The Deeper Meanings of Christmas

Christmas
is a time of remembrance, of nostalgia—for the Christmases of our past,
and for that Bethlehem instance of which nativity renderings, Biblical
accounts and Sandi Patty songs are a continued reminder.

For
me, Christmas is this evolving storehouse of memories that includes my
grandmother’s pecan pie, Christmas Eve candlelight services followed by
steak sandwiches, sprawling family games of Trivial Pursuit and Rook,
my mom playing “O Holy Night” on the violin, bowl games on TV, family
trips to the movies, bowling on Christmas morning (an annual
tradition), Evie’s “Come On Ring Those Bells” on vinyl, and an
underlying ambiance of John Hughes-flavored suburban Chicago Christmas (Home Alone, Christmas Vacation).

Of
course the list could go on and on. We could all reminisce for hours
(and, over the next few days, probably will) about the memories we’ve
shared over the years. And that’s a good thing.

One
of the wonderful things about Christmas is that—in spite of the way
we’ve cluttered it up and made it a frenzied, high-stress bonanza of
party-hopping and excessive shopping—it’s still ultimately a holiday
that glories in just being. For a few days we all gather with friends and family and enjoy
things: pie, eggnog, presents, music, glittering ornaments, cute
babies, football, funny stories and nostalgia. There are few other
times in life when we collectively pause to celebrate life, in
fellowship with our fellow human, thankful for the beauties and
blessings we enjoy.

And then, a week later on New Year’s Eve—before we launch into the doing of the new year and its accompanying resolutions—our celebration of being climaxes
with a day devoted to remembrance: The highs and lows of the year gone
by, the friends made and loves lost, the tragedies and triumphs and
trips we’ve taken here and there. We toast to it all, sipping up the
sweet bubbly of days gone by and another year lived. We are present, still breathing, still tasting and seeing the world’s goodness where we can find it.

Oh, grace! The Incarnation.

How
else could we truly enjoy the gifts and surprises of this world apart
from Christ’s Incarnation, taking on flesh and walking on the same dirt
as we, drinking the same water, smelling those same roses? The
Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas is the very thing that gives us
permission to celebrate in the way we do: Through things like
peppermint mochas, It’s a Wonderful Life, or a concert performance of Handel’s Messiah. 

The
goodness of the world—the “all is not lost,” salvageable beauty of
it—is legitimated in the God-made-flesh moment of Christmas. In that
epoch of history, the climax of so many centuries of hopes and fears
and expectations, heaven literally came down to earth and took up
residence within it. A new kingdom began—physical, tangible,
unexpected. Christmas is the celebration of life as it can be lived in
the light of that very real hope, in the knowledge that, though we will
have trouble, we should take heart because Christ has overcome the
world (John 16:33).

Sometimes
it frustrates me when churches skip so quickly over the Incarnation or
act like it’s merely a feel-good stepping stone to the ultimate
apotheosis of creation: The cross. I don’t really like going to
Christmas Eve services where a few Christmas songs are followed by a
song about the cross and the Lord’s Supper. Why are we in such a rush
to get to Easter? Not that Easter isn’t monumentally significant. But
isn’t Christmas majestic and mysterious enough to warrant its own
set-aside time of worship and meditation?

It
seems to me that Christmas need not do much more than be a celebration
of creation in order to be a significant memorial to the event it
symbolizes. When this planet welcomed Christ, it welcomed redemption,
purpose and light. The world changed in that moment, and things that
seemed pointless before were suddenly imbued with meaning.

And
so at Christmas, it’s fitting that we celebrate by simply enjoying that
meaningful creation. Looking back at the blessings we’ve been given,
looking forward to the second Advent of the Redeemer Christ, but also
glorying in the goodness of the moment: A fire in the fireplace,
Grandma’s pies in the oven, wrapped presents under the tree and nothing
to do but enjoy, enjoy, enjoy it all.

Brett McCracken is the author of Hipster Christianity (Baker, 2010) and a regular blogger.

4 Comments

85,023

Loyd2 commented…

Thank you for a wonderful challenge.

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85,023

Pconneen commented…

Thanks, Bret. I've always been a little bummed by seeing the cross lit up in people's Christmas displays. Really? Do I have to think of Good Friday right now? Of course we know it's coming but sheesh...can we just enjoy the inaugural event of the Kingdom come? Merry Christmas and joy to the the world.

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85,023

Brettfish commented…

hey brett (good name)

i just wrote a blog saying completely the opposite (apparently) according to one of my friends who sent me a link to your article so i thort i'd send you one to mine - http://brettfish.wordpress.com...

i hear what you're saying but i disagree a lot - and the majority of the stuff you are speaking about in terms of the meaning of Christmas seems to be more about the me-ness of Christmas whereas Christ was all about looking out for other people, the sheep and the goats scenario - what opportunities can i take to reach out and touch the lives of others this season instead of simply blissfully being about my own stuff... not saying that family and friend times are not good times but as the church we often get too caught up in the consumerism and don't even get to appreciate the incarnation you were speaking about

two things you wrote: isnt Christmas majestic and mysterious enough to warrant its own set-aside time of worship and meditation - i think the answer is no - it has to be held hand in hand with easter because the two find their significance together - Jesus birth is only significant because of His death and resurrection - once you realise that then sure the birth itself and the whole story gains a mystical and awe-filled edge but without how the story ends, i don't think it does

and: When this planet welcomed Christ, it welcomed redemption, purpose and light. The world changed in that moment, and things that seemed pointless before were suddenly imbued with meaning.

i disagree again - it's nice reading but i don't think it's true - the planet didn't welcome Jesus except maybe in some metaphorical sense - in fact the way the planet welcomed Jesus was pretty much by butchering all the little male kids in bethlehem (because of a me-focused ruler) and the world didn't change in that moment in any significant way because hardly anyone noticed (except a few shepherds and wise men) - part of the point was that Jesus slipped into the world mostly unnoticed and stayed that way for thirty years before starting the events leading up to easter...

i reckon a lot of people will probably agree with each of us and it's certainly to no benefit to get into any big raging debate (cos at the end of the day this is probably a perspective thing and not something that really matters) but i think the one thing that i would say is missing from your article for sure is the others-focus that this time (and actually every other day of our lives) should call for as opposed to simply a bunch of nice good-feeling experiences (and by all means have both)

hope you and your family have a good one
i like the bowling tradition - sounds like much fun

brett FISH anderson

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Adam C. Harper

61

Adam C. Harper commented…

"...its still ultimately a holiday that glories in just being."

I agree, and that is how I celebrate it...in simplicity and quietness.

http://acharpman.blogspot.com/

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