The period between 24 December and 1 January is now commonly described as “the holiday period” (or similar). I get that, but I’ve also noticed that an increasing number of people don’t seem to know what Christmas even means anymore – to Christians, I mean.
Christmas is not easy to explain, as it is part of a vast epic. Christians typically believe:
- God kept creating until He created a being (human) who is capable of returning the compliment of loving.
- The proud defiance in the Eden story (whether or not it occurred as told) is found in every human heart: essentially, “No-one’s the boss of me!”
- This defiance resulted in our residing in a world which, while magnificent, is hazardous. (Of course, we are ourselves the greatest hazard.)
- God is aggrieved by this separation from us and is strongly motivated to reconcile. After various endeavours at reconciling, including an exclusive relationship with the people of Israel (standing in for humanity), it emerged that something quite radical was required.
The point of the Gospel expedition emerges at Easter, but its radical nature is apparent immediately, with the Creator of the cosmos submitting to be born as a human child. The solution required a new stand-in for humanity – one who could manage the task. The stand-in had to be human, but only God could perform the task: Jesus Christ is both.
The Gospel expedition is for all humanity, as can be seen in the location of the Nativity and in those who were there: Jews representing continuity with the epic; Roman occupation and the 3 visiting Kings representing everyone else; the Kings representing the powerful, the shepherds representing the poor.
While Jesus’ overlordship is recognised in the homage of the visiting Kings, his position was precarious at the outset – conceived out of wedlock, born in something less than a human dwelling in a subjugated land, and already the object of an assassination plot (courtesy of King Herod). Still, the expedition is underway.
Yet, Christmas is a positive time, in the same sense that the Friday of Easter is “Good”, and because it’s about –
- the hope one feels on hearing the first sounds of rescue (the cavalry, the choppers, the police or ambulance siren, your parents’ car pulling into the driveway);
- grateful wonder that, as we can’t earn or strive our way to God, God has come to us;
- the reaffirmation of the astonishing value of being human;
- the value of family and expressing love (eg in gift-giving).
The celebration of family in “the holiday period” in secular society is wonderful and extremely important, but it barely scratches the surface of Christmas.