Our society has turned the holiday season into Consumertopia.
It’s impossible to think of Thanksgiving without thinking “Black Friday.”
Starting in October we see stores decked out with wreaths, Santa, and elves. Come November our commercials have jingling bells and yuletide carols.
The blatant over-saturation of 1950s holiday Americana (which in turn was a commercial appeal to a largely mythologized Puritanical heritage) in an attempt to squeeze extra dollars out of us is enough to make plenty of us vomit.
To add insult to injury is the oft unexplained correlation between the holiday cheer of peace and goodwill with the birth of a dirt-poor Middle Eastern baby 2,000 years ago.
Lastly, to those of us who understand why the birth of said baby is supposed to be cause for joy, it’s nonetheless difficult to tangibly see how that actually played out, or to buy into the rationale for why that baby’s life was needed.
The reason for true joy at Christmas assumes the truth of the Christian depiction of God (see this previous post for a brief and rudimentary apologetic on Christianity: https://stainedmirrors.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/why-in-the-world-am-i-a-christian/). It offers hope in the midst of all our pain, suffering, turmoil, broken dreams, and experience with abject evil.
Christmas commemorates the Christian belief that the God who created all things became a powerless baby boy. Several ancient religions have tales of gods either mingling with humanity or becoming human, yet Christianity locates God-becoming-man in history: to a man, Jesus of Nazareth, known to history and whose claims to divinity rise and fall with the verdict of history, not pure mythology.
And unlike other gods, the Christian God entered humanity not only as a helpless baby, but within an utterly marginalized people – the Jews, under the iron fist of the Roman Empire at its height.
As a human, He experienced the systemic evils of the world: born into poverty; raised under the oppression of empire; working as a menial craftsman; wandering without a home as He ministered; falsely accused and arrested for crimes He didn’t commit; and convicted, tortured, and executed because He posed a perceived threat to the ruling powers of empire and His own people.
That is the point of Christmas: not just that God became man, but that God as man is with us in our troubles. We aren’t offered a philosophical treatise on why evil and suffering exist – we are offered relationship with a God willing to go through it all with us.
While we legitimately may still cry out for pain to stop and curse at God when it seems that He is silent, we can know through history and through His continued presence – visible to those with eyes trained to see and audible to those with ears refined to hear – that He feels everything with us.
Emmanuel: God is with us. For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9)
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53)