Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Meaning of Christmas

The following was an article I wrote for my local newspaper, "Keith County News." I wanted to share it here with you for those who don't get the paper.

In its broadest sense, most of us who have spent any time around the Christian faith know that the “reason for the season” is Jesus. Of course, as studies and surveys have shown, fewer and fewer people are being raised in a church and so the only reference, maybe, that they have is what they see on TV or hear from a friend or family member who tries to pressure them into coming to Christmas Eve services when they come to town. 

There is much I could say about the true meaning of Christmas. I could complain about Christmas decorations showing up at Wal-Mart towards the end of August. I could complain about how commercial the holiday has become, how it’s become all about the presents and the decorations, and making Christmas look like some idyllic movie utopia about falling in love at a ski resort or English castle. I could do a deep dive into the gospels of Matthew and Luke which tell us the Christmas story and explain the theological meaning of those events. I could talk about the historical development of the holiday and how Jesus likely wasn’t even born on December 25th. For the first couple hundred years after Christ’s resurrection, Jesus’ birth wasn’t even celebrated. The Christian faith has always focused more on the seasons of Epiphany, Lent, and Easter.

I could talk about all that in more detail, but you have likely heard it all before. The truth is, though Christmas is about Jesus, I have come to find that what that means is a bit different for everyone. The meaning also seems to change depending on a person’s circumstances year by year. For some, the birth of Jesus is a celebration; the birth of a child is a joyous event that must be celebrated. For others, Jesus may be a light in the darkness of their grief and despair. And yet for others, the birth of Jesus may represent liberation and salvation from oppression. 

For Mary, the mother of Jesus, he represented the fulfillment of the promises of God to show up for the lowly, as well as the hope for an entire people. In Luke 1:46-55, as Mary is visiting her cousin Elizabeth, she burst forth with a song of praise for all that Jesus represents. “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. (vv. 46-47, CEB)” “He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. (v. 48)” “He has shown mercy to everyone… (v. 50)” “He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. (vv. 51-52)” She goes on to talk about God filling the hungry with good things and coming to the aid of Israel. 

The meaning of Christmas has changed for me throughout my life. In my youth, it was less about Jesus and more about family gatherings around my grandparent’s living room. After the evening meal, the whole family would gather in the living room to debate who was going to pass out the presents. My grandfather, meanwhile, would sneak off to his bedroom and don the Santa costume, which was handmade, and he would sneak out the back door, walk around the front of the house, and jingle the large bells attached to a leather strap. Inside the adults would all stop and say “do you hear that?” All the kids would listen and pretty soon everyone would shout, “Santa.” Then there would be a knock at the front door and we would let Santa in to pass out presents. No one seemed to realize that grandpa wasn’t there. 

As I grew up and started attending Church on a more regular basis, the meaning of Christmas started to take on a much deeper and richer meaning. Combined with the Christmas’ of the past, each year adds another layer of meaning. This year, I am finding the birth of Jesus to mean something different. 

Many of you reading this likely know that we Methodists have been having some conflict, both nationally and locally. It has been hard and painful. But as we have been journeying through Advent, Christmas has taken on a meaning of unification and hope for a future that is filled with good things. For me, Jesus is a light in the darkness, and a hope that no matter the struggles and conflicts we face in this life, Jesus comes bringing healing and wholeness. “What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.” (John 1:3b-5, CEB)

My hope and prayer is that you all find the birth of Christ meaningful in your own way this year. Merry Christmas!!!

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