Advent is almost over. The teenaged bride Mary seems like a distant dream. The simplicity of Jesus’ birth is far away. We have Christmas lists, parties, and shopping. At church, we have special worship services, music, and pageants. We fill the time. We talk about the coming Christ-child. We talk about the miracle. Secular holiday celebrations appropriate miracles. Santa becomes a symbol of the Greek ideals of truth, beauty, and goodness. Peace on earth gets trampled in Black Friday stampedes.
Consumerism is not the only attack on faith. Sometimes theology can undermine belief. Rudolf Bultmann demythologizes faith. And, the followers of the historical Jesus movement cast away birth narratives. This is somewhat like adults in Christmas movies who no longer believe in Santa Claus. Theologians ask good questions. Teasing out their answers need not erode faith. They can inspire critical thinking. They can help us bypass troublesome historicity and focus on God-incarnate. It can be like the end of a Christmas movie when everyone believes in the spirit of Christmas—can we have a definition, please?
Arianism views Jesus as subordinate to God. Docetism argues that Jesus appeared human but was really a phantasm. Adoptionism holds that Jesus became the Son of God at his baptism. The story of Jesus’ birth undermines these and other heresies. God entered the world. Jesus was fully human and fully God.
In the Bible, Mary sings. Joseph sees an angel. Jesus enters the world the way every other human has entered the world. He is a baby. His birth, life, death, and resurrection inspire 2.4 billion Christians around the world. Celebrations of Jesus’ birth on December 25 date to Pope Julius I in 345 CE. In twentieth-century America, Christmas developed into a cultural holiday of gift giving and celebrations. With each passing year, the celebrations increase. Movie makers find new ways to tell some version of the Christmas story, whether it involves Jesus or not. The words of the angels in Luke, “Peace on Earth” (Luke 2:14), fade. So, how can we find peace again?
Pause. Breathe. Think. Ask yourself, who is Jesus? What does he mean to me? Why do I celebrate Christmas? Why do I give gifts? Why do I attend or throw holiday parties? Why do I attend or lead special Advent/Christmas worship services? All the activities surrounding the holiday can have value. They can remind us of who Jesus is and what he means to us. Parties celebrate our relationships with friends and family (John 15:13). Gifts can honor the recipient (Matthew 2:11). They can be about sharing with people in need (Hebrews 13:16).
In this busy season, the first step is to stop and take a deep breath. The second step is to think about Jesus, not the baby, but Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with God and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. The third step is revisiting each item on the Christmas season agenda. In this process of slowing down and reflecting, we can keep the joy of the season. It can be fresh and new. We might even sense the childlike excitement of looking ahead to Christmas Day!