I was asked to provide a devotional for mothers on the meaning of Christmas. “Come and tell us the meaning of Christmas,” they said. I considered pulling out some Nouwen, Buechner, Merton. Some clever anecdote by Young or Brown Taylor or a poem by Anne Weems, and just call it good. After all, it’s a busy season and everything that can be said about Christmas has already been said, tenfold, right? What more could I offer about the meaning of Christmas that has not already been offered?
We know, we know, Dr. Seuss taught us, “It’s not about presents, or packages, or the roast beef.”
We know, we know, Charles Shultz told us, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
We know, we know, it’s far too commercial, too busy, too excessive, too exhausting. But we join in it, like a flock of birds in formation against the grey sky. We join in and then complain we are in it.
The liturgical season of Advent teaches us every week to focus on one of four concepts: Peace, Hope, Joy and Love. These four broad reaching concepts are to frame our preparation for the Christmas season. Our lectionary readings begin with scripture about the second coming, repentance, messianic promise, and the incarnation, the belief that God came in human flesh. These concepts are far more introspective and soul tending than most of the activities we do over this season. I think that’s why often we can feel some sadness and loss on the shortened days and long nights. Our souls are pulling us one way, and our lives are pulling us another. I think we should feel a little sad, a little repentant, a little reflective, because let’s face it God didn’t come into the world so we could have a picture perfect Christmas morning. God didn’t come into the world so that the economy would take a nice bump at the end of the year. God didn’t come into the world so that we would be happy all of the time.
God came into the world to shine light in the broken places. Have you seen the world lately? God came into the world where innocent children are slaughtered for religious reasons. God came into the world where refugees walk without a home. God came into a broken world and cried for justice and sang for redemption and labored in the night. God came into the world and sat in the rubble and said, “I see this! You better take notice too. There is another way.”
The meaning of Christmas is simple and impossible. It is to recognize that God is with us and in the world. It’s simple compared to all the other things we make Christmas out to be. And it’s impossible, because the concept is so hard to believe up against the world in which we live. That is the mystery of faith.
We seem to have forgotten his name. Immanuel.
God with us. That’s Christmas