It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or so the song says. It is for many. For some it’s a time of grieving, loneliness, and guilt about failing to live up to the expectations of the season. Nevertheless, the season remains a time when the sentimental ideal of good times, good friends, beautiful decorations, and wallowing in “the real meaning of Christmas.”
What is the real meaning of Christmas? Hallmark Christmas movies offer one answer. Sadly it’s an answer that satisfies only for the duration of the movie. Another answer comes from equally sentimental stories of the prince of peace. They remind many of what is desperately hoped for yet failed to achieve. Sadly, it’s a hope that dissolves by New Year’s Eve, but it’s on the right track as far as it goes.
Another meaning stands well apart from all the other holiday declarations. There is nothing sentimental about it. It’s a scene set in a smelly stable where a young unmarried woman gives birth to the Word of God made flesh. She and her husband to be are far from her home. Although the heavens break forth with choirs of angels singing hymns of glory, they are seen only by a few shepherds keeping watch by night. In that moment the history of humankind and all creation is changed forever. Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection are one singular event proclaiming who God is. It is an answer to Job’s plea that God be present to him on human terms, as a friend and not a stranger, one who would destroy the power of death. Jesus, the helpless baby, is the way of peace and life who opened the gates to eternity to all who accept it. In Jesus, God responded to Job’s demand to confront him as one human to another by the Word being born in rough circumstances to live and die as one of us. In his resurrection he was finally and fully revealed as God incarnate.
It’s a gritty story from beginning to end. It’s also a story of the supernatural and natural realities becoming one. There is nothing magical about it. When the question is asked why God, if there is a God, doesn’t do something about all the evil in the world, the answer is God has acted, and this is it. Through God in Christ Jesus, the way of life and peace is made known, affirmed by all.
For me, the holiday season can and should be celebrated in every way. Let good times and good cheer abound. Let tokens of love and gratitude be exchanged. Let tears of sadness flow until there are no more. Most of all, let the Prince of Peace be your guide and guard, not for a season but for life.
© Steven E. Woolley