By the time you read this, 2019 will be over and 2020 will have started. It’s a new decade, and we are one fifth of the way through the twenty-first century. The winter holidays are over according to the world’s calendar, and everyone is going back to their usual routines. For those of us in the Church, however, it is still officially Christmas until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. There are twelve days of Christmas, hence, the snappy song about French Hens and Turtle Doves. (Or, if you prefer
the more modern version, French Toast and turtlenecks….) Yes, it’s still Christmas, just like you can’t pack the joy of the Resurrection into a single day (there are 50 days of Easter), you can’t pack the joy of the Incarnation into a single day (there are12 days of Christmas).
I think that even 12 days is not enough to celebrate the joy of the Son of God coming into the world. An event that big affects every day. What if Christmas, or at least the “Christmas Spirit,” could be a part of every day? What if we were a little more generous, a little more kind, a little more patient (okay, we’re not really more patient in the days around Christmas, but kind and generous are probably still true), a little more aware of God’s love for us all year long? Surely, that would be a good thing. If we really get what Christmas is about, then I think we are likely to be a little kinder, a little more generous and even a little more patient.
Christmas is about God’s love for us as surely as the Cross and Resurrection are about God’s love for us. Christmas begins to show us the lengths to which God is willing to go to identify with us, to share our lives, to help us draw closer to him, to help us experience his love for us. It still boggles my mind that the Infinite Creator of the Universe through whom all things were made, would choose to be born as a frail human baby. I mean, wouldn’t it have been easier for Jesus just to appear on the scene at age 30 and start his ministry? That’s the part of his life that matters, especially that last week of his life. I mean, the gospels hardly even mention anything about his early years. There are just short accounts of his birth in Matthew and Luke and one story in Luke about Jesus going to the Temple in Jerusalem when he was twelve. Other than that, there are no stories about Jesus before he was baptized by John
and started his public ministry. It might seem like those early years are unimportant. He could have just appeared as a grown man. That’s a much more distinguished way for God to come on the scene. God as an infant, helpless and soiling himself. It’s just so undignified.
Perhaps that was part of the point. Jesus not only gave up his life for us on the Cross, he also set aside his majesty by being born and living as an ordinary, fragile human being. Jesus went through everything that humans go through. He was small. He was helpless. He was hungry. He had to listen to his parents. e had to do his chores. He learned his (foster) father’s trade. He was tempted. We don’t have stories about all these things, but, since we know that he had a flesh and blood body and lived in the culture of first century Judaism, we can be pretty sure that he experienced these things. He was completely human.
Since he was completely human, we can relate to him, we can be supported by him, we can experience his love for us in profound ways. It’s not that God the Father doesn’t love us just as profoundly as Jesus does. Jesus and the Father (and the Holy Spirit) are the same God; Father, Son and Spirit love us equally. But as limited humans, we can more clearly see God’s love for us in Jesus because he took on our limitations to make his love clear to us. You’ve heard me say before that people have some pretty crazy ideas about God, and I’m guessing that you know this is true from your own experience. If nothing else, the idea that God would ask someone to strap a bomb to himself and explode it in a crowd is clearly a big misunderstanding of what God is like. But there are also more subtle misunderstandings about God. For example, it seems that some people are under the impression that God is always mad at us, always looking for an opportunity to smite humanity. It’s easy to see why people might get this idea. There are stories of God judging people all over the Bible, and we humans do a lot of evil things. The evidence around us might lead us to believe that God is mad all the time and just waiting for an opportunity to send some fire. However, Jesus clearly shows us that God’s way of dealing with evil is not to punish us but to purify us. (Admittedly, this might be a painful process at times, but that’s another article.) God’s way of dealing with evil is to take the consequences for us – “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus became like us so that he could heal our sin-scarred world and we could become like him.
Christmas reminds us that Jesus really was a human being. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that Jesus really is a human being because Jesus did not cast off his humanity when he ascended to
the Father but took his human nature into God. But that’s another article, too. Christmas also reminds that Jesus really was God. As we remember these truths we can rest in the assurance that the Creator of the universe really does love us, and, as we live in that love, we become instances of the Incarnation ourselves as Jesus lives in us. Christ lives in us. That’s his promise. That’s Christmas. The love that Jesus brings is not just for one day; it is for every day.