Putting Christ back in Chrismas

Top picture is a Christmas landscape with snow, trees, Christmas decorations. Bottom picture is a nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a manger

Introduction

When we think of Christmas Eve, we typically think of family gatherings, gift giving, and a nice meal. If we have young children or are young children, we might prepare for St. Nick to visit. We rarely make time for or appreciate the real reason for the season, which is the birth of Jesus Christ. On Christmas Day, the son of God came down in the form of a baby. He was born in a dirty manger. Have we really stopped in the midst of the busy holiday season to ask why? What is the significance of the incarnation for Christian theology? Also, why does it continue to be important for us today?

Significance for Christianity

I touched on this in my last blog post, 6 Reasons to Believe in Christianity. I believe that the incarnation is one of the top reasons to believe in Christianity.

Redeemed Humanity

In the incarnation, God took on humanity’s nature. This action restored the grace that humanity had at the garden of Eden. When Christ destroyed death for one, he destroyed death for all. St. Paul puts it this way,

“For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ” Romans 5:17

Jesus’ victory over death applies to all humanity as a gift. How one accepts this gift is a point of contention between Protestants and Catholics. This topic of soteriology is too broad for this post.

Reveals God the Father

Not only does the incarnation ensure our salvation, but it also reveals who God is to all. Jesus reveals that God is not some mystical guy in the sky. Rather, God is a real tangible person. St. Athanasius argues that neither creation nor the law is enough to remind us of God. Thus, God being a good king would not let us take other masters, but would come down himself.1 Jesus puts it this way,

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:9b

Jesus confirms that through him God the father reveals his true nature.

Made Eye Witness Accounts Possible

Lastly, the incarnation made eyewitness accounts possible. Jesus was a real historical person. The twelve disciples claimed to have seen the resurrection. Yet they also knew Jesus Christ as a human being. All of the disciples died rather than recant that Jesus was the son of God. It is easy to die for believing something someone told you. Muslim martyrs do this all the time. It is harder to die for a claim known to be false. The disciples knew Jesus. Thus, if the disciples had any doubts about his claims, they would’ve had a harder time dying for the cause.

Significance Now

The above are great reasons to believe in Christianity, but what if you are already Christian? Why is it important to recognize the incarnation now? What does it have left to teach us?

First, it teaches that we can have a relationship with the divine. The Bible puts it this way,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

Jesus understands where we are coming from since he has also been tested in a similar way. I once presented the above reason to a Muslim. She was quick to object. She said if God created us wouldn’t he know us. I must admit she had stumped me. Yet I’ve come to realize that knowing and experiencing are two different things. I can know that fire causes pain when touched. Yet I cannot sympathize until I experience being burned myself. I want my God to not just know humanity, but to experience humanity.

Second, it shows that God is not afraid of our mess. Sometimes we can think that we are unlovable or unworthy. The incarnation teaches that if God can enter the mess of a stable, he can enter the mess of our hearts.

Third, it teaches the importance of all life. God entrance into humanity took the form of a vulnerable child, who society did not welcome. Thus, Christians should welcome the poor, the lonely, the immigrant, and the unwanted. The incarnation teaches us the importance of accepting and protecting all human life.

Conclusion

Christmas is the celebration of love, and joy that stems from the coming of Jesus Christ, our savior. Jesus didn’t come as a warrior king ready to do battle. Rather, he entered this world as a newborn baby. The incarnation is significant. It serves as the foundation for salvation theology. It reminds us to love and welcome the outsider. Lastly, it teaches us that God embraces our mess. Christmas is a time when you gather around your family for a nice meal and presents. Yet please also don’t forget to acknowledge Christ’s birth.

1. [st Athanasius On The Incarnation, http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/theology/incarnation_st_athanasius.pdf]

Three Ways to Restore Joy This Christmas

Introduction

I remember December as a kid. It felt like a time of peace, love, and joy. A time for watching holiday classics and eating cookies. The anticipation of gift giving filled me with joy. Now as an adult I know about all the work that made the magic happen. I know how hectic the holidays can be for people. I believe the west has lost sight of the true joy and wonder of the holidays. Let us restore joy by forgoing the commercialized Christmas.

3 ways to restore joy this Christmas

1. Embrace Advent

Advent is a time in which we prepare ourselves to remember the birth of Jesus Christ and in that remembering, we look forward to the second coming of Christ1. The proper attitude is anticipatory joy1. High liturgical churches emphasize advent. You don’t have to be a member to adopt this attitude. Traditionally a person will give up something. Instead, a person will do a spiritual reading and prayer. A lot of different Advent devotionals exist. I like and use Reedemed online.

Some people may object that waiting until December 25th takes away from the fun of the holiday. If we spend December fasting and doing good works while everyone else is partying then when we miss out. This leads me to my second point.

2. Embrace the 12 days of Christmas

We have all heard the silly song, The 12 Days of Christmas. What we think of as a silly song actually teaches truths about how we are to celebrate Christmas. Church tradition tells us that Christmas is not just one day, but a whole season. Over the years the numbering has gotten off, but the twelve days run from December 25th until January 6th. Some European children receive their gifts from the three wise men on Epiphany Sunday. Rather than enjoying all things Christmas for one day, you can enjoy it for twelve.

3. Nix Santa and embrace Saint Nick

I know this is controversial for some parents. They worry that their kid will be left out or spoil it for other kids. I grew up with Santa and don’t regret it. Santa is not bad. However, inventing a lie to capitalize on childlike wonder is not necessary when the original story is full of the miraculous. His first miracle was to heal a woman of a withered hand.

As Nicholas was growing up, he regularly went to study and learn with his teacher. One day as he was on his way he came upon a woman with a withered hand. Stopping, he approached her, laid his hand on her, prayed to God, and made the sign of the cross. The hand miraculously became whole. 2

St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children. He models the values of love and generosity. In some cultures, St. Nicholas brings candy and sweets on December 6th, his feast day 2. We can honor St. Nicholas by baking cookies and sweets on his feast day. We can also give to the poor.

Conclusion

The holidays don’t have to be hectic. We can have wonder, peace, and joy. However, we must be intentional in how we celebrate. We must set aside time to pray, and love others. The commercialized world will tell you that you most do and buy everything. However, the reality is that we are to love those closest to us. By loving others, we restore joy to the holiday season.


  1. Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the General Roman Calendar 
  2. From St. Nicholas Center, where there is more information about the saint, customs from around the world, stories and activities for children, recipes, crafts, and much more to help families, churches and schools learn about and celebrate St. Nicholas. Used by permission.