John 1:1-5, 12-14 (NKJV)
Christmas is steeped in tradition for most of us, traditions of gatherings, church activities, family, decorations, food, and more. My family has turkey and cornbread dressing on Christmas. My brother-in-law’s family has oyster dressing. Seriously…? If your family is like mine, then much of your time recently has been spent ensuring your traditions are honored this year. For many grieving the loss of home and feeling the barrenness of displacement, past traditions weigh heavily, and Christmas hardly “feels” like Christmas this year. I readily admit I want our Christmas to be the traditional Christmas we’ve always had, and have worked to make it so, precisely because I want the “feeling” of Christmas. Yet, I know many who understandably mourn that this year Christmas doesn’t feel anything like Christmas. We are all well-reminded that what we feel is seldom, if ever, the measure of what God is doing.
The Incarnation of the Son of God, His birth in the flesh that we celebrate at Christmas, is the beginning of the defeat of darkness and death. Before the moment of His birth, the whole of creation groaned under the weight of sin, evil, and death. When the Son of God was born to Mary, He changed the trajectory of human history, turning the destiny of human beings and all creation toward fulfillment in Him. The arrival of God in our midst and the beginning of our salvation are what we celebrate at Christmas. Christmas is not about the traditions that comfort us in this world. Christmas is the revelation of what is real and true, the arrival of life that has come to destroy death.
Our world feels so real to us. We can touch, see, hear, taste, and smell the tangible reality of this world, but our world is not all there is. Indeed, the world in which we live is but a shadow of what is truly real. We could not possibly know that had God not shattered the stranglehold of darkness by sending His Son to be born in the manger in Bethlehem.
The Apostle John wrote his Gospel late in life, fully a generation after the other three Gospels had been written, and assumed his readers knew Jesus’ history. In fact, John’s treatise wasn’t even called a Gospel until nearly a century after it was written. Instead, the Apostle John, who became known as The Theologian, sought to convey the meaning and the magnitude of the Gospel, starting with what happened when Jesus Christ was born. He understood so much more was at stake than the historical event, extraordinary as it was. What John wanted everyone to know, you and I included, is not just that life entered the world, but rather, that divine life entered the world. “The Word was with God and was God.” The co-eternal, co-equal Word of God has arrived to dwell with the finite and dying. Moreover, the light that is the life of all men and women is not merely the lightening of our hearts and minds through faith, but is the uncreated light in which God dwells. That light is the same light Moses saw in the burning bush (Ex. 3:2) and the Israelites saw at the Red Sea (Ex. 13:21). Isaiah saw the divine, uncreated light in his vision of heaven (Is. 6:1-5), and Peter, James, and John saw it when Christ was transfigured (Matt. 17:1-5). When we believe in Him and receive His Spirit, we are born of God, and the divine, uncreated light of God is given to us. Our salvation is that light because the light of life is more real than what we see, because that world is the true reality. Our world is the façade.
One of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes comes from his book, The Weight of Glory, where Lewis wrote, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” The world around us would convince us that Christmas is all about happy families, expensive gifts, lavish food, and perfect memories. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those are the mud pies of which Lewis spoke, the illusion of a good life. Instead, Christmas is about the brokenness, the failure, the pain, and the disappointment of our highest aspirations, the discovery that our ambitions were nothing more than mud pies. Precisely because all of these constitute the human experience at one time or another, God shattered the darkness and entered into human history bringing light and life, grace and truth.
Finally, John wants us to know that the darkness is now confronted with uncreated light and eternal and infinite life. Darkness cannot comprehend it – cannot grasp it, cannot overcome or defeat it, for darkness and death belong to us and to a fallen creation, not to God. The redemption of the whole of creation began the day the Son of God was born to Mary. The Creator has entered His creation, and the tide has shifted. The reality of God is overcoming the unreality of the world, even the most powerful unreality of all, that of death.
Christmas is certainly worth celebrating! But Christmas is not about Santa Claus, no matter how generously we stretch the history of St. Nicholas, who consistently and continually gave to the poor. The word Christmas itself is the post-medieval English adaptation of Christ’s Mass, a worship event. The same is true for the word holiday. It is the modernization of medieval English’s holy day, meaning a day belonging to God. We commit a grave error when we allow Christmas to be measured by our traditions. Christmas is for the broken-hearted, the downtrodden, the defeated, and the dying, for God’s light and life have come. The darkness will not prevail. We know that when we worship, when we offer adoration and praise to the King of kings: the Baby in the manger.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Christmas traditions and celebrations, but there is something terribly wrong with confusing those with the gift and meaning of Christmas. Whatever your circumstances, whether triumphant or defeated, whatever you’ve lost or gained, however successful you are, however deeply you hurt, your Savior has come, and He is bringing His light and His life to you! Never forget that. Don’t be too proud of all you have, for you are not your own salvation. If you mourn this Christmas – and sometimes, sorrow and mourning are unavoidable – mourn in hope, for the light of eternity shines in the darkness of this moment. May we all lift our eyes to look for the heavenly host, and with them sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill toward all!”
Praying the light of Christ will fill your life and your Christmas will be merry and blessed –
© 2017 SFCM