Matthew 1:23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.”
As I take another fresh look at the Christmas story, I’m always struck by how different, difficult, and dangerous that first Christmas was compared to the Hallmark Card commercial Christmas the Western World has created. The most frightening things about a modern commercialized Christmas are overcrowded schedules, maxed out credit cards, and being trampled on “Black Friday” trying to win the battle for the last gizmo in aisle five with a more aggressive shopper than us.
The Biblical Christmas was a time when the battle between good and evil manifested in the death of every male baby in Bethlehem and the parents of young Jesus having to flee as political refugees to Egypt. There was no “rocking around the Christmas tree,” or images of “holly and mistletoe” in those times. There was the great celebration of “God with us” alongside the grim retaliation of the political power structure of the time that was clearly threatened by that proclamation.
Now, I’m not one of those who wring my hands over the commercialization of Christmas. Religion has enough practices that naturally put us at odds with the culture around us to add another prohibition to the list. Besides, God created us to have good clean fun and Christmas is filled with opportunities for that. New England plunges into darkness most of the day after Daylight savings time kicks in, so I’m not letting you take modern day cultural Christmas cheer away from me. However, it’s important to realize there are two different versions of Christmas; one that’s cultural and one that’s Biblical. Please don’t constantly remind everyone that the cultural Christmas isn’t the Biblical Christmas, but at the same time please do decide what each one means.
- The cultural Christmas connects us with family and friends regardless of their religious beliefs.
- The Biblical Christmas brings us into deeper intimacy with our spiritual family where real victory over despair is lived out.
- The cultural Christmas connects us with our families’ history; which, with some exceptions, is often full of good memories of Christmas past. (I think there’s value in thinking about family history even when it’s not so beautiful, because there is help available to change the narrative.)
- The Biblical Christmas connects us with the story of God’s Kingdom moving toward the day when “Peace on earth, good will toward men” becomes a reality.
- The cultural Christmas connects us with the wants, needs, and desires of others. At no time in our year do we think more about what others around us want and what would make them happy.
- The Biblical Christmas connects us with the will of God and His desire for partnership with his human creation.
- The cultural Christmas connects us with our God given desire to make things beautiful, cheerful, and bright.
- The Biblical Christmas connects us with a loving God who is offering to fill our lives with beautiful purpose, joyful presence, and bright hopes for the future of our planet.
Those of you who listen to me regularly know that my most often quoted passage is Ecclesiastes 7:18, “It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.” However, I am less concerned that you will fail to celebrate the cultural Christmas than I am about the Biblical one; that’s the one that we most seldom fail to grasp. If you want your life to have deeper meaning and come away from this festival with a possession that won’t end up in a yard sale or one of our Blessing Barn(s), ask Jesus to burn the Biblical Christmas story of “God with us” into your soul.