Merry Christmas (whatever that means)! That “whatever that means” isn’t mean to be snarky. No, not at all. For some of us, that may be a pretty simple idea, the idea of “Merry Christmas” that is. Of course, it depends on who you talk to. Your typical American might mention Christmas trees, lights, and presents. A historian might speak of the early Catholic Church’s attempt to co-opt a pagan celebration which occurred every year around this time. Your conservative Christian-types, like me, would speak of mangers, wise men, and the birth of Jesus. The idea of “Christmas” can have a variety of connotations depending on the individual’s belief system, understanding of history, personal experience during previous holiday seasons, and so many other potential elements.
But here’s the thing, Christmas is about all these things… Yes, it is a great reminder of the miracle of God becoming a human baby boy, amid all the muck, mire, and discomfort associated with childbearing and birth. Yes, it is a cultural celebration, here in America, that is a grand conflation of celebrating the incarnation, the legend of Santa Claus, and a number of American and European traditions, most of which have nothing to do with Jesus. Yes, it is a commercial season in which many retailers’ fiscal year is either made or broken. Yes, celebrating December 25 as Jesus’ birthday is rooted in the early church’s attempt to Christianize a pagan celebration. Christmas, as we celebrate it in 21st century America, is a great conflation of Christian tradition, western cultural celebrations, and spending money.
So, what if we let it be what it is on this Christmas Eve? What if we were to just be honest that it’s a fun cultural celebration that can be a reminder of the great miracle of God becoming one of us? What if we forgot about the so-called “War on Christmas”? What if we took off all the pressure and let it be what it is?
To my Jesus-following friends, I pray that you and I will learn to celebrate the miracle of Advent every day of the year… not just on December 25, but also on January 7, and April 15, and August 21 and every other day on the calendar? I mean, that feels appropriate for those of us who have pinned our hope on Jesus. AND, I pray that we’ll be able to be present with those around us this season. That we will truly love those around us… even Uncle Steve, no matter how belligerent he gets during the turkey dinner.
To the rest of my friends, I pray strong connection between you and your loved ones. I pray for good times, rest, and sweet, sweet Christmas presents. And, I pray you’ll get along with Uncle Steve as well.
To all of us, I pray for the peace inherent in the angels’ message to the shepherds in the traditional Christmas story. It’s not a fake peace. Not a peace that comes by ignoring our differences and disagreements. I pray for shalom: genuine well-being. Peace with God, peace with others, peace within.
Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth!