily combines traditions and customs of the season but throws a little pinch of Jesus into the whole thing for flavoring. This is the one that reminds us “the reason for the season is Jesus.”
Nice sounding words but do we live the message every day? Sad to say, but many good church-going people are found in the third Christmas. Beautiful sanctuary decorations, lovely hymns, musicals and sharing cards but what about living the radical teachings of Jesus once the season is put to rest?
Since you mentioned “the reason for the season” I asked, what do you think is the real foundational reason for Christmas? It’s simple, he responded. The hymn by Christina Rossetti “Love Came Down at Christmas” really says it all. The Creator has given us the gift of love. We are called to incorporate that love into our own lives. Then we are called to share that love with others. Blessed to be a blessing! I like a passage in the Christian scriptures that goes “We love because he first loved us.” (I John 4.19).
When speaking about Christmas, writer Thomas Moore says, “This is a remarkable mystery worthy of celebration and suitable in any setting on earth. It makes no sense to see it exclusively as a ritual for Christians. It has meaning only as a plan for the entire human race – and therefore Christmas belongs to everyone.”
In response to Moore’s words “Christmas belongs to everyone” I would add words from a hymn “Christ for the world, we sing, the world to Christ, we bring.” Even though I am a Christian I believe that Jesus is larger than Christianity, bigger than denominations, more expansive than creeds that come from church councils and larger than what I can imagine.
The kind of love that came down at Christmas is more, much more, than the sweet songs we often sing this holiday season. Jesus’ love is radical love! Jesus didn’t get nailed to a cross because he was sweet and lovely and made people feel comfortable.
Rather his radical message of love angered the government, irritated the religious leaders, gave hope to the common people and called his disciples to a higher standard of faith and witness. We try but we can’t jam “Jesus love” into our own little safe box. The message of Jesus does not want to be domesticated. Too often we try to make Jesus over into our own image. When we do that we destroy the radical love that Jesus brought and still brings to planet Earth.
Author Mike Slaughter writes “our commitment to Jesus means commitment to a revolutionary lifestyle in which we do not subjugate our allegiance to Christ to any other priority.”
Slaughter quoted a line from an anonymous archbishop who said “everywhere Jesus went there was a riot — everywhere I go they make me cups of tea.”
In one congregation they stopped using the word “volunteers.” That’s a fine word for a service club or garden club. But for those who “want to walk in the dust of the rabbi” we are called to be disciples! We are commanded to live lives beyond ourselves.”
I have experienced the radical love of Jesus in a couple of ways. Remember the time when crowds followed Jesus and his disciples to a remote location only to find the people getting hungry. His disciples basically said it’s not our responsibility to feed them, send them away. And Jesus replied “you give them something to eat.” (Mark 6.17). It’s not our responsibility reminds us of the story of two couples watching the evening news on television. They watched the hurricanes devastating the coast and the fires destroy everything in their way in the west. And they said to one another, that’s such a shame! And in the next breath they add “what’s for supper?” Another couple watch the same news story of hurricane and fire and then say to one another “what can we do to help?”
Jesus called us to be part of the solution not part of the problem when he said, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5.44). Or those powerful words in his “sheep and goats” story when he commanded us to “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger & migrant, clothing to the naked and visit those who have been incarcerated.” (Matthew 25.31ff).
Let us close with some nice words about Christmas. As followers of Jesus we like the customs and traditions of Christmas like everyone else. We sing the songs about Santa and we decorate our trees and put candles in the windows and share holiday gifts. Maybe “Christ followers” enjoy Christmas more than most because while we love the season we know the foundational message of the season. When everyone is putting their decorations away until another year we are commanded to live the radical message of God’s love.
Let the dialogue continue. We only ask that you think on these things.