Despite the fact that it comes around once a year, every year, Christmas can be a truly tricky thing to get our minds and hearts around. These days, for whatever reason, the holiday buzz can become larger than life, bigger than than our families or own selves, and in the feverish rush and hustle of year’s end we run the risk of arriving exhausted and confused to the side of the Manger, not quite sure what we were looking for in the first place. And too, the childlike joy born of the Nativity comes to so many of us hampered by the sober pain of friends and family members who have hurt us, betrayed us, left us, or passed ahead of us into eternity. Christmas today means so many different things, to so many different people, that it might be easy to give up looking for a message buried somewhere in the noise. But even in these darkest of days, we cannot quit just quite yet.
We know of course that the now-traditional pursuit of Things and Stuff cannot be and will never be the ultimate meaning of Christmas. Deep within our childhood memories is lodged, I hope, the engrained intuition and expectation that Christmas is a time of Life when everything best becomes a Gift, bequeathed in mystery and received under and around a Tree of blessing. Though a tiresome routine of buying and selling seems inescapable in these bargain days of trumped-up demand, it is not hard to sweep away the incessant bombardment of advertisements and uncover something deeper. The Truth is that, when Christmas comes, those who profit most are the ones who have nothing to offer but their need, and the greatest gift imaginable is to give one’s very own self. The angels’ glad tidings of great joy are capable of reaching those who hold no value for the market but who instead bear infinite worth before God. And so, in short, these goods for sale are not the Good of Christmas, and we must keep looking for our answer.
And of course we know too that the meaning of Christmas involves a baby boy named Jesus and a puzzle we call the Incarnation, a big word standing in oh-so-inadequately for an excessively juicy bit of gossip. At Christmas we tell again the greatest of tall tales, somehow come true: that God the Son, being all that he was and bringing all the love that he possessed, became all that we are with all of our complications. He was under no obligation, he had no debt to pay, he was utterly free to do otherwise; but, out of infinite compassion God became like us so we could be like him. You see, in Christ the impossible has actually happened: the Creator has become a Creature, that he might create again and make all things, once ruined, now new. And when the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin’s womb, and the Father spoke his Word into that temple of flesh, something happened that the world had not seen since before the dawn of time.
And yet, at the moment that the angel left Mary to her thoughts, and the Life of the world began to multiply and divide its cells within her, the world still had no idea of this unprecedented arrival. Though the Word had come to the world, there was no one in the world who could fully explain the implicit message, no one who could say exactly what he was or what he was up to. The list of the initiated included a pregnant Virgin, a befuddled Boyfriend, a muffled Priest, and a Cousin whose post-menopausal condition suddenly seemed to have become irrelevant; but, despite the fact that nosy neighbors marveled and wondered, so long as Mary bore her God within her belly the Good News stayed put, safely hidden from view. But then Christmas happened, and everything changed.
For it was in that moment of labour and pain that a young mother brought the Light that enlightens all people into the harsh glare of ordinary day, and the world as a result was never the same. Mary may have treasured up all these things in her heart, but no one else seemed to be able to shut up about it. As tribute to this baby’s unprecedented power to disrupt the seeming natural order of things, angels vacated heaven, shepherds left their sheep, stars left their orbits, magi left their homelands, and all this why? It was because with this birth the pregnant pause was over, in these swaddling clothes the glory of the Lord had been revealed, and all who beheld his tiny eyes and nose and mouth had seen the very face of God. Honestly, who could keep that secret?
The secret is still getting out, sometimes by dribble, sometimes by torrent, but nothing can stop it. The meaning of Christmas is a message gone viral, a Good News ringing from rooftops, glad tidings of great joy for all people. It is the movement of a people who, having welcomed God’s advent within them now bring him forth and bear him to the world. Christmas puts God himself on display precisely when the light of Christ’s salvation shines in us, when we faithfully go where he sends us, speak what he says to us, and love as he loves us.
This means that if we keep Christmas to ourselves, if we seek the cloister of our family’s table or hide behind the doors of our churches, if we contain ourselves in tranquility and quietly meditate on the blessed Reason for the Season, we will have missed the point entirely. The joy of Christmas is to be shared, because Christ himself expects to be shared, and he refuses to disappoint or be disappointed. No matter how busy our holiday schedules become, or how painful these days may be, may we remember that the meaning of Christmas is a call to action, a call to mission, a call to service, and a call to joy, all on account of the uncontainable Good News of this boy born to be the Saviour of the world.
This article was first published in the Anglican News of the Anglican Diocese of Belize.