Christ is what holiday is all about

Published 10:12 am Monday, December 20, 2010

When people plead, with good enough intentions, not to forget “the real meaning of Christmas,” as any number do at this season, I think they have already surrendered the cause they plead. The logical alternatives are not either “the real” meaning or some false “meaning” of Christmas. Look carefully at the word attempting to be defined: Christ Mass. The celebration and commemoration of the advent (coming) of the Christ (Messiah, Anointed One) of God.

While I invite everyone to think about this, I am primarily concerned about those who care about this meaning but compromise it by careless language, which leads to thoughtlessness.

We don’t talk about the “real meaning” of your birthday. This is the recognition of an anniversary of your birth and nothing else. If we put a wreath on a grave or send you a valentine, we just have not observed your birthday.

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So it is with the day chosen to commemorate the birthday of Jesus Christ. People have a right to play Santa Claus, put out an inflatable snowman, deck the halls with boughs of holly, or haul the deck with bouts of folly. They can wish us Happy Holidays or give us Seasons Greetings, and we accept it in good spirits. But these are not “wrong” meanings of Christmas; they are not the meaning of Christmas at all.

They can observe Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or winter solstice, but these can’t be considered “their Christmas.” If they choose not to celebrate Christmas, they exercise a right. If they consider this to be their observance as over against Christmas, this is also their choice. But it is in no sense Christmas or a Christmas, nor are they so obliged.

When Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem of Judea, it was his birthday, to be sure. But it wasn’t just another birthday in the history of humankind. It was, according to the account of the Bible, the incarnation of the Son of God. Not only was his birth, by a direct miracle of God, unashamedly a virgin birth, the greater miracle was the incarnation of the Son of God. The Son became incarnate in human flesh. He was at once, again according to the normal understanding of the Bible, fully God and fully man.

For the first time in history, a man lived a life without ever sinning. Having come for this very purpose, he became the first and only human who was able to offer a life as a substitute for all the lives lost, being lost, or would be lost through human sin. He then was led to the Cross where he died as the Lamb of God so God the Father could accept his sacrifice on behalf of all people who would themselves accept him as their Savior. In three days he arose from the grave and ascended to the Father, not only to resume his role at the right hand of God but, through his Holy Spirit, live in the lives of humans who accept him.

This is what happened 2,000 years ago. The “mass” or service or personal observation that remembers and celebrates the Advent is Christmas. This is not merely the “real” meaning of Christmas—it is the meaning of Christmas.

This is pretty heavy stuff. Not a few think it superstitious notions or pious myths, and, from a distance, it can have this appearance. However, it’s but part of a much larger — even cosmic — scene that fits together and makes sense of an otherwise senseless universe. Christmas, like Christianity itself, is at least as much an experience as a belief.

No one is forced to believe any of this, and no one is expected to commemorate what they don’t believe. Let’s be honest and reasonable, however, unless you believe— or are coming to believe — this, you do not observe the (actual} meaning of Christmas. You certainly don’t experience it.

Many traditions or customs surround and are associated with Christmas, without being of the essence of Advent. Because the magi brought gifts to the Christ child, for instance, we give gifts to each other. Such attendant matters can enhance Christmas, but they are not Christmas. A person can delightfully enjoy these alone, but he does not then experience Christmas but something else. If, then, Christmas has no meaning for you, don’t apologize but go ahead with your own thing. Happy holidays to you.

But when we talk about Christmas, we talk about Christ. This is what it actually means, and this — nothing less or else — is what Christmas is.