Amidst all of the consumerism that has, in large part, taken over the holiday that is Christmas, Christmas remains, at its core, a Christian holiday, and not just any holiday but one that exemplifies the message of God to all people: the message that Jesus Christ, God incarnate, has come to earth to save the souls of humanity. Christmas is, for the Christian, a movement from the darkness of the past, to the light of our present hope. It also remains a reminder of the Christians’ hope for the future: a world where people “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more:” a future with an ultimate peace that this world so lacks. This is Christmas for the active Christian, a celebration of the fulfillment of God’s love for humanity, a hope for our suffering world, and a beckoning future that many have placed their hope and faith in.
Christianity has four canonical gospels that make up our knowledge of Jesus’ life and teachings. Of these, the Christmas story many are familiar with is found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but I do not believe that these two depictions show the most important part of Christmas, the ultimate change from darkness to light. Rather, I turn to the first chapter of John that shows Jesus the “Word” which was with God, and was God. This concept of “Word” or “truth” is the is combined with a concept of the infinite goodness of God, and that in such a God is no darkness at all: God is light, and Jesus, being God is also light. Therefore, when Christians celebrate Christmas, at the core of the celebration is the coming of light. Where there was once the darkness of human inability, the emergence of God in the form of a man brings light light, a light that could lead all that believe to redemption from wrongs, and revelation of grace and mercy to all that believe. And it is ultimately the emergence of this light that Christians celebrate at Christmas.
Indeed, when Christianity speaks of the goodness of God, it also speaks of the justice and love of God. Christianity believes that there is a universal standard of good, a moral law, that has set forth by God and that humanity has broken this law in its entirety in such a way that all are deserving of just punishment. Thus while upholding the freedom of humanity to choose right or wrong, and his own character as just, God, in his love, sent Jesus, a man who was special in that he united the divine and the human in one essence, an essence that was by necessity human so that he could fulfill the punishment for our wrongs and yet also divine so that the efficacy of his sacrifice can be sure, so that it is our Creator that also becomes the means of our salvation, and so that what writings we have of his sayings are authoritative in that they have been established by God himself. Ultimately Jesus was sent in love to save the world, not that we might be condemned through knowledge of truth, but that such truth might save all those that believe.
Christmas thus remembers this, the coming of God in man in the person Jesus Christ. And why do we remember? The answer can only be because Jesus Christ gives Christians hope. For Christians, we place our faith in the hope that Jesus Christ gives, a hope that this world is not all there is, that this life has inherent meaning, and that the future is more glorious than we can ever imagine. This is what Christmas is to the Christian. Indeed this is the hope that Christians invite all others to participate in by placing faith in Jesus Christ. I, especially, hope that all those that may read this have or will one day come to place faith in the hope of glory that all may have in Jesus Christ so that one day we all may one day find the same joy of hope that Christmas gives to the Christian, a hope that goes far beyond meanings of family or the temporary joy of material gifts.
The hope of glory is what drives the Christian; it is what has caused so many to dedicate their lives to Jesus and his message. While in many ways, I feel that the Church today, that Christians today, are lacking in many ways (and indeed saddens me in many ways), I still believe in the inherent truth of the message of Christianity and one of the central parts of Christianity is a belief in the return of Christ. It is this return that is spoken of when we hear the words “unto us a child is born . . . and the government shall be upon his shoulder . . . and of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end” in the book Isaiah and also oft heard in renditions of Handel’s Messiah. This is the future that the Christian looks forward to: a future where Christ will return and call his faithful to himself to judge the living and the dead, and to reign with peace and glory for ever and ever and it is my utmost hope that as many as possible, but especially those I call friend, will be able to one day welcome this event with expectant joy and a knowledge of hope.
Christmas is an event for many people. In out increasingly secular society it is a holiday focused on tradition: gifts, family, the nostalgic remembrance of the past in joy, and the start of a focus on a new year. I will not say that these foci are bad things, for I value all these also, but for me, as a Christian, this holiday will always be so much more. Christmas is a remembrance about the coming of the means of our deliverance from darkness to light, and the coming of the hope of all people, that all those that believe might be reconciled to a just but loving God. And even as I remember all this I hope also that all may one day share in this joy I have for this day, and one day join in welcoming the return of Jesus, whose birth Christians remember on Christmas day.
Merry Christmas 2012. Maranatha.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were very afraid. The angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”